Right now they stand empty, but it won't be long before lockers are crammed and the halls are bustling with students.
As Lake County ushers in the new school year on August 24, Mount Dora Middle School will be welcoming a new principal, Jacob Stein. The school's new top administrator is a former teacher in Mount Dora and answered a few questions for Mount Dora Buzz to help the community get re-acquainted with him.
MD BUZZ: What do you feel are the 2 greatest challenges facing Middle School students in general? JS: I feel that the two greatest challenges facing middle schools students are themselves – deciding who they are and deciding how they want to be perceived. Also, I believe organization and balance are a struggle for middle schoolers. They are beginning more extra- curricular activities while having more homework. They are trying to develop more of a social side and this can be tough to balance all of that with school.
MD BUZZ: What are the 2 greatest challenges facing Mount Dora Middle School? JS:I feel the two greatest challenges that face Mount Dora Middle School faces are improving on FSA and EOC Assessments while supporting the whole student and developing a school culture where discipline is minimal.
MD BUZZ: How did your previous position prepare you for these challenges? JS:I believe all of my previous positions have prepared me to be the principal at Mt. Dora Middle School. I have been in the district for 18 years and taught both at Eustis Middle School and Mt. Dora High School before going into administration. I spent four years at Windy Hill Middle School as an assistant principal and the last five years as an assistant principal at East Ridge High School.
MD BUZZ: What do you like most about working with this age of students? JS:I enjoy seeing the students grow from kids into young men and women.
MD BUZZ: Middle School age can be difficult, how will stay personally connected with students? JS:I believe you stay connected with the students by being very visible at the school, but also by supporting them in the community, whether that be attending their sport events, drama productions, city parades or festivals. You need to build a school culture of caring and support for the students.
MD BUZZ: What is your philosophy to keep a positive, learning atmosphere for the students? JS:I truly believe that students need to know that you care and support them while treating them with respect. However, when discipline does occur you need to be fair and consistent and make sure they realize that this a consequence for their behavior not just punishment.
MD BUZZ: In addition to a new principal, what other changes will there be this Fall at the school? JS:In addition to a new principal and new teachers, the students will have an opportunity to participate in an after school program that will provide extra-curricular activities as well as tutoring for no charge. The program will provide the students the opportunity to explore a variety of activities in the evenings from 4:15-to 6:15 with transportation home being provided. MD BUZZ: What is the school's estimated enrollment for this fall? JS: 825
MD BUZZ: Have you had a chance to explore Mount Dora? JS:I am familiar with the culture that Mount Dora has to offer since I was actively involved in the community while I taught at Mount Dora High School and I look forward to being part of the community again.
Three of the most enjoyable attributes in people are insane creativity, humility and wicked humor. Mount Dora Buzz sat down last week with an atypical Southern belle who exudes healthy doses of all three. Lauren Graham Cunningham and The Buzz chatted about everything from the predictable to the slightly off-the-wall. Read more...
AN UPDATE ON THE WARRIOR PRINCESS Captivated by immense compassion, Mount Dora residents rallied together three years ago for baby Joss, the little Warrior Princess in need of perhaps the most risky medical procedure available.
At two-months old Joss had her first seizure. Many doctors appointments, tests and seizures ensued. Then in 2012, when Joss was just one year old, additional testing resulted in a diagnosis of hemimegalencephaly, a rare form of epilepsy in which one half of the brain is severely larger than the other. The congenital condition causes severe seizures that aren't effectively treated with medications .
Joss' parents, Jennifer and Michael Dempsey of Mount Dora, were relentless in their quest to help their young daughter. Assistance came from specialists, Dr. Ki Hyeong Lee, an epileptologist, and Dr. Baumgartner, the neurosurgeon who eventually performed the extremely invasive hemispherectomy that intricately removed the half of her brain causing the seizures. Following that surgery were other brain surgeries and a tremendous amount of ups and downs.
Last February, Joss reached the milestone of being two years seizure-free, plus one and a half years medication-free. In many ways, she is simply a happy, sassy four-year old girl that loves nature walks, swings at the park, music, Disney World and tiaras. However, she still faces many challenges ahead.
" Physically, she still struggles with weakness on the right half on her body. This weakness is more pronounced in her right hand and right foot, so she wears braces to help support her wrist and ankle. She walks very well now and is learning how to run, jump and climb", according to Jennifer Dempsey. "She has a vocabulary of about 20 words and can count to fourteen (when she feels like it). She is extra sensitive to tastes, textures and sensory stimulation, so eating is still a challenge for her."
Walking and talking are complex activities for the brain, so the Dempseys were thrilled to hear Joss' first words and see her walk. However there are still many challenges ahead.
"Right now, it's still very difficult to reason with her and help her understand why she needs to use her right hand or do something that's difficult for her. Joscelyn is a great problem solver and she's very good at compensating, so she'll find ingenious ways to avoid doing the harder thing in favor of getting something done faster," according to Dempsey. "As she gets older, I'm hoping she'll begin to see more value in trying to use her right hand and building up strength in her weaker muscles. In the meantime, we do our best to make therapy fun for her and encourage her."
Although incredibly promising, Joss' future is still a difficult path compared to typical children. Her mother says no one is really able to accurately predict how much brain function Joss will recover over the next 15-20 years due to the limited amount of research done with children after a hemispherectomy. However, some adults who underwent the same surgery as a child can drive, work, and live independently, while others require constant care.
"We know that she'll always have limited vision in the right half of both eyes and she'll always have less strength in her right hand and foot. Beyond that, we just hope and pray for the best and do all we can to maximize her potential." said Dempsey
Part of a large, blended family, Joss' four older siblings are impressive in their support and encouragement. Marc is 24, Clayton is 13, Javelyn is 13 and Jackson is 12. Her big brother Nick passed away tragically in 2011 at the age of 14 when she was just six months old.
The compassionate support of the community was extraordinary. "It surprised and touched me how much support we received from total strangers!", said Dempsey. "I still get stopped at the grocery store sometimes by the sweetest people who will shyly introduce themselves and let me know that they've been following Joscelyn's story and are still praying for us. It's very humbling and means the world to me!"
To meet Joss is a joy and a humbling life lesson. She's happy. She's determined. She is in many ways a typical, little girl. Yet Joss survived the unimaginable and rallied a community. She will remain a force to be reckoned with.
When people think of reptiles, they don't often think of women as being their protectors. Three central Florida women have changed that perception, as well as the fate of many threatened gopher tortoises.
According to Kim Titterington of Swamp Girl Adventures, an effective dream team for Central Florida's tortoise rescue and rehabilitation consists of Carissa Kent, Amanda Ebenhack and herself.
"All three of us do what we can to help the gopher tortoises survive," Titterington said. "Each of us has our own non-profit wildlife rescue and rehab organization. I've been doing this for more than 20 years --educating people about Florida wildlife and habitats."
This year alone, Titterington has rescued and released more than 20 gopher tortoises.
The trio of rescuers works with different wildlife organizations including the Florida Wildlife Commission. Occasionally, they get to work together. Each has their own niche. Carissa Kent works in overgrown fields or land cleared for development. There she and her crew literally dig the tortoises out of the ground by hand, where they've been buried alive. Many times the developers call her before they bulldoze. Kent has rescued more than 5,000 tortoises in the last nine years.
As for Amanda Ebenhack, she runs the Central Florida Wildlife Center. As a permitted wildlife rehabitator for gopher tortoises she's seen her share of hurt and wounded tortoises. A typical year at her wildlife center means 100-300 tortoises can be rehabbed.
"All of us have one thing in mind--the tortoise," Titterington said. "The first thing we do for any tortoise is to assess the injury and look for illnesses. People don't realize a cracked shell or even one leg missing -- doesn't mean a death sentence for the tortoise. We deal with veterinarians who specialize in turtles."
Each of these women have a common goal. Rescue, rehabilitate (if needed) and release back into the wild.
"Back into a natural surrounding where they will thrive," she said. "All tortoises deserve a chance. Every living creature is in this world together-- whether it be humans or tortoises.", said Titterington.
Swamp Girl Adventures can be reached at www.swampgirladventures.org
By Sharon G. Nichols, Senior Writer (edited by Trish Morgan)