On a recent spring day at Corbett Preparatory School of IDS (Independent Day School; also known as Corbett Prep), a team of seventh grade students set out in a canoe with the day’s science lesson — to find the depth and investigate the water quality of the lake on which they were paddling.
Since the campus is on the edge of Lake Lipsey, it affords students unique opportunities for all kinds of outdoor learning, and the school’s teachers and administrators take advantage of them.
In fact, Corbett Prep’s campus became a huge benefit as the school faced numerous challenges because of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the school’s extensive outdoor space, where children already were regularly learning and playing, became even more popular as a classroom.
“We’re fortunate to be on a stunning campus surrounded by nature,” explains Head of School Nick Rodriguez. “Our classrooms are like separate, beautiful little houses.”
Nick says that this helps keep students separated into their own groups, as well as socially distant.
The campus, located south of W. Fletcher Ave. in Carrollwood, is home to more than 500 students in all grades from 3-year-olds in pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade. The middle school campus, where each of the three grades has about 60 students, is across Orange Grove Dr. from the younger grades.
“Our middle school students get a sense of their own campus, but also the leadership opportunities of coming over to the elementary school,” Nick says.
Last fall, the year started with more than 100 students choosing remote learning, with teachers providing instruction simultaneously to classes both in person and online.
“As we’ve proved we can keep our campus safe and our protocols are working, we continue to get students back,” Nick explains. “Now about 20 are (still) remote, but the rest are on campus.”
He says he understands parents’ concerns, because their highest priority is their children, both their education and their safety.
He says Corbett Prep has always maintained a clean, beautiful campus, but steps were taken this year to be even safer during the pandemic. For example, additional sinks and sanitation stations were installed, plexiglass barriers have been added in classrooms, and the administration team focused on scheduling and transition time to minimize interactions between groups.
“At the end of this year we will be stronger than we’ve ever been,” explains Nick. “We’ve added an entirely new skill set to our platform.”
He says this includes online communication, such as software that kids use at home to check homework, and teachers increasing their skills and technology usage.
He also says that this year has given them even more opportunities to think creatively, which is a strong suit at Corbett Prep.
“Learning happens everywhere and it’s all tied together,” he explains. As an example, in order to get kids outside more this year, the eighth graders were given the opportunity to design a mural. “It turned into a full course where they had to plan, measure, design letters and spacing, use geometry, and choose paint colors.”
Nick explains that Corbett Prep is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school with creativity at its heart.
“It really makes you proud to see kids who are creative and engaged,” he says. “We want to create ‘wow’ lessons for our students as often as possible to keep them active in their learning.”
He says he is proud that Corbett Prep students get out of the car smiling in the morning, excited to go to school, and he wants parents to understand that can be their kids, too, “when your children are with the right teachers in the right curriculum, at a school like ours.” He adds that having multiple teachers in classrooms ensures that students find those “right teachers” for them.
Connected To New Tampa
Kids from all over the Tampa Bay area attend Corbett Prep, and bus service is available from New Tampa and Wesley Chapel.
Martha and Carlton Fleming live in Grand Hampton. Their daughters, Layla and Naomi, both started at the school as three year olds. Layla is now in high school and Naomi is finishing her eighth grade year.
Back when their girls were little, Martha says they first fell in love with the outdoor environment, then the curriculum and the way Corbett Prep engages the students in hands-on learning. Even today, she says Layla and Naomi still sometimes talk about their favorite learning experiences, such as “Senses Day,” where students immerse their senses outdoors (by jumping in a tub of oatmeal, for example) or “Living Thanksgiving,” where they engage in activities the Pilgrims would have, such as making their own candles.
“At Corbett, they are building confident students,” explains Martha. “They set up many little successes that build confident kids.”
She says one of the main reasons her family moved to Grand Hampton was the area’s A-rated public schools, but their girls had such a phenomenal preschool experience at Corbett Prep that they didn’t want to move them.
“Corbett has helped our girls become very well rounded, in every sense,” says Carlton. “The girls are doing well academically, but there’s something else that our girls have gotten out of that experience. I think Corbett has this trifecta of very strong education, but they also value athletics and the arts.”
He also praises the compassion his girls developed during their time at the school.
Martha adds, “They build the social emotional awareness in terms of being connected with their own internal feelings and how that is projecting outward and affecting others.”
She says as she speaks with friends and observes students in other schools, “we realize the uniqueness of what our daughters have had, and we have learned to appreciate that so much more now that they’re teenagers,” explains Martha. “It’s a process you invest in, but I feel like we’ve seen the fruits of it.”
Learning takes place on the campus year-round, and the summer offers a unique opportunity for students to enjoy all that Corbett Prep has to offer, whether or not they attend school there.
“Most summers we have about 1,000 different students on campus for summer camps,” explains Nick, “but last year, with Covid, we still had about 700.”
He says they offer morning, afternoon and full-day camps, featuring everything from academics, to nature, to the arts.
“It’s a big undertaking for our school,” he explains, saying that all Camp IDS camps are led by highly qualified, trained educators.
More information about summer camps is available on the school’s website at CorbettPrep.com, then click on the “Camp IDS” tab at the top of the page.
Nick Rodriguez was named Head of School in July 2020, taking over from Dr. Joyce Swarzman, who led the school for more than two decades and has transitioned into a training and initiatives role.
Nick first came to Corbett Prep more than a decade ago for a fellowship program, then went on to lead other Bay-area schools. He says his immense respect for Dr. Swarzman was among the reasons he joined the school. “It was not in the plan for me to come back,” he says, “but I couldn’t say ‘yes’ quick enough.”
“Dr. Swarzman’s background in education and where she’s taken our school is unmatched,” Nick says, “and I’m so fortunate to be following her and teaming and partnering with her through this crazy year.”
Not only is Nick the school’s head, but he’s also a parent. His daughter, Sloane, is an elementary school student at Corbett Prep.
The Independent Day School was started in 1968 by Marilyn Gatlin and Betty Anderson, who wanted to create a school where every child’s gifts and talents could be identified and encouraged. Nearly a decade ago, the school was renamed Corbett Prep at IDS.
“The Corbett family is incredibly generous to the entire Tampa Bay area and has supported our initiatives for 40 years,” says Nick.
He adds that he’s very proud of the school’s more than 50 years of history, and excited to continue its legacy in the community.
Now Is The Time To Enroll
While traditional open houses and big campus tours are not currently available, families are still welcome to visit the Corbett Prep campus.
Enrollment for the 2021-22 school year is under way, and Nick says that, within the next few weeks, some grade levels already will have waiting lists.
Nick says he encourages families to take a tour, because parents know a school is right for their child, “when you see their faces light up as they step onto the campus.”
Corbett Preparatory School of IDS is located at 12015 Orange Grove Dr. in Tampa. For more information, visit CorbettPrep.com or call (813) 961-3087.