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Federal Grant Allows Focus Academy to Offer Intensive Reading Program as They Expand into Middle School


Federal Grant Allows Focus Academy to Offer Intensive Reading Program as They Expand into Middle School

TEMPLE TERRACE, Fla.June 22, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Focus Academy, an Exceptional Student Education (ESE) charter school in the Hillsborough County Public School System will now be offering a middle school program this Fall with a focus on an intensive reading curriculum.

According to Josephine Isenbergh, Focus Academy’s Executive Director of Operations, the new intensive reading program has been made possible by a federal grant under The Cares Act. The Intensive Reading Program will serve the new middle school students as well as Focus Academy’s High School and Transition students.

“I am excited to see Focus Academy’s new middle school come to fruition,” said State Rep. Jackie Toledo, “ESE students will have additional opportunities to learn in an environment that is tailored to their specific needs and their parents will have new choices in preparing them for academic success.”

Focus Academy Executive Director of Programs Loretta Gallo-Lopez said, “We know that we need to reach our students with developmental and other disabilities at a younger age in order to effectively target those essential basic reading and math skills. Many of our students are currently starting high school with little to no reading skills, and are performing significantly below a functional, third-grade level. That is going to change, thanks to this grant.”

The federal grant that is allowing Focus Academy to initiate the new Intensive Reading Program will also provide the seed funds to hire a fully certified and state-licensed Intensive Reading Instructor along with a dedicated teaching assistant. “Luckily, in this case, we are engaging from within our school teaching staff to promote veteran English Teacher, Keri Como. She has over fifteen years of teaching experience with five years of tenure with Focus Academy. She knows firsthand how important it is for us to engage children with developmental and other disabilities during their middle school years,” Isenbergh said.

According to Focus Academy Principal, Elisabeth Kraft, the new middle school program is now accepting students for the upcoming fall semester for grades 6 through 8. “We will be utilizing the same innovative techniques and curriculum that have characterized the Focus Academy High School and Transition programs for students through age 22. Our middle school program will place a strong focus on intensive reading to better prepare our students for a high school experience where they can experience greater success. This allows them to focus on their future after high school, just like everyone else,” Kraft said.

Kraft added that students in grades 6 through 8 with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and on a modified curriculum will receive drama therapy, in addition to Access Points classes taught by our ESE-certified teachers, as Focus Academy high school students currently do. Student activities tailored to their specific needs will increase self-esteem and independence, preparing them for success in their high school years.

The curriculum at Focus Academy is structured with dual purposes: academic achievement and social success. Many students are scholastically capable but are hindered by struggles in relating to peers. Focus Academy offers differentiated, individualized instruction, with an emphasis on a full school experience, including creative arts, physical education, field trips, and state-of-the-art technology. Focus Academy utilizes the Access Points curriculum, a modified curriculum that tailors instruction to a student’s academic level and goals. This curriculum choice also allows for more flexibility in teaching, as well as in learning. Students participate in state testing at the end of each year by utilizing the Florida Standards Alternative Assessment (FSAA). End-of-course exams are also administered as required.

Ellie Thompson, a licensed Mental Health Counselor at Focus Academy said “Each student is unique, and some have challenges that make learning in a traditional academic environment very frustrating. Focus Academy has spent the past decade offering unique strategies and direct instruction accessible with an innovative program in special needs education. We merge academics and social skills for a holistic approach that better prepares our students for life after high school.”

Interested parents, guardians and/or students may contact Focus Academy at 813-443-5558 for a guided campus tour or may learn more about the application process for the fall semester by visiting

About Focus Academy

Focus Academy is a free ESE public charter school within the Hillsborough County Public School System that provides IEP and other specialized education for students from 6th grade through ages 22. Our students have disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Intellectually Disabled and Other Health Impaired. Social skills therapies are incorporated into the curriculum for a seamless learning experience with the goal of transitioning into the real world. The school includes a Middle School, High School, and a Transition Program