PenTab, Miami Gardens
By Sherri Ackerman
When PenTab Academy opened 13 years ago inside a Miami Gardens church, it had one teacher and five students.
The school was part of a ministry led by Pastor Robert Stewart of Pentecostal Tabernacle International. He turned his office into a classroom to provide the congregation and community with a safe place for children to grow academically and spiritually.
By the end of its first year, PenTab added eight more students. Today there are 256 boys and girls in prekindergarten through 8th grade filling 10 classrooms – part of a church expansion that incorporated a neighborhood strip mall at 18415 N.W. 7th Ave.
“Parents began to search us out because they wanted something better for their children,” said Barbara Sharpe, who became principal in 2005 and now oversees 25 teachers and five administrators. “Many students were not meeting success – academic or behavioral. ’’
PenTab offers individualized instruction, a Christian-based curriculum, small classes and teachers who reflect the diverse international community served by the school.
Sharpe counts students and staff from her homeland of Jamaica, the Bahamas, Haiti, Trinidad, Guyana and the United States.
Enrollment also has increased due to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, she said, with 156 students receiving the income-based tuition assistance program through Step Up For Students. Annual tuition is $4,820 plus fees.
“Many of our families could not afford a private school education for their children without the scholarship,’’ Sharpe said.
A member of Pentecostal Tabernacle, she stepped up to serve as PenTab principal after almost six years teaching third through fifth grades at traditional public schools. Sharpe viewed the vacancy as a calling.
“I came to a private school because I believe in the mission of small schools,’’ she said. “I believe in educating the whole child – academically, emotionally and spiritually.’’
PenTab offers students in K-8 the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum, instruction used by many Christian schools and homeschoolers that is designed to help students master one content area before moving to the next.
“We provide a diagnostic test, determine their needs, then implement an academic plan,’’ Sharpe said. “They won’t be promoted unless they have demonstrated at least 80 percent mastery in all content areas.’’
This approach works well for struggling and high-achieving students, she said. Slower learners can work at their own pace until they grasp the lesson while advanced learners can move ahead if they’re ready.
Learning gains are measured annually by the national Stanford Achievement Test. PenTab also started participating this school year in Success Partners, a free program from Step Up For Students that provides professional development and software to help spur parental engagement and assess student data.
In addition, PenTab offers Spanish, music and P.E. Although the school continues to grow, Sharpe said it has retained that neighborhood feel that lets her and her staff observe students’ individual talents. During a recent holiday performance, Sharpe got to see one of her fifth-graders dance – a skill even his mother wasn’t aware he had.
“That’s what I like about a small setting,’’ Sharpe said. “It gives you an opportunity to know each student and help them develop to their fullest potential.’’
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The typical scholarship school
Is small in size: The average total enrollment is 161 students.
Serves mostly private-paying students: Step Up students make up an average of 30 percent of total enrollment.
Serves elementary students: About 66 percent in grades K-5.
Is faith-based: Seventy-five percent of the schools are faith-based. The 193 Catholic schools represent the largest single group.