The Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board received an update on activities at village schools Monday, Dec. 9. While the meeting touched on a number of Royal Palm Beach schools, the specific focus was on H.L. Johnson Elementary School.
H.L. Johnson’s VPK students opened the meeting with a musical performance, followed by a demonstration from the school’s cheerleading team. Once the students were done, Principal Jennifer Makowski began her presentation.
According to Makowski, the school has had a stellar 2019, maintaining the A rating it received the previous year. It has also achieved the Golden School Award, meaning it has met the Florida Department of Education’s high standard of having at least 80 percent of the school’s staff trained in school volunteerism, a designated volunteer coordinator and a total number of volunteer service hours equal to or exceeding twice the number of students enrolled.
H.L. Johnson has also received recognition as a Five Star School by the FDOE, a Green School of Excellence and an Everglades Champion School.
The students have already completed a number of volunteer opportunities this school year, such as a pajama drive in which the school collected more than 130 pairs of pajamas, Assistant Principal Danielle Agudelo said. They also collected 3,100 cans and food items for the local food drive, performed a campus and beach cleanup, and participated in the Relay for Life.
H.L. Johnson also participated in the Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s “Unwrap the Waves” initiative, in which students save their candy wrappers and send them to the center, which then recycles and converts them to school supplies.
Following its sea turtle “adoption,” the school continues to partner with the Loggerhead Marinelife Center by helping to sponsor the turtle’s care. “We have a turtle this year — Bailey — and the students really enjoy making sure to save those candy wrappers,” Agudelo said.
Along with community service activities, students have been given a plethora of enrichment opportunities. “Our teachers have really stepped out above and beyond to have field trips for the students,” Agudelo said.
Some of the field trips available to the students include a trip to the Flagler Museum, MacArthur State Park, St. Augustine, the Kennedy Space Center and the Little Red Schoolhouse. The schoolhouse is particularly fun for the students as they dress up in 19th century garb. H.L. Johnson students also have the opportunity to compete in the Special Olympics.
“We have our fabulous PTO that has put in more than 5,000 hours,” Agudelo said. “None of it would be possible without us all working together.”
According to Makowski, H.L. Johnson is a cluster site for students who have emotional, behavioral and intellectual disabilities, as well as being a hub for gifted students.
“We still do serve gifted students,” Makowski said. “We have about seven schools that still feed into us for gifted.”
The school has also opened up a second VPK unit, bringing in a total of 38 little Jaguars.
“At H.L. Johnson, we try not to only look at just the academics for the students, but we try to look at all of the components that students need to be successful.” Makowski said. “A lot of the enrichment activities we do are the [things] the kids really find fun and exciting, and they want to come to school, and they want to learn.”
In addition to community events and enrichment opportunities, H.L. Johnson has recently begun Morning Meetings. Every morning, the students and teachers meet together to socialize, get to know each other and understand each other better.
“It’s touching on a great component with the kids every morning where they’re having that opportunity to build relationships with each other and with their teachers,” Makowski said.
Education Advisory Board Vice Chair Julie Highsmith has two children attending H.L. Johnson and voiced their love for the Morning Meetings.
“They both talk about it almost every day, what their teacher said to them. It makes them closer to their teacher,” Highsmith said. “It’s an amazing thing that they’re doing.”
Though H.L. Johnson was the main focus of the meeting, there were also updates on Royal Palm Beach High School, Crestwood Middle School, Royal Palm Beach Elementary School and Cypress Trails Elementary School.
While the night’s presenters did not hesitate to point to the competency and success of local schools, Highsmith still considers there to be a significant stigma against Royal Palm Beach schools. “We’re very serious about our education,” she said. “We want people who live in Royal Palm Beach to go to Royal Palm Beach schools.”
On that topic, Makowski noted that 48 students at H.L. Johnson are under controlled open enrollment, meaning that they are students outside of the H.L. Johnson’s boundaries choosing to attend the elementary school for its programming.
Educating the community on the good that’s actually taking place in Royal Palm Beach schools is key to breaking the stigma, Highsmith said.
“There are many rumors going around, but a lot of it is inaccurate information,” she said. “So here, accurate information is being presented by the principals on what’s happening at the schools.”