Lehigh Acres' newest elementary school is Tortuga Preserve.
"Say it again Tortuga Preserve Elementary School most people don't recognize the name on their first try," laughed the principal, Alane Adams. "But if they continue to say it, the name catches on."
She explained that when construction began at the Gunnery Rd. site, next to the Varsity Lakes gated community, there was the presence of small turtles and because of environmental policies, they had to remain on the site and cannot be disturbed.
Engineering is part of the STEM program at Lehigh’s new elementary school. Teacher Bergman Taylor instructs his class.
"We considered using terrapin, but they were not really terrapins, so we came up with Tortuga, which is the Spanish name for turtle," Adams said, adding that the presence of the turtles is good for the students, especially those studying science.
The school is from K through 5 and students come from other Lehigh elementary schools and also from the choice of parents in the area who want their children to attend a STEM school. What is a STEM school?
"The letters stand for 'Science, Technology, Engineering and Math' and these types of schools are what we will be seeing in the future because younger students are being given advanced and more involved training in those subjects," Adams said. "It prepares them for future jobs."
The school is at 1711 Gunnery Rd. North and was built to house 1,000 students and already, the school population is at 625 students and may grow larger.
"We have 10 kindergarten rooms and a staff of nearly 90 people here, including teachers and support staff," she said.
Adams played an important role in the appearance of the interior of the school, selecting colors and furniture.
"Our exterior is just like the new Harns Marsh Middle School, but inside, we are different," Adams said. She was asked to take a school year during the construction of the school to work with the builders and to make selections and minor changes.
"I enjoyed that, but I missed the children," she said. "I love teaching and even as principal, I still take part from time to time in helping out. There is something very rewarding about teaching children."
When you enter the front entrance, you're welcomed by receptionist Ingrid Casey, who is the only worker at the welcome desk. In addition, she is responsible for typing all types of materials for the administration. Down the hall are the administrative offices where the principal is located - that is if you can find her in her office. She loves to be tuned in to what is happening and attends classes and aids teachers and acts as what she calls "a coach" helping them to become excellent teachers.
Adams has an interesting background. She has lived in Florida since 1980. She graduated in 1981 from Flagler College in St. Augustine and took her first job in Tampa where she taught hearing impaired, students who are deaf and use sign language to communicate. She taught these children for six years and her husband, a minister came to Lee County to pastor a church.
She has taught at Allen Park Elementary School in Fort Myers. Her college degrees majors were elementary education and deaf education.
She said an uncle early on when she was young is the person who influenced her because he said he could see how she loved technology and that it was the future and especially in new jobs and in education.
"We're training students here for jobs that have not yet come to be. But we know the future lies in advanced science backgrounds, engineering, mathematical and of course, technology. Thus the reason for STEM schools," she said.
In addition to the study of the protected turtle population on the school's grounds, Adams said students will be planting a hydroponic garden on the outside side of the school, as a part of the science program.
"We will also be working with The Imagarium and the Edison Home," she said.
She and her husband have three children. One is a fifth grade teacher at Treeline Elementary. A middle daughter is director of physical training in northern Florida. A son is a police officer on Marco Island.
There were several open houses before school opened in early August and teachers and Adams are looking forward to an upcoming meeting in which a School Advisory Council will be appointed. The SAC will aid in helping make decisions at the school.
Sept. 11 is the date for the first PTA and it begins at 7 and continues to 8 or 8:30 p.m. It's an opportunity to meet with the parents of students and talk about their children's progress.
The assistant principal at Tortuga Preserve Elementary School is Elizabeth Feliciano. Many of the teachers and other employees come from Lehigh.
"We have been a part of creating jobs for the people of Lehigh, which is an asset to the community," Adams said.
"We won't to remember our goals for our new STEM school. It is to help our students to become critical thinkers and be ready for jobs not yet invented. Our students have to be prepared for the future jobs," she said.
Adams, like her teachers in the different labs and classrooms, are energetic and friendly. Once entering the school, there is a sense of warmness and the feeling of advanced education teaching is very apparent.