An Ahwatukee Foothills school is getting a little more room to stretch out this year.
Ambassador Academy, a 3-year-old charter school that emphasizes academic excellence and leadership skills, has moved to a new 9,000-square-foot campus at Ray Road and 38th Street just in time for the fall semester.
That's more than four times the size of the 2,000-square-foot campus the school previously occupied. The larger campus will let Ambassador Academy offer its services to more families than it could accommodate before, said Dr. Elba Iris Reyes, principal/superintendent of the school.
"We had to turn away about 22 families last year because we just didn't have the space," she said.
Reyes had to be creative serving her 40 kindergarten through third-grade students last year, dividing rooms with partitions to create separate classrooms and having students either bring in lunches or buy them from the preschool that accommodated the classrooms.
But at the new campus, no partitions will be needed. Students will also have a multipurpose room for lunch, a library and more, Reyes said. The school is adding a grade this year to serve kindergarten through fourth grade and will have a fifth-grade class the following year.
Reyes decided to open a charter school after being an administrator in public school programs. There were certain changes she wanted to implement but couldn't because of the way the system worked, so she and some like-minded friends decided to apply for a charter.
Ambassador Academy is committed to small class sizes, limiting all classes to 22 students, Reyes said. If a particular grade is too small to justify hiring a full-time teacher, Reyes takes charge of the class herself and completes her administrative work during after-school hours.
"I am the principal, finance manager and I teach a classroom. Right there, we're saving money," Reyes said, then added with a laugh, "I also serve lunch and do the plungers."
She said her school specializes in academic excellence. A lot of that has to do with the leadership program students start from kindergarten, which Reyes designed as a combination of Character Counts and the Princeton Leadership Institute Program.
Students learn about seven pillars of leadership immediately. They do things like role play examples of leadership, celebrate other students' successes and take time out to identify positive leadership traits in different situations.
"We put them in situations of leadership right away in kindergarten," Reyes said. "In behavior, they learn they're responsible."
That also extends to school work. Teachers facilitate learning, but students are accountable for their own successes, Reyes said.
Parent Steve Pettit, who has one son entering second grade this year and another starting kindergarten, has been very satisfied with the school. Ambassador Academy has a good handle on discipline and offers a healthy environment for learning, he said.
"The motto is, ‘Future leaders,'" Pettit said. "(Reyes) really instills in the students, if you want to be a leader, you need those characteristics like honesty."
Pettit also likes that Reyes has really taken charge of the school. She knows what is going on in every classroom and keeps parents informed, even having periodic parent workshops to discuss different school-related topics.
"She doesn't take any guff from the kids, which I think they need," Pettit said. "She does a fabulous job, and her heart's really in it."
The program is small for next year - only 35 students as of July 27 - but Reyes said the school will take new enrollments even past Ambassador Academy's Aug. 9 start date.
Part of the problem may have been construction difficulties. The new location was supposed to be ready to open June 1, but delays pushed inspections back to late July. The school will be ready to open in time for school to start, though, Reyes said.
She hopes to expand to a few more grades eventually. Reyes would ultimately like to add middle school grades and a preschool program, with the middle school likely on a new campus.
But she's also ready to settle into Ambassador Academy's new home.
"We hope to be staying here for a while," Reyes said. "We'll possibly get a second site, but this one will be here a long time."
For more information or to contact the school, visit www.ambassadoracademy.us.