Palm Valley Academy in Nocatee is one of the latest schools to open on the First Coast as a result of continued growth in St. Johns County.
Located on 13 acres of land adjacent to Nocatee’s Twenty Mile neighborhood, the K-8 school opened its doors in August and welcomed more than 1,200 students.
“I keep saying it’s an exciting and exhausting experience all in one,” says Jessica Richardson, principal of Palm Valley Academy who previously served as principal of Ocean Palms Elementary School in Ponte Vedra Beach. “I feel a huge sense of responsibility to make it the best it can be for them.”
According to Richardson, Palm Valley Academy will be comprised of students from all Nocatee neighborhoods on the Town Center side of the master planned community, as well as all of Twenty Mile and Kelly Pointe. The PARC Group, the master developer of Nocatee, has built a bridge for pedestrians, golf carts and bicycles to connect Twenty Mile to the school.
Richardson says students zoned for the new school would have previously attended Landrum Middle School in Ponte Vedra Beach or Valley Ridge Academy, the other K-8 school in Nocatee that mostly serves Greenleaf Lakes. About 70 percent of the students and several staff members from OPES, says Richardson, are going to Palm Valley Academy.
Although the school is designed for K-8, Palm Valley Academy will first start out with K-6 so students currently in seventh and eighth grade at Landrum and Valley Ridge don’t have to make two transitions in just one or two years.
“The research will tell you if kids are going to transition, it’s best if they can help it not to transition in middle school because that’s the hardest time in your K-12 career developmentally, socially and emotionally,” says Richardson. “In the last two k-8s that opened, they didn’t move the eighth graders over at all because they didn’t want them to have a transition and then another transition to high school. They felt the same way about the seventh graders (here).”
Some of the exciting features of the school include a state-of-art media center with a TV production room and virtual lab; 75-inch interactive touch panels, whiteboard tables and flexible seating in the classrooms; and common areas for collaboration. Thanks to a donation from THE PLAYERS Championship and support from the Ponte Vedra Public Education Foundation, the hallways of Palm Valley Academy will also be filled with close to 400 pieces of art.
According to Richardson, the school will feature the latest technology and surveillance cameras, and administrators, teachers and students will receive safety training to maximize safety and security. Other safety measures incorporated by the school cannot be shared publicly.
Certain aspects of the school will also reflect the history of Palm Valley since the new building is situated in the heart of the old community. For example, the front office will feature black and white photos of the old 210 drawbridge, and the school’s mascot is the bobcat, an animal that is indigenous to the area. In addition, the school’s colors are green, gold and indigo, a native Palm Valley plant.
Richardson also explained that the school is one of two in the St. Johns County School District to be launching a new program called “Capturing Kids’ Hearts,” which trains students and staff on how to respectfully and professionally treat each other.
“That’s going to form the foundation for who we are,” says Richardson, whose school is partnering on the launch of the program with Freedom Crossing Academy in St. Johns, the new K-8 school in St. Johns County. “Greeting each other with a handshake. Looking at people in the eyes. Giving positive affirmations. We’ll be doing that as a school family.”