A second phase of construction for a middle school is underway at Key Largo’s Ocean Studies Charter School. DAVID GROSS/Keys Weekly

Construction of a second-story, middle-school wing at Key Largo’s Ocean Studies Charter School is moving quickly in anticipation for completion later this year. 

Students attending the NOAA-recognized Ocean Guardian School entered classrooms at a new facility at MM 100, bayside, last year. Before that, Ocean Studies operated out of a facility in Tavernier. 

Fast forward to late May. Students waved goodbye to their teachers as they prepared for summer break and camp season. By June 1, CBT construction crews were at the school beginning work on the school’s second story for students in sixth through eighth grades. 

At the corners of the facility’s second floor, four classrooms will be constructed for ELA, math, civics and multi-purpose use. A courtyard with seating in the middle will give students the ability to eat and learn in the open air. 

Ocean Studies principal Trisha Woods stood in amazement as she viewed the progress to the school’s second phase of construction — the first being the first floor for students in kindergarten to fifth grade. Woods said the tentative completion date is the Friday before Thanksgiving break. 

“The changes have all taken place so quickly, but it’s so much fun,” Woods said. “The biggest thing for me is being able to see our fifth graders be able to continue with us through eighth grade. For me, that’s the biggest thing — not losing them.”

Students at Ocean Studies Charter School are immersed in Florida Keys science through hands-on learning and exploration out on the waters. Woods said students moving into middle school will enhance their education.

“They’re going to take the comparison of what they learned about in the Florida Keys and the environment down here and start to compare it on a national and global level. Hopefully, they will pursue that when they move on to Coral Shores.”

Work to bring a new school for students, teachers and staff began in November 2018 with a capital campaign kickoff in a bid to buy a facility, build classrooms and equip a marine science lab and an outdoor space to learn and play.

By December 2019, Ocean Studies had scoped out various sites and decided to buy

the Fountain Plaza building. Renovations started in March of that year. Project costs totaled around $3 million.

Ocean Studies Charter School will be welcoming sixth graders this coming school year. In the 2022-23 school year, students in seventh and eighth grade will be in classrooms. 

Enrollment for grades K-6 has reached its cap of 160 for the coming school year. In 2022, enrollment will grow to 180. 

Once construction of the middle school is complete, Woods said phase three will begin, to build an outdoor marine science lab in the hammock area next to the school. The school is also looking at installing an outdoor playscape area. 

“We want to utilize that space and have kids exploring in there and learning about spaces in the hammock,” she said. 

Ocean Studies Charter School is a nonprofit chartered by the school board to provide education to all eligible students in Monroe County. Ocean Studies’ vision is to create a foundation for students to become scientists, mathematicians, writers, free thinkers, guardians of the waters and responsible citizens of the world.

Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.