Aarrna Kunasekaran is a high school freshman whose environmental science project recently advanced to the regional finals. When she walks across the stage at graduation in four years, she’ll receive not only a high school diploma, but also an associate’s degree from the College of the Florida Keys.

Kunasekaran is a member of the very first freshman class at the new CFK Academy, a tuition-free, public charter high school located on the college’s Key West campus.

Current enrollment is about 43 students, and will grow next year as this year’s 11th-graders become the first seniors and graduating class.

“I went to May Sands Montessori for elementary and middle school, and that was a small school community,” Kunasekaran said. “That’s what I was used to and it helped with my decision to come here instead of going to Key West High School. But I’d say the dual-enrollment path was the main factor. But it’s not mandatory. Students here can choose the regular or honors paths.”

Kunasekaran is in the process of taking practice placement tests that will ensure she is prepared to enroll in some college-level classes that will provide her with credits that are transferable to other schools, potentially saving her two years’ worth of college tuition.

“This year I was able to send four freshmen into college-level classes here on campus,” said principal Wendy McPherson, who spent nine years as principal of Marathon High School. “They did very well on the placement tests and we were confident they could handle it.”

CFK Academy students who enroll in college-level courses attend those classes in the college buildings with college professors and college classmates. They then return to the new CFK Academy building on campus for their traditional high school classes.

McPherson emphasized that the college students cannot access the CFK Academy building. Security is a top priority and a full-time police officer is present at the school. 

“Even our traditional high school science classes can reserve time in the college science labs,” McPherson said. “And if there is a class that a student wants to take we make arrangements to make that available through Florida Virtual School, and they’ll take the online class right here in our building. One student this year is taking Cantonese with that method.”

“We also have access to the college’s Tennessee Williams Fine Arts Center,” Kunasekaran said, adding that some teachers have taken their classes on walks around campus, including the college’s dive and environmental studies lagoon. “And we’re planning a pizza party at the college pool later this year.”

Although no athletics are offered at the CFK Academy, its students have access to all the extracurricular activities available at Key West High School.

 “I have a friend who goes to Key West High for an hour a day because she’s in band,” Kunasekaran said. 

Other CFK Academy students play on the KWHS soccer, track and lacrosse teams.

“Transportation is mainly up to the individual families to go back and forth, but I’ve also had coaches pick up student athletes here. I’ve put kids in an Uber to KWHS. We make it work.”

She added that the band members and athletes aren’t stigmatized or given any type of “outsider” status because they attend classes at CFK Academy. 

“Besides, most of the kids all went to grade school and middle school together somewhere, so they already know a bunch of students at KWHS.”

CFK Academy focuses on science, technology, engineering and math and career technical education. The curriculum centers on a project-based learning approach that provides students with hands-on engagement in the learning process, states the school’s website at

“The state of Florida has provided catalyst funds for charter schools on college campuses so students can save money on their higher education,” college President Jonathan Gueverra said last year when the school was nearing completion. “The goal is to make Florida a place where education is affordable. Parents don’t have to worry about transportation between two schools for dual enrollment. We want to do anything we can to make things more convenient and conducive. The students also get exposure and access to our career, technical and apprenticeship programs.”

There are no entrance exams or tuition required for admission to CFK Academy, but space is limited in each class, so if applications exceed the number of openings, a lottery system will be used to determine enrollment. 

Applications are due Monday, Feb. 26 and if necessary, a lottery will take place Feb. 29.Visit for more information.

Mandy Miles
Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.