Confluence Connect 2020/2021

The Confluence Connect is the official newsletter of Confluence Academies' five charter schools, which is published throughout each school year. In addition to publishing online, printed copies are available to families at each of the schools. 

As this very unusual school year comes to a close, I would like to take a moment to share a few thoughts on behalf of the leadership team here at Confluence Academies. While none of us imagined a school year disrupted or cut short of its activities, our dedicated staff adapted to their environment, discovering new educational concepts and strategies. In spite of the pandemic’s challenges, Confluence Academies continued to fill this school year with new learning experiences and saw students excel in academics, sports, and fine arts. 


We are truly amazed by the flexibility, tenacity, and creativity our students have displayed as they handled this new way of learning. Their resilience has shown their capacity to overcome obstacles and learn important lessons as students and young adults. 


As we close out this year and look toward the 2021-2022 school year, we want to share a few updates in preparation for a successful start this fall:


  • The power of the classroom is strong. To date, roughly 54 percent of our students have physically returned to school and are actively engaged in learning safely. We are encouraged by the response of students attending in-person learning and wish nothing but the full return of all children to the classroom. 
  • Changes at Aspire Academy. This next school year, Aspire Academy will take a new emphasis on early learning, concentrating on pre-kindergarten to 2nd grade. Students in 3rd through 8th grades will attend school at Old North Academy. 
  • Summer school registration is open. Our summer program for kindergarten through 12th grade runs from June 7 to July 2. Learn more about our free summer school programs on the following page, and register online at


We look forward to being together again in the fall for what will be an incredible school year! 

Confluence Academies’ free summer school programs are kicking off soon, and it’s time to register your student.


Aspire, Old North, and South City

A full-day summer program combining academically rigorous core classes with enriching, exciting, and fun activities. 

  • Grades: K - 8th
  • Monday - Friday
  • June 7 - July 2, 2021
  • 7:30 am - 3 pm 
  • Breakfast and lunch provided
  • Transportation provided



A half-day program focusing on credit recovery and credit advancement. Students will be enrolled in online programs suited to their specific credit needs.

  • Grades: 9th - 12th
  • Monday - Friday
  • June 7 - July 2, 2021
  • 7:30 am - 12 pm 
  • Breakfast and lunch provided
  • Transportation provided
    at CPA
  • In-person and online options available


Register online -

Josh Burton

The music department at Grand Center Arts Academy is getting an upgrade. From shiny new instruments to a beautifully renovated basement, a number of fresh new sights and sounds are coming to GCAA. Instruments are an essential part of GCAA’s music education. This year, a tuba (pictured: Josiah Burton), xylophone, and timpani have joined the band. They will be available to all three band ensembles from 6th to 12th grades, and expand opportunities for GCAA musicians to perform and compete.


“We are excited to put these instruments to use and show our students’ creative talents,” said Stephanie Grasso, band director for the school. “It was apparent they knew the network was investing in their education as musicians. That support encourages them to invest more into their art.” 


Additionally, the music department is working on updating the school’s music wing located in the basement. The renovation potentially includes instrument lockers and colorful hallway murals. 

Old North Band

Showing Off Old North’s Creativity


Old North Academy’s first-ever Art & Music Walk was a beautiful success filled with murals, music, and camaraderie. Students submitted self-portraits, Black Lives Matter murals, and artworks modeled after Missouri’s Black artists and historical figures. While these masterpieces were on prominent display for passersby, the 8th grade modern rock band (pictured) performed live for the audience. 


“The art walk was amazing,” said Dr. Leslie Muhammad, Old North Academy’s principal. “On display were some of the most talented sketches and paintings, and the musical ensemble was outstanding!”


The art walk, which was orchestrated by Old North Academy art and music teachers, Margaret Prindable and Dorothy Pino, was hosted near the iconic Crown Candy. Members of the community, school staff, and families were invited to the block party as were students who took a field trip to support their fellow classmates. 


“To see the planning come to fruition of Ms. Prindable & Ms. Pino with the community organizations, businesses, and residents of Old North was just heartwarming,” Dr. Muhammad said. “The students, staff, community organizations and businesses enjoyed the Art & Music Walk from the morning well into the evening.”

CPA Signage

Under the leadership of Principal Dayle Burgdorf, Confluence Preparatory Academy has received a new look. “We have been working on new signage at CPA in hopes of encouraging our students to return back to in-person learning for the current and next school year,” said Burgdorf. “We are creating an environment they can feel proud of.” The new signage sparks school pride and shows off the Titan spirit. Each of the banners and window decals describe what it means to be a Titan. From the time students arrive in the morning to lunchtime in the Titan Cafe and going from class to class, CPA’s school spirit is on full display. Go Titans! 

GCAA Dancer

GCAA Performs Virtual Dance Showcase


Dance students at Grand Center Arts Academy have shown remarkable perseverance and drive during a unique school year. From virtual residencies to finding places to dance in their homes to troubleshooting Wi-Fi issues, GCAA students found ways to keep the show going. 


In March, they performed their first virtual dance showcase, featuring ballet, jazz, and modern dance under the leadership of Sommer Harris-Nance, Ashley Anslinger, Nicki Beier, and Nicole Kennett. Students learned the choreography online and performed with little-to-no practice together. 


“Coordinating a dance without physically being together was definitely a challenge,” said Harris-Nance, dance department lead at GCAA. “We are so proud of our dance team and their ability to put this all together.” Harris-Nance says students are currently preparing for a bigger and better dance showcase to be live-streamed in May.

Rashad Nelson Erica Pargo Rodney Combs

This spring, Aspire Academy’s 3rd grade students from Elisheba Dotson and Alicia Yount’s classes set up a unique history “museum,” highlighting historical figures who have impacted the world. Some of the famous African Americans whom students portrayed, included: Misty Copeland, Mae Jemison, Satchel Paige, and Barack Obama. 


“We want our students to gain knowledge about the accomplishments, perspectives, and experiences of individuals who overcame adversity and racism,” said Lacqweda Taylor, principal at Aspire Academy. 


Getting into character, students dressed up in costumes and presented an informative monologue for their classmates and families. Each presentation came to life when attendees pushed a button, just like a museum exhibit. In preparation, students researched their historical figure and their relevance then and now.

Old North play

Old North Academy recently participated in Diversity in Theatre: Making the Change, a webinar and live discussion on creating a more understanding and diverse arts community. The virtual conversation featured special guest speakers: T. Oliver Reid and Warren Adams (co-founders of Black Theatre Coalition), Tony-winning Broadway producer Hunter Arnold (Hadestown, Dear Evan Hansen, Once on This Island), and host Tina Cocumelli (TBD Theatricals). Topics included: effectively raising up diverse voices as well as strategies for making costumes, adjusting lighting, doing hair and makeup, and overall design in order to be more inclusive of Black, Indigenous, and people of color. 


“It was wonderful, and I truly learned so much,” said Joe Always-Baker, theater teacher at Old North. “I am writing down key points for our next performances and am excited to bring these opportunities to Old North Academy!”

Stephanie Grasso


GCAA’s music department hosted its inaugural Solo and Ensemble Festival in April 2021, featuring classical, jazz, and contemporary performances. Middle and high school students participated in workshops with professional musicians and artists from the St. Louis area. In addition to observing the ensemble – much like a masterclass setting – the adjudicators provided constructive feedback to help students improve their skills. 


“This was a unique opportunity for our GCAA students to work with top professionals,” said Stephenie Grasso (pictured), band director for the school. “It was extremely beneficial to their music education and passion.”


The Solo and Ensemble Festival is anticipated to become an annual event.

Old North Joins CPA as Second to Offer Esports


Esports (also known as electronic sports) is an organized form of competitive video gaming in which players participate individually or as a team and compete against opposing schools or players. 


“Esports is a growing industry, and we want to provide these opportunities to our students,” said Dr. Leslie Muhammad, the school’s principal. “By exposing our students to different opportunities, we are expanding their skills and experiences for future career aspirations.”


Like other sports, gaming can be a platform to develop problem-solving, critical communication, and teamwork, all of which are skills necessary to succeed in school, work, and relationships. These necessary skills can build a strong community that demonstrates leadership, commitment, and create an engaged learning environment. 


Confluence Academies introduced esports to Confluence Preparatory Academy in 2020. It’s an experience that provided CPA’s high school students with the ability to pursue their education while continuing to grow their passion for technology and video games. Now, it is a shared experience that our younger students at Old North Academy can enjoy. 

CPA basketball

Pictured: Kameren Bevel (12th), Gabe Butler (11th), Bryant Moore (9th), Trasean White (11th), Korey Lawrence (11th), Cedric Wilson (11th), Caleb Burton (11th), Aaron Mitchel (9th), Andrew Jackson (11th), and Kywren Thorpes (11th)



This season, Confluence Preparatory Academy’s boys basketball team dominated the court! Congratulations to CPA’s graduating seniors, Kameren Bevek and Cedric Wilson; and a special shout-out to Coach Brian Karvinen for leading the team through a winning season that also included biweekly COVID testing and three quarantine periods. 


“This season would not have been possible without the constant support, encouragement, and motivation from Coach Karvinen,” said Angela Prebianca, athletics and activities director at CPA. “He is an amazing mentor, guide, and supporter for our athletes, and we cannot thank him enough!”


Congratulations to the Titans for a winning season! 


Season Stats:

  • Regular season wins/losses: 13/6 
  • Rankings: #4 in the Missouri Class 4 Coaches
    poll; #1 in the district going into the district tournament (ultimately forfeited due to COVID)
  • Tournaments: Won the Francis Howell Tournament of Champions

Kimberly Medina


Monday, April 12, 2021 was an exciting day in Kayla Anderson’s 3rd grade class! A few weeks prior, the class had mailed letters to public officials asking them to help make changes in our community. Kimberly Medina (pictured) wrote to Mayor Lyda Krewson about recycling. Then, a representative from the mayor’s office hand-delivered a response, providing information on how the school can get free recycling cans as well as informational posters about the benefits of recycling. 


“At South City Academy, we want our students to be aware of the environment and the importance of looking after it,” said Pam Davenport, principal at South City. “We can do small acts that can make a big difference.”


Way to go, Kimberly! Thank you for making a difference. 

Teacher of the year


Thanks to our Teachers, Support Staff & Professionals!


Confluence Academies has some of the finest educators who do an amazing job supporting and teaching our students each and every year! This year, however, through difficult times, they found new ways to go above and beyond. 


“Our staff, teachers, and professionals have supported our students through this past two semesters as they learned remotely,” said Dr. Candice Oliver-Carter, CEO of Confluence Academies. “They have inspired their students and colleagues to do their very best, and we are proud to have them all in the Confluence family!”


A special thank you to our wonderful teachers, support staff, and professionals of the year. Congratulations! 


Teacher list

Confluence Connect Winter 2021

Aspire Academy DJs

Since the return to in-person learning, Aspire Academy’s fifth through eighth graders have taken over the airwaves! Every morning, students get creative with the daily announcements, encouraging and motivating their fellow classmates and teachers. The spunky morning “deejays” set the tone for the day with shout-outs, daily inspirations, birthday recognitions, and a look forward to what’s for lunch. 

“I enjoy listening to our students’ energetic voices over the intercom,” said Lacqweda Taylor, principal at Aspire Academy. “It always brings a smile to my face to hear their confidence grow every day.”

The students who do the morning announcements are having fun and being creative, while building confidence with public speaking, learning responsibility, and practicing communication and listening skills.  

Confluence Academies has welcomed the new year with a renewed hope and vigilance. Over the past few months, we have learned a lot from our students, families, faculty, and staff about what has and what hasn’t worked for them as they learn, love, teach and support each other at school and online. As a network of five, distinct campuses, we not only listen and learn, we also respond.  

So far this year, our response has improved network-wide policies and protocols for the well-being of our entire Confluence Academies family. Mandatory face coverings, hand sanitizing stations, disinfectant wipes, cleaning supplies, and limited interactions between students and staff are among many precautions taken at each campus and at every grade level. 

School is a vital part of a child’s development, doing far more than teaching them to read and write. It equips them with life-long skills such as critical thinking and problem solving. School builds a critical foundation for students and fosters their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. We thank you for entrusting Confluence Academies with your child’s education; we are committed to their education, health and community achievement. 

Whether in-person or virtual, we understand that returning to school may bring with it legitimate concerns and even some anxiety. We will continue to listen and work together to tackle the challenges that in-person learning may present. I am immensely proud of the relentless efforts of those who have responded to the needs of others, encouraged one another, and been patient with us as we make difficult decisions.

This year has no doubt presented challenges, but here at Confluence Academies, I am confident in our students, families, faculty, and staff. Even when we have not been able to be together physically, we’ve grown closer than ever as we support one another through difficulties and celebrate together our victories. In 2021, we wish you peace, health, and hope. 

Carole Barnes CPA Teacher

In a year full of challenges, getting math help is easy. Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, Confluence Preparatory Academy (CPA) offers math tutoring to all of its students on Zoom and in person. From getting help on missed lessons to having content re-taught, students are encouraged to be proactive and resourceful about their own learning.   

CPA’s lead math teacher, Carole Barnes, Ed.S., coordinates the tutoring program with the help of college students from Saint Louis University.  

“We have a wonderful group of college students and math teachers dedicated to making a difference for our young people,” she said. “We call it math tutoring, but it is so much more. Our students not only get needed math help, they also talk about college with the tutors. We are fortunate to be able to offer this to our students.”

While Barnes is new to CPA, she has been in the classroom for several years. She is passionate about helping young people, so it is no surprise that her caring heart is what makes the biggest difference. 

Her students couldn’t agree more. “Ms. Barnes is patient and makes sure every student understands,” said Lawrencia Green. “She always makes sure every student in her class is successful,” added Andrew T. Jackson. Green and Jackson are both students in Barnes’ Algebra 2 class. 

Katie SwitzerThe Missouri Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (MACTE) has selected Grand Center Arts Academy (GCAA) teacher, Katie Switzer, as one of Missouri’s Outstanding Beginning Teachers. Every two years, MACTE honors exemplary new teachers for their work and achievements. Missouri Baptist University nominated Switzer for the award because of her outstanding work with high school students in biology, advanced biology, and animal behavior. This is her second year teaching at Confluence Academies.

“At GCAA, we are proud of Switzer’s accomplishments and what she has done for students,” said Dr. Shane Hopper, high school principal. “We are grateful she is part of our GCAA family and look forward to more achievements ahead. Congratulations!” 

MACTE will recognize Switzer in March 2021.

Old North Academy's NutcrackerStudents at Old North Academy concluded 2020 with their first virtual – and one of their largest-ever – winter performance productions. The talented group of performers entertained their large audience with monologues, musical performances, and acting. The second-grade class performed a musical rendition of The Nutcracker as they learned about its 19th century Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. 

Joe Always-Baker, theater teacher at Old North Academy, created hand-made costumes, decorations, and lighting to stage the perfect look and backdrop for students. Looking the part, all of the student performers embraced their roles with confidence and put on a fantastic show.

Elementary teachers, Meg Prindable and Dorothy Pino, also contributed to the play’s overall ambiance. Prindable’s artwork was on prevalent display, while Pino performed a bossa nova (a style of samba) on the flute. 

“Thank you to our teachers for always going above and beyond for our students at Old North Academy, giving them memorable experiences like this one,” Old North Academy Principal Dr. Leslie Muhammad said. “The show was a huge success, and we are proud of our students for their tireless efforts and hard work.”

In May 2021, Old North Academy will host City Kids, a performance starring its students and written and directed by theater teacher, Joe Always-Baker. The unique performance will be pre-recorded as a scripted reality show, juxtaposing a self-serving arts camp owner with the City Kids art program where children come first.  

The story goes: Mrs. Floyd is a performing arts program CEO whose priority is money. Her business, like others during the pandemic, has suffered, but her competitor is flourishing. Why? Because at City Kids, the children’s dreams, goals, and emotional needs are met. 

Join Old North Academy’s performing artists on May 21 and 22 for a journey of hope, laughter, dreams, art, music, dance, discovery, and community.  

UMSL's Bridge ProgramUMSL’s Bridge Program provides year-round, comprehensive, pre-collegiate programs to selected high schoolers in the St. Louis area. The University of Missouri - St. Louis program reduces the obstacles to college entry and lights the path to a brighter future for future leaders. 

Four Grand Center Arts Academy (GCAA) students were accepted into the UMSL Bridge Program’s 2020-2021 Virtual Saturday Academy. The program focuses on building 

skills in mathematics, science, and writing. Students also receive ACT instruction and tutorial support as well as career and personal development in preparation for college courses. 

“We are excited to continue our partnership with UMSL,” said Ashley Olson, GCAA’s head of school. “We want to congratulate the students who were selected for their academic efforts and achievements:
Joshua Bruton (9th), Tae’Shia Johnson (10th), Aislyn Morrow (10th), and Damara Batteast (12th).”

Rischa JohnsonDuring 2020, the nation faced a significant shift in conversations, attitudes, and responses to racial inequalities across the United States. Rischa Johnson, a language arts teacher at Confluence Preparatory Academy (CPA), addressed the importance of reflecting and confronting racism in St. Louis.

“I want my students to learn the importance of their surroundings, to recognize systematic oppression for what it is, and to improve the educational experience for Black students,” said Johnson. 

She encouraged her freshmen class to be aware of current events, preparing them to participate in conversations on social and racial injustices. The class covered a variety of topics dealing with racism, using Newsela, which is an online education platform where educators can source content like timely news articles. They talked about Mississippi changing its state flag and New York’s consideration of removing the Columbus statue. They also dived into issues like how racism is a health issue and what obstacles people of color face when voting. As an assignment, each student researched one of the five types of racism and gave a presentation to share what they learned, incorporating a variety of information, images, and personal touches. 

In December 2020, Aspire Academy staff launched an initiative to serve its students and families to combat the ongoing stressors the pandemic has caused. After compiling a list of needed resources, the school’s staff and administrators donated and delivered toiletries, cleaning supplies, clothes, and meals.

“We wanted to provide resources to our families during the holiday season and help in any way we can,” said Lacqweda Taylor, principal of Aspire Academy. “Our generous administration team took the time to drop off care-baskets to students and families. We want to thank them for choosing Aspire Academy.”

If you need resources or have resources to contribute, contact Aspire Academy’s administration office at 314-383-8900 or [email protected].

Dorothy Pino's DrawingOld North Academy teachers, Meg Prindable and Dorothy Pino, are busy preparing an exciting art show – The Legacy of Black Lives in Missouri.

“We want our students to understand the importance of history and the legacies left before them,” said Old North Academy Principal, Dr. Leslie Muhammad, “And we are excited to show our community that this legacy will continue.” 

Scheduled for the spring 2021 semester, the exhibition will be an “arts walk,” where community members, families, and businesses are invited to stroll through a visual and musical history of Missouri’s many great artists. 

Scott Joplin, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis are among the artists to be highlighted with Pino performing a musical composition of the three. As a class collaborative project, student artists will create self-portraits modeled after Black artists and Black Lives Matter murals. Local musicians and artists are invited to participate
in hopes to inspire students with
their artistry. 

GCAA's A New Holiday

December 2020, three Grand Center Arts Academy (GCAA) students had the opportunity to participate in a Christmas musical titled, A New Holiday. The film was written by soul singer Brian Owens and actress Sophia Stephens. It was Owen’s directorial debut production of LIFE Creative Ecosystem (a partnership of LIFE Creative Group and LIFE Arts Inc.) 

The three dance students from GCAA who performed the choreography created by Keith Williams, the school’s theater director. A New Holiday is a musical representation of the rich talents of young St. Louis creatives, specifically creatives of color. 

The production, which featured an all-Black cast, was filmed in iconic venues across St. Louis, including: Jazz St. Louis, Powell Hall, and Sheldon Concert Hall. It was available just in time for Christmas, sending a hopeful message of finding joy and love during life’s journey.

“The students who participated in this production did a beautiful job,” said Williams. “As an arts school, this was an opportunity for us to highlight the excellent talent of our aspiring artists of color.”

Samanntha Davis ClassroomClassroom morale and student engagement has been nothing short of challenging in the 2020-2021 school year. Now more than ever, building relationships with students plays a critical role in their learning, whether virtual or

“We have lost the chance to connect with our students by high-fives, hugs, or a pat on the back,” said Samanntha Davis, a South City Academy teacher. “However, the door is open for new opportunities.” 

In Davis’ fourth-grade classroom, learning looks a bit different. Currently, students are learning reading comprehension skills while building a foundation for their Colonial America unit.  

While traditional graphics and pictures are useful teaching tools, Davis decided to take her approach a step further by giving her students an experience to remember. By donning a costume that coordinates with the unit’s Colonial time period, she’s given them a fun and uniquely visual experience. 

“Getting creative with lessons has been a necessary part of the classroom this year,” she said. “Naturally, everyone’s creativity shines differently, but it is shining nonetheless!”

Turns out, the Colonial costume gave her class the smiles and dressy demonstration they needed. 

Sue KielSouth City Academy extends a big THANK YOU to the school’s amazing social workers who are a steadfast and essential support system. We recognize Sue Kiel, whose never-ending encouragement, empathy, and kindness extends from staff to students to families. Keil is part of a dedicated team of social workers and counselors who play an important role at South City Academy. Shereese Bell and Jennifer Sieger’s ongoing efforts and commitment do not go unrecognized. We are honored and grateful to have you all in the family.

Popsicles at South City Academy

Connecting With Students During Covid-19 

At Confluence Academies, our teachers value human connection, something that can be difficult to achieve through virtual learning. Early in the 2020/2021 school year, South City Academy’s third grade teachers organized a small, outdoor event for families—incorporating all CDC guidelines for social distancing and masks. The event treated students and their families to popsicles, a photo booth, and goodies to take home. It also provided then an opportunity to connect face-to-face with school staff for the first time this year. 

“We wanted everyone to feel that for one day things were normal,” said Principal Pam Davenport. “At South City Academy, connecting with our students and families is important, and we love building relationships with new and current families. We hope this event is the first of many during the 2020/2021 school year.”

Approximately 50 families stopped by to connect with teachers, grab a popsicle, snap a picture in the photo booth, and pick up their child’s progress report.

 Confluence Serves Meals

Over the summer and while classrooms have been physically closed, Confluence Academies has continued to serve and feed thousands of families in the St. Louis area, easing the food burden for many people in our community. 

From March to August 2020, Confluence Academies facilitated more than 525,000 meals for children (students and non-students) and their families, a number that continues to rise. The schools’ business manager, Rene Hughes, coordinates with food vendors, keeping Aspire Academy, Old North Academy, and South City Academy stocked and ready to serve nutritious meals every Monday morning.
“It is in our mission to provide free, high-quality food during this difficult time,” said Hughes. “Our food vendor, Chartwells, has been a tremendous help in preparing and serving nutritious meals to all of our families.” 

Meals consist of five, pre-packaged breakfasts and lunches per student—a total of ten perfectly balanced meals for the school week. All children ages 18 and younger can participate and do not need to be a Confluence Academies student. Our network participates in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows all students a free breakfast and lunch. 

  • Where: Aspire Academy, Old North Academy,  and South City Academy (Compton)
  • When: Mondays, 8am-12pm
  • What: Five pre-packaged breakfasts and lunches
  • Who: Children ages 18 or younger (Need not be a Confluence student Meals available for adults for a fee)

Little Bit Foundation LogoThe Little Bit Foundation has been a pillar at Old North Academy. Before the pandemic, the organization visited the school every Tuesday, bearing clothes, shoes, coats, hygiene items, laundry items, school supplies, and snacks. During the pandemic, the organization has proven true to its mission as it continues to meet the needs of our students and families. 

  • Feeding Hope - Offers local mobile food marts and delivers fresh groceries and warm food items to the homes of more than 20 Old North Academy families. 
  • School Supplies - When school first started and families came to pick up their Chromebook, Little Bit Foundation handed out food bags and 250+ school supply kits.
  • Tutoring - When students needed assistance with math and English language arts (ELA), they sent over Saint Louis University students to provide tutoring
    for 50 students.  
  • Essentials - Little Bit Foundation continues to allow our counselors and social workers to order clothing and hygiene items.

“The Little Bit Foundation understands that the needs of our families have not stopped,” said Dr. Leslie Muhammad, Old North Academy principal. “We appreciate and are extremely thankful for the Little Bit Foundation and their consistent generosity to our students and families. We are forever thankful for all that they do for our families. A Little Bit means a whole lot to us at Old North Academy!”

Signs at GCAA

A New Look for GCAA

Grand Center Arts Academy will welcome back students with colorful new signage encouraging them to reflect, collaborate, create, imagine, and innovate. The new signage is visible at the building’s entrance and for passers-by along Grand Avenue.

Getting a Band Back Together 

Even though GCAA’s musicians aren’t able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder or rehearse face-to-face right now, they are still getting a band back together, so to speak. A new, after-school club created by GCAA music department teacher, Brian Vaccaro, gives students a virtual venue to learn and rehearse popular music in the genres of rock, pop, and R&B. The club consists of talented GCAA students including three vocalists, two guitarists, two saxophonists, as well as a bass, keyboard, and trumpet. The group meets online on Thursdays and looks forward to performing together in the same place. 

This year, students at Confluence Academies—like at many other schools—saw a very different start to their 2020/2021 school year. In the interest of public health and safety, we adjusted our approach to teaching students, remaining aware and flexible to the ever-changing environment. In addition to virtual classes, we set up virtual learning support centers at our three elementary schools—Aspire Academy, Old North Academy, and South City Academy—where we were able to physically accommodate students and families who needed technology, supervision, or educational support. 

While we want our students to continue their education in spite of difficult circumstances, their health and safety are of utmost importance in all of our network’s decisions. We are in close contact with the state and local health authorities along with other school districts as we weigh each option with a focus on your child’s’ physical, emotional, mental, and educational needs.  

During these months, we have also been observing, gathering information, and collecting feedback from our students and families to envision what returning to in-person learning may look like. Our goal is to bring back Pre-K–fifth grade students to our three elementary schools for in-person learning in the fall. In preparation, we are implementing a number of procedures for tracking and responding to COVID-19 cases:  

  • We are closely monitoring COVID-19 data trends for our region, including test positivity rates, transmission rates, and seven-day averages of new cases.
  • We are carefully monitoring in-person activities that have or are continuing to take place as well as our virtual learning support centers and athletics/activities. 

We want to take this time to thank our staff, teachers, families, and students for being patient and flexible this year. So far, 2020 has been a memorable year full of change and adjustments. Confluence Academies wants the best for our students and will continue to move forward to provide the educational support and necessary resources for our families.

Dorothy Pino

Dorothy Pino, Old North Academy

Dorothy Pino is Old North Academy’s newest music teacher. If you have a fourth through eighth grader at Old North Academy, you’ve no doubt heard them practicing their recorders for her class. If your student is a little younger, they’ve been learning small percussion instruments, but you certainly already knew and heard that. “It has definitely been a challenge through virtual learning, but it makes me excited to share my passion of music with my students and have my students also be excited to learn,” said Pino. “I am excited to get back into the classroom and hope to get as many instruments in their hands as possible!” When students return to school, they will be using xylophones, glockenspiels, and metallophones as instruments to learn music theory gradually and accurately.

Jessica Sparks

Jessica Sparks, South City Academy

Jessica Sparks has been an educator for 12 years, the last three teaching sixth grade math at South City Academy. Whether she’s teaching virtually or in-person, Sparks takes the time to get to know her students and understand their needs and concerns. “When we first started virtual learning, I was worried my students and I wouldn’t be able to connect as we have in the past,” said Sparks. “Right now, even being virtual, we are building a really strong foundation for when we do return in person. It’s during these times that we truly become a FAMILY.” Jessica has made an effort to continue her sixth grade family traditions, which include: daily announcements, motivational quotes, shout-outs, interactive facts of the day, student recognitions, and weekly and monthly challenges. These activities keep students motivated and encourages participation and engagement. 

Cassandra Elam

Cassandra Elam, Aspire Academy

Cassandra Elam is a first-year teacher at Aspire Academy. She teaches sixth grade English and has had an interesting experience teaching virtually. “The strangest part about teaching virtually is not being able to be with the kids physically,” says Elam. When we are together in the classroom, it is easy to pop over to a student and fix the problem or speak to them.” Although it has been a learning curve, teaching virtually has allowed Elam to think creatively on how to engage her students. She has utilized breakout rooms with Zoom and Google Meet to better understand her students’ needs and talk to them one-on-one more easily. She’s proud of her students, who have been very adaptive to the online learning environment. She says they’ve been patient and excellent through the computer! “It only took us a few days to get into the swing of virtual learning,” Elam said. “While students enjoy in-person classes and miss being around their friends and teachers, they have been so great!”

Brian Karvinen

Brian Karvinen, Confluence Preparatory Academy

Brian Karvinen is a physical education teacher and varsity basketball coach at Confluence Preparatory Academy, where he has taught for seven years. While he looks forward to returning to school with his students, Karvinen continues to embrace his virtual learning sessions with the same enthusiasm, passion, and motivation he would in-person. “The hardest part about virtual learning is not having that in-person interaction,” he said. “I want my students to be physically active and mentally well during this time, so keeping the classroom engaging
is important.” Karvinen’s classroom is a great example of a successful learning environment. Using YouTube videos, he teaches visual learners how to perform exercises. With PowerPoints, he facilitates lessons. On Zoom and Google Meet, he responds to his students’ questions, making sure they understand the concepts.

Michael Howe

Michael Howe, Grand Center Arts Academy

Grand Center Arts Academy’s chemistry teacher, Michael Howe, is a seasoned, 41-year teaching veteran. Over these four decades, his teaching methods have evolved, but never quite like this year. Howe has adapted traditional ways of teaching chemistry to the virtual learning space, while accommodating his students’ personalities and learning styles into his overall approach. “I had to build relationships and create ‘relationship trust with students,’” he said. “I realized some students were more introverted and hesitant to turn on their cameras or unmute themselves, so I created smaller group interactions to make the environment less intimidating.” Even though chemistry lends itself to hands-on learning, Howe has found ways to keep his students engaged and motivated. He demonstrates, uses animations, and encourages them to pay closer attention to specific details. 


Legos at Aspire Academy

Aspire Academy Introduces New Robotics Club 

This school year, Aspire Academy is proud to announce its new robotics program! This fun and innovative, after-school program will give students the opportunity to discover, explore, and learn new skills through programming robots. They will also compete in the FIRST LEGO League, a global robotics program that provides hands-on learning to middle school students. Aspire Academy students will participate in real-world problem-solving activities where they can develop their critical thinking, coding, and design skills in a fun, interactive environment. Working in teams, students will design functioning robots to solve “game missions” and submit their creation to the FIRST LEGO League challenge. Aspire Academy’s new robotics program is just one of the ways we are incorporating STEM-based learning in and out of the classroom.

Stepping Into Tradition

Stepping, or step-dancing, is a form of synchronized movement in which the entire body is used as an instrument, combining verbal sounds with rhythms created with the hands, feet, and legs. The creative expression is rooted in the “Greek songs” performed by African American fraternities and sororities as early as the 1900s. Aspire Academy is continuing the percussive tradition with Brandi Jones coaching the team of fourth through eighth grade boys and girls. Students practice and perform synchronized routines as a team, displaying their skill, style, and unity. The group is made up of excellent student leaders who are respectful, dedicated, and committed to their team.

CPA Esports Lounge

CPS’s New Game Room & Lounge is Here!   

In a time when traditional school sports are suspended because of the coronavirus, video gamers have a clear, tactical advantage—digital competition. Because esports is virtual in nature, Confluence Preparatory Academy’s newest team of Titans can still thrive in a competitive environment, albeit a virtual one. 

“By investing in esports, we are investing in our students and the future of technology,” said Dayle Burgdorf, principal of CPA. “We are creating an opportunity to implement innovative ways to teach students game-based learning, using game elements to solve problems.”

In addition to solving problems, esports helps students develop critical communication and teamwork skills, which are necessary to succeed in school, work, and life. When the season begins, students will compete against other students and schools in three games: League of Legends, Rocket League, and Overwatch.