The Ahfachkee School on the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Big Cypress Reservation unveiled a new state-of-the-art building at a ceremony Tuesday.
It's a technology-focused renovation to a school that was first founded around the 1940s as Big Cypress Day School. The renovation is helping to accommodate a growing student body at the school.
Dorothy Cain, the principal at Ahfachkee, said she's optimistic about the new building and this year's enrollment.
"They're coming back," Cain said. "Students are staying - and they're coming from all over the place. We take students in from Immokalee, we have students whose families live off the reservation - they live in Broward County: Pembroke Pines, Weston, Sunrise - they're coming to the school now."
Around 220 students in grades Pre-K-12 are enrolled to start this year, an upward trend. The biggest growth is in elementary enrollment. According to Cain, about 90 percent of the students at the private, tribally-operated school are Seminole, but the rest are from other tribes including, Choctaw, Navajo and Cherokee.
Cain attributes the increased enrollment to parents "trusting the school."
"The families are coming back because they see it now," she said. "We're producing kids that are graduating."
Now, as a part of the new building, students in middle and high school at Ahfachkee will have designated "collaboration centers," for when teachers bring different subjects together for a joint lesson. They'll have a biomedical lab for STEM-heavy education. And they'll have flexible furniture to bounce and roll on during class.
"To see this grow the way it has - the kids are coming back and they're excited about this new property that they have," Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr., said.
He called the new roughly $14 million school building - paid for in large part with gaming revenue - an investment in the future of the tribe.
"This is a big step in the future of our children," he said. "I mean, this is not only one generation, but multi-generations this impacts."
And plans are in the works for another renovation project at Ahfachkee school: of the elementary school building next door.
Correction: An earlier version of this report mistakenly stated that Ahfachkee School is a K-12 school, it is a Pre-K-12 school. We regret the error.