LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – A former miniature golf course in the Mount Dora area will go from being run down to the new home of CREATE Conservatory, a nonprofit school in Lake County.
“Our actual intention is to keep one or two of the holes out in the back to let the kids play on it, but also to try to use it for some fundraising from time to time,” said Nicole Duslak, founder and principal of the school. “I think the community is very excited that the property itself is not only gonna be utilized again for something constructive but something that’s as wonderful as an endeavor as an elementary school.”
[TRENDING: Professional dancer loses legs after contracting meningococcal meningitis infection | Museum Day: How to get free admission to Central Florida museums | Enter to win Kroger grocery gift card | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]
In 2020, the former Orange County public school teacher took a leap of faith and founded CREATE conservatory school, a nonprofit located in Leesburg, and about 7 miles from Adventure Cove, the former mini golf course.
“When we started it was seven kids and me in a classroom and when we got our data back at the end of the year our students showed an average of 3 years of growth in every subject area,” Duslak said. “I think that the community is starting to see that this is different, and it works, and I think our children leave happy.”
In 2021, the mom of two won a News 6 Getting Results award for her work as an educator. She said it’s her methodology that’s made all the difference with her students.
“We teach arts integration essentially,” Duslak said. “STEM education through arts integration. We teach science, technology, engineering, math, same subjects that everybody else teaches but we teach it through singing and dancing and painting, drawing, music, movement. So we don’t have desks at our school. The kids sit on bean bag chairs or couches they sit on the floor.”
She said the methodology has proved incredibly successful for all students.
“For children who are gifted, talented and creative, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of success (as well as) in students that have ADD and ADHD because we don’t tell our children to sit down and be quiet. We encourage questions, and movement and discussion,” she added.
Now in their third year, Duslak said enrollment is at 28 students and five staff members, which is why they need more space. So she found the empty golf course. The main building is being renovated and turned into three classrooms. Duslak expects to welcome her students to their new school after the Thanksgiving break.
The Pennsylvania native who moved to Central Florida in 2009 said she finds the reward of her hard work in her students’ reactions.
“In education, they talk about these ‘aha’ moments, that kids have ‘aha’ moments and I can’t tell you how many times that I have ‘aha’ moments with kids in the classroom and it’s just like ‘That’s it, that’s why I’m doing this,’” she said.
You can listen to every episode of Florida’s Fourth Estate in the media player below: