Mount Dora, Florida: Mount Dora Christian Academy is proud to announce its upcoming Veterans Day Parade and Program, dedicated to honoring and celebrating the brave men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces. This event will take place on Friday, Nov. 10, and is open to the public.
The parade begins at 9:15 a.m., with the program following immediately in the MDCA gymnasium. Highlights of the event include a performance of the national anthem by the Academy Band and recognition of veterans from each branch of the Armed Forces.
This year’s featured speaker is MDCA alumnus Capt. Aaron Monkman.
Monkman enlisted as a specialist in the Infantry in February of 2012 and was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He then deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in the Khost-Gardez area of the Paktiya Province from May to December of 2013. Upon return, he was accepted into Officer Candidate School and commissioned from OCS in September 2014 as an infantry officer. He attended Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was subsequently assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia. While there, Monkman served as an assistant operations officer, a mechanized platoon leader, and a mechanized company executive officer. He deployed to Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, and Estonia in support of the Regionally Aligned Forces Europe in 2015 and 2016.
Upon completing Maneuver Captain’s Career Course in 2019, Monkman served as an OSUT Company Commander of Delta Company 2-58 IN. Following this assignment, he served as assistant operations officer until taking command of Crusher Company from May 2021 to August 2022. He is now assigned as an Assistant Professor of Military Science at Ohio University, teaching tactics and other classes to ROTC Cadets.
Monkman is a graduate of the Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course, Captain’s Career Course, Ranger School, Air Assault School, and Bradley Leader Course. His awards and decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal (2), Army Commendation Medal (3), Army Achievement Medal (5), National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Ranger Tab, Air Assault Badge, Combat Infantry Badge, and Expert Infantryman Badge.
Date: Friday, Nov. 10
Time: Parade begins at 9:15 a.m., followed by program at 9:30 a.m.
Location: Parade starts from clock tower and ends at gymnasium
Speaker: Class of 2006 alumnus Capt. Aaron Monkman
The Veterans Day Program at MDCA is a testament to our commitment to honor the sacrifices made by veterans and instill a sense of gratitude and responsibility among our students. We encourage the community to share in this special occasion. Veterans who would like to participate in the parade may contact Arin Wales at email@example.com or (352) 729-9159 for more information.
About Mount Dora Christian Academy: Established in 1945, MDCA currently serves nearly 800 students from preschool through grade 12. We believe in the power of a Christ-centered community to cultivate faith-driven world changers. Building on our legacy of faith and service, we educate, equip, and empower our community to love God and others, pursue excellence, and impact our world. The fulfillment of our mission can be seen in our 2023 graduates, who earned $4.8 million worth of scholarships and logged more than 8,500 hours of community service.
For Kaitlyn Smith, the decision to join a medical mission to Jamaica was driven by a potent blend of curiosity and compassion. With a familial background steeped in medical expertise, her desire to contribute to the greater good was deeply ingrained.
"I’ve always been around medical professionals and have been interested in working in the medical field, so I thought it would be a great opportunity,” she says.
This year, the UMG team set its sights on Falmouth General Public Hospital in Trelawny, Jamaica. Armed with a diverse array of medical services — including general surgery, dental, gastroenterology, urology, ophthalmology, and CPR training — and donations of medical supplies, the team aimed to make a tangible impact on the lives of those in need.
While the mission may have concluded, its impact on Smith’s future has continued. The experience left her with a trove of invaluable skills. She now stands at a crossroads of unlimited educational and vocational possibilities.
As she contemplates her future, she will consider both the practical and personal lessons she learned during her time in Jamaica. Here are 10 she has chosen to share with our MDCA community:
I loved being able to help people who truly needed it.
I was able to learn so many different skills, one being time management. This was my first job experience, and I had to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every single day.
I had the opportunity to shadow multiple nurses, doctors, and other practitioners. I learned so many things: how to place EKGs, draw up medication, and keep logs of all of the patients.
I learned to make decisions quickly, as we had patients coming in and out every minute.
One of the most valuable leadership lessons I learned was how to communicate. Being a leader doesn’t mean that you load all the work on yourself. It means that you have to delegate jobs and work efficiently with your team members or co-workers.
I really do believe that we can’t see how truly blessed we are until we interact with those who are less fortunate — those who don’t have the same opportunities that we take for granted.
I would tell other students to chase after their dreams. If they believe in themselves and have the drive, they should go for it! There are tons of ways to volunteer and get involved in the health care system.
Being a part of the Biomedical Science Institute (BSI) has been so helpful and eye-opening. You get to see all the different professions and analyze so many different parts of the medical field. I would recommend joining the program. Even if you don’t end up in the field, it’s still such a great learning opportunity.
Sometimes you will fail. You have to learn to be OK with failing and get back up and try again.
The medical field is so beautifully complex; there’s a little something for everyone. Go for it!
Athletics at Mount Dora Christian Academy continues to defy expectations
By the time graduation rolled around last May, 18 of 53 Mount Dora Christian Academy seniors had committed to a college sports team.
Of those 18 student-athletes, 11 had signed to compete for NCAA schools, four joining Division 1 programs. Those numbers aren’t an anomaly. Rather, they are becoming the trend at MDCA.
The Academy lies on 70 acres in Mount Dora, Florida, a suburb 45 minutes northwest of Orlando. It boasts an enrollment of nearly 800 students, 235 in grades 9-12. The average graduating class is about half the size of the typical senior class in an American high school.
Yet since 2018, 69 Academy students have signed to compete at the collegiate level, 12 with D-1 teams. MDCA alumni are playing for Marshall University, Louisiana State University, University of Michigan, Texas Tech University, Florida State University, Miami University, the United States Naval Academy, and more.
“The Academy has an athletics program second to none for a school its size,” says Dr. James W. Carr, interim president of MDCA. “Our students are recruited by an array of national D-1 programs. Very few institutions similar in size — if any — have placed 69 athletes on college teams in the last five years.”
According to the NCAA, approximately 2 percent of high school athletes are awarded a scholarship to compete in college. So how does a private Christian school sign 33 percent of its latest graduating class? The answer lies in an intentionally holistic culture that seeks to develop the heart, mind, soul, and strength of its athletes.
The heart of MDCA Athletics
At MDCA, there is a sport for almost everyone. The Academy boasts 33 teams, with nearly 83 percent of students in grades 9-12 competing on at least one of them. Teams compete in the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 2A, except football, which plays in the Sunshine State Athletic Association.
The Academy’s close-knit community plays a significant role in nurturing the potential of each student. Director of Athletics Megan Ziegelhofer and her staff focus on more than developing physical skills; they instill values of teamwork, dedication, and perseverance in every athlete who walks through their doors.
“The vision of our program is to develop the whole student-athlete — spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially — through athletics,” she says.
Faith comes first.
“We strive to have well-rounded student-athletes who are fulfilling their God-given potential,” says Ziegelhofer. “We encourage their spiritual development through participation in team-oriented spiritual growth opportunities. We teach them to honor God every day, in everything they do.”
For head football coach Kolby Tackett, that means building a program with love as the overall focus.
"When it comes to football, we don’t have a yearly theme,” he says. “But the philosophy of our entire program is based on John 15:13: ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Second, coaches encourage scholarship. They expect dedication to both the team and education.
“We are committed to excellence in academics,” says Ziegelhofer. “We assist in the academic development of our student-athletes by supporting our classroom teachers and school administration. Our department runs grade reports twice weekly on all student-athletes year round to ensure that no one falls through the cracks. If we have student-athletes who are struggling, we partner with our Academic Support team to ensure they receive the help they need to be successful.”
Finally, they explore athletic potential, examining each student’s unique talents and abilities.
“Our coaches understand the cultural demand for collegiate placement in athletics,” says Ziegelhofer. “We work hard to place our student-athletes in situations that fit them both academically and athletically. We equip and prepare them with the expectations of the college-bound athlete by taking an active role in each one of their recruiting processes. We are committed to supporting them during their time at MDCA as well as throughout their next journey.”
These values create individuals who are focused on boosting their athletic abilities, committed to academic pursuits, and driven by their faith to lead. In short, it creates winners — or as the Academy’s vision states, “faith-driven world changers.”
The journeys of former MDCA student-athletes testify to the power of a small school with a strong sense of community, where athletes are not just statistics but young men and women encouraged to become the best versions of themselves. Meet eight former Bulldogs whose time at the Academy prepared them to find success at the next level.
Isaiah Bryant (2023), football, United States Naval Academy
Before joining the United States Naval Academy, Bryant was a leader at MDCA both on the field and court. The three-sport athlete guided the football team to three consecutive state championship appearances; varsity basketball to three-straight district titles; and the track and field team to district, regional, and state championships his sophomore year. As a football player, he garnered first-team all-state honors as a safety, first-team honors as punt returner, and second-team recognition as a wide receiver. He served as captain for all three sports and is the school record holder in the 400-meter dash. To cap his senior year, he was selected the North Lake County Fellowship of Christian Athletes MVP, demonstrating his leadership and character in addition to his athletic prowess.
“There is one word that comes to mind when I think of MDCA Athletics and the people there, and that is ‘family,’” says Bryant. “The way that everybody there is invested in your success is not something that you will experience with every school and athletics program. Resiliency and adapting to change are what I gained from MDCA, and these have aided me in being successful at the next level.”
Dallas Dale (2023), baseball, Louisiana State University
Dale, an outfielder and offensive powerhouse, finished his senior season with a .400 batting average, 32 hits, 29 RBIs, and 9 home runs for the Bulldogs. He was ranked No. 9 outfielder and No. 54 overall player in Florida by Perfect Game for Class of 2023. He is currently gearing up for his first season with defending National College Baseball World Series champions LSU Tigers.
“MDCA Athletics and the people there just mean more,” says Dale. “You know it is truly a special place when every person around you wants you and themselves to be better. Having a program like that — filled with love and accountability — really helped me get to where I am now.”
Collin Priest (2023), baseball, University of Michigan
Priest’s performances as a Bulldog, whether at the plate or alternating between first and third, can be summed up with one word: solid. He concluded his senior year with a .417 batting average, 26 RBIs, and 11 home runs. He is a three-time all-state selection and three-time all-district selection. He led the Bulldogs to three district championships and one regional championship and holds the single-season home run record and career home run record. Now a Michigan Wolverine, Priest has already made a name for himself in the University’s summer league and is considered an MLB prospect.
“MDCA Athletics has brought me countless opportunities to grow and succeed,” he says. “The coaches and staff have created an environment that allowed me to achieve my goals and dreams.”
Emily Allen (2022), softball, Lander University
Allen had an outstanding first season as an outfielder for Lander University, following in the path she set during her time at MDCA. She was named Peach Belt Conference Freshman of the Year and first-team all-conference for her impressive performances at the plate. She was also named Freshman of the Week in both March and April and finished her freshman season with a .377 batting average, 43 hits, 35 RBIs, and 5 home runs.
“The coaches and teams did whatever they could to help me get where I wanted to be,” she says. “None of this would have been possible without MDCA’s love and support during my entire high school career. They prepared me with a godly mindset and the athletic skills I needed to compete in college.”
Reggie Virgil (2022), football, Miami University
The former three-sport athlete at the Academy saw action in 11 games during his freshman season with Miami University. A wide receiver, Virgil made most of his appearances on special teams, recording 8 tackles. He made his first career catch in a win over Robert Morris. As a junior at MDCA, he made 46 catches for 946 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“MDCA Athletics means a lot to me,” says Virgil. “Making the transition from public school to MDCA in seventh grade changed my life forever. Although I had to leave my friends and adapt to a new atmosphere, moving schools was the best decision for me and my future. It’s paying dividends.”
Gabe Curtis (2019), cross country/track and field, Florida State University
Before a successful academic and athletic career at FSU, Curtis was a cross country and track standout at MDCA. He earned two individual state titles while leading the cross country team to back-to-back state championships in 2017 and 2018. He then finished his senior year with a state title in the 3,200-meter run. During his time at FSU, Curtis began his own media production company, and he uses the skills learned as an athlete to lead and motivate his own employees.
“For me, MDCA Athletics is a program of excellence,” says Curtis. “We (former teammates) are constantly looking for ways to get better, doing what needs to be done to get to the next level and getting the most out of ourselves. That isn’t always the case when students leave their sport, and that tells me what we had was special. The people you surround yourself with … that is probably the most important thing in life.”
Jesiah Pierre (2019), football, Texas Tech University
Outside linebacker Pierre is entering his senior season with Texas Tech poised to make an impact. He emerged as one of last season’s standouts, appearing in all 13 games with 10 starts. During the 2022 season, he recorded 40 tackles (24 solo), including 7.0 for a loss and 4.5 sacks, one pass breakup, a forced fumble, and three quarterback hurries. He was also recognized as first-team Academic All-Big 12 honoree for his work in the classroom.
“Playing with heart is one of the main things I learned,” he says. “We were not always the fastest nor the strongest, but our heart and will made us successful no matter what sport we were playing. The little things and attention to detail matter even when you think they don’t. It’s about aiming to be elite in all that you do — on and off the field. ‘It’s not about the size of the Bulldog; it’s about the heart of the Bulldog.’”
Cooper Monn (2018), track and field/volleyball, Harding University
Monn, the 2017 high school state champion in both discus and shotput, took her throwing talents to Harding University. She garnered multiple first- and second-team All-GAC honors for shot put, discus, javelin, and hammer. She earned Academic All-GAC four-straight years. Monn also played middle blocker for the Harding women’s volleyball team and is the Academy’s record holder for kills, blocks, and points per set.
“It was during my time at MDCA, thanks to the support of my teammates, coaches, and even my opponents, that I acquired and honed the virtues of resilience, discipline, and teamwork,” says Monn. These invaluable lessons not only aided in my success as a dual-sport athlete at the collegiate level but also played a fundamental role in my education, the development of my character, and my overall perspective on life. In my seven years at MDCA, I had the blessing of having a multitude of exceptional coaches and wonderful teammates.”
The next generation
As the Academy looks to the future, its reputation for producing exceptional student-athletes remains strong. As of August, two students have already signed with D-1 programs, and more are expected to commit as the year progresses. The legacy of its alumni will continue to inspire new generations to pursue both academic and athletic excellence. And as MDCA continues to uphold and cherish the values of teamwork, determination, and heart, its greatest impact in collegiate athletics is still to come.
Mount Dora Christian Academy & Children’s Home will unveil the new Wishart Academic Success Center on Friday, Sept. 29. The ribbon-cutting will begin at 3:30 p.m., followed by refreshments and tours of the new center.
The Wishart Academic Success Center represents a shared vision between MDCA&CH leaders and the Chaffin and Wishart families. It is designed to provide a nurturing and resource-rich environment that fosters academic achievement and personal growth for learners of all ages.
The ASC will offer a variety of services, including tutoring, workshops, study spaces, and access to educational resources, to support the educational journey of everyone in the MDCA&CH community.
Date: Friday, Sept. 29
Time: 3:30 p.m.
Location: 1420 N. McDonald St., on the north end of campus adjacent to the gymnasium
Agenda: The ribbon-cutting will take place at 3:30, followed by refreshments and tours of the new facility
Speakers: Judith Ann LeMoyne, Director of Academic Support; Lisa Chaffin, representative of the Wishart family
Businesses, educators, students, families, and friends are welcome to share in this special occasion as MDCA&CH embarks on this journey of educating, equipping, and empowering our community.
A recipe for connection
As our new school year has begun, Tabatha Warburton and her food services team have taken advantage of recent facility updates and policy changes to enhance the dining experience for our community.
On MDCA’s 70-acre campus, the Emily C. Ford Dining Hall is the one spot that sees every student and staff member daily. The meals served there must be nutritious and can impact a student’s academic performance. The building itself also serves as a social hub on campus, promoting a sense of community.
It needs to have something for everyone — from our youngest scholars to our student-athletes to our grounds and maintenance crews. This knowledge guides Warburton in her preparation and setup.
Her menu planning incorporates two goals: to provide healthy and tasty meals that exceed USDA nutrition standards and to incorporate more student and parent feedback and introduce students to new tastes and flavors.
With MDCA’s decision to opt out of the National School Lunch Program, Warburton has been given the freedom to expand offerings in both the main and a la carte lines. Other benefits include the addition of more fresh options, higher-grade proteins, and adaptable serving sizes.
She has also been able to revamp her setup to improve efficiency during serving hours. Over the summer, the dining hall received some much needed updates, including new paint, cabinetry, and countertops — with new tables and chairs coming this fall. Teachers and staff also have a new dining space to enjoy. These renovations give the building a fresh, modern feel and will help with overall functionality.
"The whole transformation has been exciting,” Warburton says. “Our new look is fresh and welcoming. The teachers/staff lounge is awesome. It’s a nice place for them to enjoy their lunch and still be close enough if we need them.”
Warburton has been with the Academy since 2018. She moved into her current role at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. She prepares meals for students much like she prepares meals for her own sons, Ben and Luke: with heart. The result is a warm atmosphere that brings together our entire community.
"The dining hall is supposed to be a place where everyone feels welcomed and a comfortable place to sit and enjoy your lunch,” says Warburton. “I know we have created that feeling for everyone on campus, and that makes me happy.”
For monthly menus and information about the MDCA’s Lunch Assistance Program, visit Dining Hall - Mount Dora Christian Academy.