Growth Academy provides educational assistance – Valley Times-News

VALLEY — A truly ambitious project is in the start-up phase on Shawmut Circle. It’s called Growth Academy, and it picks up where the Boys & Girls Club left off when it was discontinued locally late last year.

Growth Academy has a lot to offer. It’s in a 27,000 square foot building that resembles a school, more than $200,000 has been invested in improving the interior, and with the Chambers County Circle of Care Center for Families, it has the support total from a local non-profit organization with 25 years of grantmaking experience. There is also an important link with local schools.

Jeremy Johnson of LaFayette, Zoom’s national sales manager, is the chairman of the board, and Zoom has a significant presence in the building. Other board members include Chambers County Superintendent of Education Casey Chambley, Lt. Sandra Crim (a school resource officer), West Point educators Ken and Heather Hoats, Michael and Leslie Weiss, and Chelsea Myers. Kim Dozier, who previously ran the local Boys & Girls Club, is the new director of Growth Academy. Chambers County School District Psychometrician Katie Herston tutors Growth Academy.

On average, 56 children between the ages of 6 and 12 are in the building every day of the week. This number will increase by approximately 20 students when Sunflower House merges with Growth Academy in the fall. The number could reach 120 as interest grows.

Growth Academy’s location on the Circle is seen as a huge asset. Pupils who receive individual instruction there spend part of their day in recreational activities in the nearby Shawmut gymnasium and on the Roger McDonald ball diamond.

“We have seven certified teachers and five to seven core staff who are part of our after-school program,” said Yancey Gatlin, a Growth Academy booster. “There is a lot of interest from teachers in what we do. We still have 19 or 20 more pending. It is a good STEM level helper for local schools. We want to make sure we have a program compatible with local schools. What they learn here will help them when their classes begin.

Students can be at Growth Academy from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays. Part of that happens at Bob Harding-Shawmut Elementary, part at the gymnasium, and part at the ball diamond. Coach Kyle Cobb works with them in youth sports.

Hours are extended during the summer. At the start of the school year, they will return to four hours a day – from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The Alabama Children’s Trust Fund offers STEM Zoom classes two hours daily. Jonathan Herston and Kathy Richardson of the Circle of Care helped seek grants and take care of accounting needs.

Just inside the front door is a large foyer. On the floor is a large painting of a learning tree by local artists Thea McElvy and Tawana Henson. Many works have been carried out on the floors of the building. There are over 8,000 square feet of commercial linoleum and a large amount of black stained concrete. The new flooring replaced the old flooring which contained asbestos, and it took about two months to carefully remove.

Past the hall is a large room reserved for a library. Some cedar shelves filled with books are already installed. It will undoubtedly be a fast growing place. The Bradshaw-Chambers County Library has previously made donations to help the library grow.

Auburn University offered a major helping hand by donating about $20,000 in furniture that had been stored in warehouses. Included are plenty of tables and desks.

There is ample space in the huge building, plenty of space for STEM learning labs, virtual reality and theater rooms, and art and music teaching rooms.

“We invite talented people to come and help us,” Gatlin said. “We will help students with their homework and fill in any gaps they may have. Katie Herston helps us with our tests. Students from Point University also helped us. We have individual tutoring and we do our best to find the right tutor for the right child. Our main goal is to relieve parents and the school system of the pressure of having children at school level. We want teachers to have classes that are equal, that no one is left behind.

The plan is for Growth Academy to help younger students be at or above their grade level and help older children be on the path to college.

“We want to inspire kids about possible career options,” Gatlin said. “We want them to pursue their dreams.”

It’s good when young students learn that someone with a tech-level professional education in the right field can make a very good living.

“Kids are cognitive sponges,” Gatlin said, “but you have to engage them from a young age.”

It is important that Growth Academy is as self-sufficient as possible. This is where grants and a strong wave of support from the local community come in.

Inside the building are reminders of a time when WestPoint Stevens’ Engineering and Environmental Department was housed there. In a back room are large gauges that were once electronically linked to local factories. They could tell, for example, which factories were doing a good job of shipping finished products. These gauges provided a way to give bonuses to employees for doing a good job.

One item that children are not allowed inside the building is a cell phone. It’s a distraction that can easily distract from unfolding instructions.

“We want kids to understand what’s important in life,” Gatlin said. “Many of our children have never traveled much. Our Zoom course content lets them know there’s a lot going on in this big world. It is something that can make them dream of what they can do.

There is a large room in the back that can be modified for indoor sports activities like basketball, batting practice or throwing a soccer ball.

“We want kids to come to their own conclusions and have a positive outlook on life,” Gatlin said. “We want the kids to get the most out of it. We want this to help them stay in school.

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