VALLEY – A really ambitious project is starting up 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 looks like a school, over $ 200,000 has been invested in improving the interior, and with the Chambers County Circle of Care Center for Families, it is supported total from a local non-profit organization with 25 years of grant-making 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 manager), 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 has completed Growth Academy tutoring.
On average, 56 children aged 6 to 12 use the building every day of the week. This number will increase to around 20 students when Sunflower House merges with Growth Academy in the fall. The number could rise to 120 as interest increases.
Growth Academy’s location on the Circle is seen as a huge asset. The individually taught students there spend part of their day in recreational activities at the nearby Shawmut Gymnasium and the Roger McDonald Ball Field.
“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’re doing. We still have 19 or 20 more pending. It’s a good STEM level helper for local schools. We want to make sure we have a curriculum that is compatible with local schools. What they learn here will help them when their lessons begin.
Students can be at Growth Academy from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays. Some of that is in Bob Harding-Shawmut Elementary School, some in the gymnasium, and some on the ball field. 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 at four hours a day – 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The Alabama Children’s Trust Fund offers STEM Zoom classes two hours a day. Jonathan Herston and Kathy Richardson of the Circle of Care helped research grants and meet accounting needs.
Just inside the front door is a large hall. On the floor is a large painting of a learning tree by local artists Thea McElvy and Tawana Henson. Much work has been done on the floors of the building. There is over 8,000 square feet of commercial linoleum and a large amount of stained black concrete. The new flooring replaced the old asbestos-containing flooring, and it took about two months to carefully remove it.
Past the hall is a large room reserved for a library. Some cedar shelves full of books are already there. It will undoubtedly be a growing place. The Bradshaw-Chambers County Library has already made donations to help the library grow.
Auburn University offered a major helping hand by donating approximately $ 20,000 in furniture that had been stored in warehouses. Included are plenty of tables and desks.
There is plenty of 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 is helping us with our tests. The Point University students also helped us. We have private lessons 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 from having children at school level. We want teachers to have equal lessons, so that no one is left behind. “
The plan is for Growth Academy to help younger students reach or above their grade level and to help older children be on their way to college.
“We want to inspire kids about possible career options,” Gatlin said. “We want them to chase their dreams.”
It is good when young students learn that a person with a technological level vocational training in the right field can make a very good living.
“Kids are cognitive sponges,” Gatlin said, “but you have to get them interested from a young age. “
It is important that Growth Academy is as autonomous as possible. This is where grants come in and a strong wave of support from the local community.
Inside the building are memorabilia from a time when WestPoint Stevens’ engineering and environment 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 bringing out the finished products. These gauges provided a way to give bonuses to employees for their good work.
One item that children are not allowed to have 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. The content of our Zoom courses lets them know that there is 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 at the back which can be set up for indoor sporting activities such as basketball, batting training or soccer throwing.
“We want kids to draw their own conclusions and have a positive outlook on life,” Gatlin said. “We want children to get the most out of it. We want it to help them stay in school.