At the Chambers County School Board meeting on Tuesday, Jonathan Hurston, executive director of the Circle of Care Center for Families; Yancey Gatlin, Coordinator of the Growth Academy Volunteer Program and Casey Chambley, Superintendent of the Chambers County School District, spoke about the history and progress of Growth Academy. The Growth Academy is essentially a STEM lab and tutoring program for kids six and up. It replaced what was once the local Boys & Girls Club. The program has a partnership with The Circle of Care, which aims to provide resources for families.
“A few years ago, the Boys & Girls Club basically collapsed,” Hurston said. “And when that happened, we had people in the community say, ‘Hey, there’s a need for after-school programs and summer programs where our kids will be in a safe, supervised environment.’ , because otherwise the parents can’t go to work or leave the kids alone at home and that sort of thing, but at the same time we wanted to improve the programming that was going on.
At the time, the Boys and Girls Club met in the basement of Langdale Gymnasium, Hurston said. There were several issues with this, such as flooding when it rained. It also wasn’t the best environment for doing homework, as the kids were playing games like basketball in the same room.
A local community group wanted the program to be better for children and incorporate concepts of STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math. The Growth Academy was born.
“So they came up to us at the Circle of Care and said, ‘Hey, this is a new nonprofit. This is a new program that we are doing. What would be the point of this happening under the circle of care? “Said Hurston.
The Growth Academy program was offered as part of the Circle of Care last spring.
“And we’ve worked very hard to renovate the space in Shawmut Circle, the former research and engineering building,” Hurston said. It’s about 27,000 square feet, so there’s plenty of space there. And what they’ve really been able to do with that has been phenomenal and amazing.
Chambers County School District Superintendent Casey Chambley said Growth Academy has done a good job working with the school system.
“And we’ve been really, really using them and leaning on them during COVID,” Chambley said. “…So many of our parents don’t have after-school care and are single parents. Single mothers work. Single working dads. And they don’t come down until 4 or 5 after school closes.
Chambley said he couldn’t wait for school board members to tour the Growth Academy building.
“They have televisions in these rooms,” he said. “They have other things…they can do virtual reality. They have music rooms. They have rooms with amps for the guitars to play.
Gatlin said he hopes The Growth Academy will prepare kids for careers in science, technology, engineering and math. If a student isn’t doing well in school, Gatlin said hopefully The Growth Academy can get them back on track over the summer.
He said he didn’t want to tax the school system and just wanted the Chambers County School District to transport the children to Growth Academy.
“Let’s be a support system,” he said. “Let us catch them, teach them life skills. Teach them to communicate, teach them mindfulness, kindness.
Gatlin said Growth Academy does a lot with very few resources. He hopes to offer free tutoring and hopes that corporate bodies will sponsor the school.
In an interview, Gatlin revealed that the program has grown since last year. In July 2021, an average of 56 children were in the building each weekday. Gatlin said 111 children are currently enrolled.
Gatlin said Growth Academy gets most of its money from the Alabama Children’s Trust Fund. It also receives money from private donations.
“Jonathan Herston and Kathy Richardson from the Circle of Care have been amazing with me helping me guide the grants back-end, money management, things of that nature,” Gatlin said. “…I’m talking to Jonathan [Herston] about every decision, and they handle the money. They administer grants and everything for me. So I’m really trying to talk to him about what’s going on.
The Growth Academy is not free for students.
“If it was free, it would be overlooked,” Gatlin said. “And so, it was $40 a month for guys to go to the Boys & Girls Club, and that’s what happened to that. A parent will not send their children to a place that only costs $40 a month. Most parents used this program as a babysitting service, as a daycare. I tried to change this image.
However, Gatlin said he would gladly provide scholarships to parents who otherwise could not afford to have their children attend the program.
Gatlin said he wanted The Growth Academy to be similar to Inspire Academy.
“I don’t think we’re at the level that they are, obviously,” he said. “But we are… the same types of things. We are building the hydroponics this summer, so we will have a hydroponics system there. Children love to see things grow.
Gatlin said the Chambers County Extension will host a healthy eating program at Growth Academy.
“We encourage things like that,” he said. “I want to teach them Latin. I haven’t configured this program yet. But these are things that I have in mind and that I have read.
The Alabama Children’s Trust Fund is still offering STEM Zoom classes at the center in the afternoons, as it did last year.
Tutoring at The Growth Academy can be one-on-one or even five-to-one. Gatlin wants it ready for parents whenever they need it.
“With my tutoring program, I want it to be a walk-in program where parents can come in, and I have people there who can sit down with their child and help them,” he said. he declares.
Gatlin doesn’t mind working for The Growth Academy for free.
“It’s been a labor of love, but I love this community,” he said.
The Growth Academy is located at 3300 23rd Drive in Valley. In spring and autumn, it is open on weekdays from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. In summer, it is open on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. It will be closed on July 4th.