Chattahoochee Early Learning Academy gives update to West Point Rotary Club

Published 3:53 pm Thursday, September 5, 2019

LANETT — Classes are underway at the Chattahoochee Early Learning Academy in West Point, but it’s not too late to enroll your three-year-old and for them to find out that learning is fun and can give you skills that last for a lifetime.

Numerous studies have shown that the earlier a child begins learning in a structured setting the better. Those who start pre-school at age three tend to be ahead of the game early, and it shows up in third grade reading scores, according to CELA Director Sandra Glover at Thursday’s meeting of the West Point Rotary Club.

“We had six children our first week, and we’d like to have more,” Glover said. “When children find out that learning is fun, it’s something they want to do. It’s not good when they fall behind. This leads to dropping out later on, but if they stay with their education and graduate, it can lead to a good job and a good life.”

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CELA, Inc. is an independent non-profit school with cooperative agreements with the City of West Point and Point University. It has the generous support of private donors and is open to children of all socio-economic backgrounds. Tuition is less than $360 a month and financial help is available. The impetus for CELA is the need for workforce development that has been noted in the Chattahoochee Valley communities. CELA isn’t just for West Point — it’s for communities throughout the Greater Valley Area.

“When quality pre-school education starts at age three, it makes a big difference,” Committee member Lacey Southerland said. “Those who start early have a better chance to finish school, get good jobs and become model citizens. Starting education early helps to create a strong work ethic people need to carry them through life. We want to see an improvement in literacy scores by the third grade, and we think the pre-school experience is an important part of that.”

CELA is fundamentally based on what’s best for the children.

“Every decision is based on what’s best for the children and not on what’s easiest for the teacher,” Southerland said. “We know we are off to a good start when some of the children don’t want to leave at the end of the day.”

Southerland credits this to the good job being done by the teacher, Ellen Fox, who has a degree in interdisciplinary studies for grades K-8. Fox has worked with young children in Troup County as a family liaison, a paraprofessional and a pre-K teacher. She and her husband live in West Point and are the parents of three daughters.

“We are still trying to entice children to come,” Southerland said. “If you know anyone who is looking for an opportunity for their three-year-old, they can contact us at or a (706) 443-2770.”

Southerland said that no two brains are identical and that there are many different ways to learn. She said she likes it that Fox has plenty of assistance.

“There are always two, and sometimes three, teachers in the classroom,” she said. “Point University students are in and out of the classroom observing and assisting the teacher. They are being paid an hourly wage while they are doing this.”

Classes are from 8 a.m. until noon each day in the youth education center in Technology Park.

“Learning is child-centered and not just teacher-directed,” Southerland said. “Activities are fun, and many times the children don’t realize they are learning. We’d like to take them on field trips, but there’s a need for car seats. This is something donors can help us with.”

CELA seeks parental involvement.

“Research shows that if parents are involved in their children’s education they will be more successful,” she said. “If they are not involved, their children won’t be successful. Involvement can be something so simple as helping them with their homework. The main thing is to be interested and supportive of what they are doing.”

Falling short in life is often multi-generational, and it’s difficult to break that cycle of failure.

“Parents who had a bad school experience don’t like going back, but we need their help in breaking that cycle,” Southerland said.

At the present time, the student tuition is being paid by the West Point Housing Authority, but Southerland would like to expand beyond that.

“We’d like to have students from all economic backgrounds,” she said. “Both groups will benefit from this. It helps to have students from all parts of the spectrum.”

For now, CELA would like to have more three-year-olds enrolled. This year’s group will be in pre-K next year.

The ultimate goal of CELA is to start children on the right path at an early age and to keep them there. If they buy into education and stick with it, they can go a long way to a good life.

“In some cases, we want them to be on a different path that what their parents have been on,” Southerland said. “It’s our strongest hope that they can finish school and become employed. It’s never good to drop out and wind up in jail.”

CELA is there for anyone, Georgia or Alabama resident, and any end of the income scale.

“We are not trying to compete with local schools,” Southerland said. “That’s why we provide for three-year-olds and not for those who are four. We are all about starting children on the right cycle and keeping them there. It’s a cycle that needs to begin early and carry forward. It’s a long-term goal with long-term outcomes. We’ll be long gone by the time they are seen.”