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CELA plans 2020 school year

LANETT — The Chattahoochee Early Learning Academy (CELA) got off to a good start in 2019 and plans to have an even better year in 2020-21. Board Chair Dr. Lacey Southerland talked about plans for the coming year at Thursday’s noon hour meeting of the West Point Rotary Club, held at the Jane Farrar Event Center in downtown Lanett.

CELA believes young children should begin learning in a structured environment with children their own age as soon as possible. In most situations, that starts with four-year-olds in pre-K. CELA is for three-year-olds. Children who come through the program have a jump start by the time they get into pre-K.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has left many unanswered questions heading into this year’s start of a new school year. Parents everywhere want to know their children will be safe in any school environment.

CELA instruction takes place at the West Point Youth Center off O.G. Skinner Drive. Last year’s starting group had five children. Southerland Director Heather Hoats and Ellen Fox, the teacher, are hoping for even more three-year-olds this year. Given the low number, the number of students would be well within CDC recommendations on gatherings. There’s ample space at the Youth Center for social distancing and sanitizing would be taking place several times every day.

CELA classes meet from 8 a.m. until noon five days a week. Children start the day with a healthy breakfast and end the day with a snack.

Southerland credits West Point Mayor Steve Tramell for getting the ball rolling with CELA.

“He went to an economic conference where the value of early education was discussed,” she said. “He agrees with other community leaders that this is key in workforce development.”

CELA is not just for West Point but for the surrounding area, including those who live in Alabama. Any child who turns three years of age before Sept. 1 is eligible to register. Scholarships are available to help cover the $359 per month tuition costs. All five students in last year’s charter year at CELA were on some kind of scholarship.

“Something we’d really like to have is more diversity,” Southerland said. “It would be good to have children from different backgrounds experiencing learning at a very young age.”

Even though the school year was shortened, the 2019-20 CELA group learned some valuable skills.

“They learned how to attend to many self-care needs independently,” Southerland said. “This includes hand washing, serving one’s self at eating time, choosing healthy foods and putting on shoes and socks. They learned to follow simple group rules, demonstrate impulse control, overcome separation anxiety, seek a teacher for help and to play cooperatively with others. Through their play experiences, they learned to demonstrate following through and persistence, to ask questions, to use and expand their imaginations and to use creative problem-solving. They learned how to follow multi-step directions, to use new vocabulary words, to communicate things, predict and retell stories, and they gained an emerging awareness of our alphabet. They identified quantities, used size words, recognized two-dimensional shapes, participated in cultural celebrations, used simple tools and practiced simple experiments.”

In the CELA classroom, the children learned to be creative.

“They had opportunities for creative expression through movement, visual arts using many different media, songs and instruments and dramatic play,” Southerland explained.

In its first year, CELA received the support from such donors and partners as the Charter Foundation, the City of West Point, Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, the West Point Housing Authority, the Magnolia Society of the United Way, Point University, the Friends of the City of West Point, Inc. and St. John’s Episcopal Church of West Point. Additional support will allow CELA to strengthen its mission of getting children off on the right foot in life.

“CELA changes the lives of children and families who participate,” Southerland said. “Families receive standards-based quality education for their young learners and the opportunity to enhance children’s success in school and eventually, workforce readiness.”

Donations make a difference. A gift of $30 to CELA will provide books for the library and supplies for the classroom, a $300 gift will provide one child’s tuition for one month, and $3,000 will provide tuition from the start of school in September to the end of the school year in May.

Checks are payable to CELA, Inc. and may be mailed to: Chattahoochee Early Learning Academy, Inc., PO Box 725, West Point, GA 31833.

A professor of education at Point University, Dr. Southerland is hosting Storytime at the Overlook outside Hawkes Children’s Library in West Point. It’s for children from pre-K through fifth grade and takes place in the overlook between the library and city hall. For safety, social distancing is being observed.

“We have story time, light snacks and take-away craft,” she said.

The next session will be taking place at 10:30 a.m. EDT on July 16 and will have the theme “Kings, Queens and Princesses.” The following week, there will be a “Cool Places to Live” theme.