by Devon Marrow, email@example.com
Columbia, SC (The State) – Brandon Lowman’s second year in high school ended on a desperate note. The 16-year-old self-proclaimed class clown found himself distracted, and his mother, Sandra Steele, said he was reading at a
seventh-grade level. She worried he wouldn’t graduate from high school, let alone go to college.
By May, she said, she was left with one conclusion:
“I didn’t know where he was going but I knew C.A. Johnson was not a good fit.”
Now they think he’s found a home.
On Tuesday, Brandon joined 15 new classmates who completed their first day at Jubilee Academy, a new faith-based private school for low-income children in the Booker Washington Heights area around Two Notch Road and Beltline Boulevard.
The students, who range in age from 5 to 17, will be taught in a “one-room schoolhouse” approach. Three teachers and volunteers are in charge of the classes.
The school, in its first year, was created by Heartworks Ministry at Crescent Hill founder Sandee Hensley. She said it was established according to the standards of the South Carolina Independent School Association and will work toward accreditation.
Jubilee Academy, Hensley said, costs $6,000 per student. Parents are required to pay 10 percent of that, or $600. The rest is made up in scholarships or donations.
The experience for students and their families, Hensley said, is priceless.
“A lot of the negative influences that come from the world are not going to come into this setting,” Hensley said.
Brandon, who participated in Heartworks’ afterschool program for about three years, begged to attend “Ms. Sandee’s school,” said Steele.
“It was like the clouds parted and the sun came through,” Steele said of her son’s newfound willingness to learn.
Jennifer Williams thinks her two children, Amaya, 6, and Devyn, 10, will thrive at Jubilee.
She said she is encouraged by the small group of children and the personal relationship she expects at Jubilee.
That atmosphere, paired with mandatory parent observations and workshops, gives parents like Williams and Steele more say in their children’s education, they said.
“This is just a blessing,” Williams said. “I love the whole purpose behind it.”
For Hensley, Tuesday’s opening was the payoff from a lot of hard work – and prayer.
“When I woke up, I had spent so much time preparing for (the first day of school) I had not really had the time to think of the awesomeness of this day.
“This is a new start for all of the children.”
Hensley resigned from her job as a Richland 1 middle school teacher eight years ago after she grew tired of walking through hallways where students sometimes fought, cursed and misbehaved.
Her classes, she said, were full of students who weren’t performing at grade level.
After leaving Richland 1, she worked with children in her afterschool program, Heartworks Ministry, offering them tutoring and Bible lessons.
Soon that was no longer enough. “I felt God leading me when we continued to have problems day after day with children struggling to understand what they’d learned that day (in school).”
Finally, with the urging of some of her program’s parents, she decided to start her own school, employing the teaching strategies she has known to be successful.
Hensley drafted a budget, hired a staff of three and recruited about 50 volunteers to get Jubilee Academy on its feet. The school has more money to raise, as tuition covers roughly half of the $200,000 operating budget.
That will pay for Jubilee to operate as a year-round, extended-day school, with students attending from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The dress code is khaki pants and shirts that read “Jubilee Academy.”
“I want everybody to understand what the academy is about – what we’re representing,” Henslee said.
With the first day of school finished, Steele said she’s already seeing the positive effects of transferring her son to Jubilee.
“Before, if I had left him at C.A. Johnson, he would not have envisioned anything besides the next day.
“He sees a future now.” Reach Marrow at (803) 771-8485.