Four retirees will open an independent, non-profit school for low-income families in East Durham this Fall.
Deborah Watkins, Deloris Harris, Carolyn Ramsey-Williams, and Emma Carrington are starting Gift of Knowledge Academy to give “at-risk” children the opportunity to reach their full potential by providing them with a solid foundation in literacy and math.
The four NCCU alumni share a passion to help eliminate illiteracy, decrease the dropout rate, and build self-esteem and self-confidence in students. They believe that this starts at the “foundation years”, K-2.
“Being a retired teacher, I could see how if students missed certain concepts and skills in elementary school, that they would have this deficiency gap,” said Harris, retired middle and high school teacher with 30 plus years in education.
The start of GKA began as an idea for Watkins in 2008 while she was working full-time at IBM. She had been wanting to start the school for quite some time but she knew the school would require a lot of effort and commitment that she did not have at the time. So, instead of starting the school, she simply came up with the name.
“A gift is something that you give to someone and so I would be giving or sharing of my knowledge. So, Gift of Knowledge,” explained Watkins.
Watkins decided to use the name instead for her tutoring company. She started the tutoring company in 2010 after retiring in 2009. Watkins received training in tutoring through the Augustine Literacy Project, a non-profit program based in Chapel Hill.
The programs trains tutors to specifically help low-income children who are below grade level in literacy. About a year later, Watkins was asked by the program to be on the Board of Directors.
After a gaining educational and administrative experience through her tutoring company and the ALP she decided that it was time to make the idea of GKA a reality. Harris, Williams, and Carrington were inspired by Watkins’ plans and they, too, were ready to help make a difference.
“She was tutoring in my classroom, so we would have conversations about how the kids were struggling. So she told about the program that she used for tutoring and how much the kids have grown,” said Williams as she explained what made her want to get involved.
“The conversation was right along with my feelings about at-risk children. If you lay the foundation then they’ll be strong and by middle school and high school they won’t have to struggle,” said Williams.
The women faced a few challenges along the way but they didn’t let that get in their way.
“We were going to open up last fall,” said Watkins. However, after applying for their 501 c3 in February last year, they didn’t realize how long it would take to get the tax exempt status back.
They didn’t receive the status until October, which was after the time the school would have opened, according to Watkins. Other challenges like trying to find a location for the school was also a struggle being that they were non-profit, they didn’t have money.
Watkins started asking around for help to local churches. She met with Bishop Wright of Greater Emmanuel Temple of Grace at 2722 East Main St., who was so excited about the plans of GKA that he agreed to let the school be in the church’s Family Life and Enrichment center.
GKA will be mostly funded by the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which will provide scholarships of $4,200 to low-income families to help cover the cost of tuition, a total of about $7,000 a year. The Opportunity Scholarship Program is the name for the school voucher program passed in North Carolina in 2013.
The remaining balance would be covered by GKA through scholarships, grants, and fundraisers. This will make it possible for families to send their children to private school for “free”.
For the first year, 2016-2017, GKA will have three classes: two kindergarten classes and one first grade class. For the 2017-2018 school year, GKA plans to have five classes: two kindergarten, two first grade, and one second grade. By the third year and from then on, GKA plans to have two kindergarten, two first grade, and two second grade classes. Class sizes will be a 10 to 1 student/teacher ratio to promote one-on-one learning. Researched-based reading instruction will be used by all teachers in the classrooms.
GKA will have an Open House on Wednesday February 24 from 1:30 pm. – 4:00 p.m. and another on Saturday February 27 from 1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. at the Family and Enrichment Center of Greater Emmanuel Temple of Grace to provide families with more information.