Anna K. Davie Elementary School will be more than just a new school building when it is completed; it will house an innovative program that educators hope will make a real difference.
Three classrooms at the school under construction on East Main Street in South Rome will house the early learning center, a cooperative effort between Rome City Schools and Berry College.
The program is aimed at better preparing 3-year-olds to learn.
“Representatives from Berry, South Rome Redevelopment and Dr. Gayland Cooper (former Rome City Schools superintendent) had the original conversation,” said Debbie Downer, Rome City Schools’ chief academic officer. “It has been an ongoing conversation, and it is very unique because of the collaboration, and it really fits as part of Rome City Schools’ focus.”
Downer said school officials know how important early development is for a child’s educational success.
“They need language and conversation and to be read to,” she said. “We are very excited about this and think it will be a great thing for the children. I can’t wait to see what happens with it.”
Ann Tankersley, Child Development Center at Berry College director, is also excited about her part in the collaborative effort.
“The way I got involved was that members of a committee toured many daycare and pre-K facilities across Northwest Georgia,” Tankersley said. “They were looking for a model to use at Anna K. Davie. They decided to use us as that model. It was incredibly humbling, and I take it as a credit to what we are doing.”
Tankersley will be directing the center at Anna K. Davie. She will also be staffing it with Berry’s student teachers and student workers.
Allyson Chambers, who currently works at the Child Development Center at Berry College, will be the lead teacher at the early learning center.
“This is a great opportunity for the college as well, because our student teachers will gain real-life experience,” said Tankersley. “This is just an amazing opportunity all around because it is really very different from anything else. It will be like a private early learning center for that community housed in a public school. I think we will draw a lot of attention with this program. I think it will be something that will be used as a model in the future.”
The basic mission of the early learning center will be very much what Berry’s Child Development Center does now.
“We prepare children for kindergarten and beyond,” said Tankersley. “Three years old is such a wonderful stage in a child’s development. They are so much more capable than they are given credit for sometimes.”
The center will address those capabilities, she said.
“I always tell my parents that if the hands are engaged, the minds are engaged,” she said. “We offer children planned opportunities in literacy, math, science, social studies, social development, motor development and the fine arts. We read to them and use puppets and crafts and different activities to teach. The children even construct some of their own knowledge.”
The man who will lead the school, Phil Wood, current principal of Southeast Elementary, is also excited about this new program.
“I am excited and a little anxious,” he admitted. “It will be quite a change having 3-year-olds in the same building with students in sixth grade. But I am confident that it will be a great thing for the community. I think we will see such a shift in a few years, especially. I think it will prepare the children in a whole new way.”
Starting earlier with the children’s education should make a huge difference, he said.
“So many children don’t have the opportunity to make an early start at education,” he said. “Not everyone realizes how much a commitment to reading to their child every night or teaching them basic things can lay a strong groundwork. We see a lot of children start school and they aren’t at the proper level and must be caught up to that. This program will get them ahead of the game.”
Wood feels the program will show amazing results after a few years.
“I think you will see the children reading, writing and using math skills at a much higher level than before,” he said. “I think this will continue to show throughout their school career. When they leave Anna K., they will be more prepared. That is our goal in Rome City Schools, that our children are prepared and ready for life. That is why this is such a positive move. A strong educational foundation is the key.”
Some $11 million in special purpose, local option sales tax funds will be used to build the school, which is expected to open in early 2015.