Parents: Save Bright Beginnings

Published 12:55 am Wednesday, April 11, 2018

About 13 parents of students from Bright Beginnings Preschool voiced their opinions about the preschool closing its doors at a meeting last night.

“Bright Beginnings made my children feel loved,” Preschool Director Hannah Shakespeare said. “Bright Beginnings took them on field trips to places they had never been before. They were actually excited to see the bus pull up. I will definitely miss it when it closes.”

Housing Authority Director Bobby Johns said last week the preschool program will be closed at the end of the school year due to funding issues. But the parents gathered Tuesday night said they were never notified there was a problem.

“We would have done everything in our power to raise funds for this program,” Elizabeth Burden said. “We were never told us that there was a problem.”

Burden said that her child has suffered from anxiety ever since she was born, but being at Bright Beginnings has helped her overcome it.

“All the skills that she has learned have come from Bright Beginnings,” Burden said. “I can’t afford to go other places, so Bright Beginnings has been my saving grace. It is not fair for other kids to not get this experience.”

Operated by the Andalusia Housing Authority, the program was free for Housing Authority students. Other students were able to attend for minimal tuition, thanks in part to an annual supplement from the City of Andalusia.

But Johns said that are not enough Housing Authority students in the program to qualify for funding and sustain it, and they have had to incorporate 3-year-olds to keep the numbers strong.

But, Shakespeare, who also worked for the Housing Authority, said there were 20 applications on her desk when they decided to shut down the program.

“We have always had enough kids, that is not the problem,” Shakespeare said. “Last year we had 31 kids in the program and we have always had three year olds in our program.”

The children are not the only ones suffering from the program closing. Bertha Feagin, one of the teachers at Bright Beginnings, said she is now worried about her job.

“I left to California for a little while on a family emergency,” Feagin said. “When I got back home I read the paper and found out I was going to be out of a job.”

The teachers are one of the main reasons many of the parents take their kids to Bright Beginnings.

“These teachers have a way of connecting with the students,” Jennifer Bowling said. “I was going to keep my son here another year so he could calm down enough for Kindergarten.”

Holley Gunter said that it is not only the daycare aspect of the program that makes her bring her kids back.

“You know your kid is getting an education,” Gunter said. “Plus, the program is only from 8 to 11, so it’s not like there is an actual daycare part of the program.”

Another one of the parents’ concerns was that they felt that their children’s education is in someone else’s hands.

“We had a meeting last Wednesday with the board and the director of the Housing Authority and every single idea that we came up with for getting funds for the program they shot down,” Bowling said. “They told us that they can’t discuss the issues that we are bringing up. He told me that they are my kids, it is my problem.”

Latasker Lawrence is worried about what other options she has for her child’s education.

“Nobody will tell me anything about what other options I have,” Lawrence said. “The lottery for the city and county preschools are over and I make too much money for Headstart, so looking for a new school has been awful.”

Emily McDonald is scared that she will have to find a new therapist for her son that is considered special needs.

“Ever since my son has been going to Bright Beginnings he doesn’t get as frustrated anymore,” McDonald said. “The teachers are so patient and they just bring up his spirits whenever he sees them. His therapist comes to Bright Beginnings to work with him and now I am worried that I will have to find another therapist.”

McDonald said that she would pay twice as much if it meant that her son would be able to stay at Bright Beginnings.

The parents said that they were all caught off guard by the announcement of the closing, but still worked hard to come up with ideas to bring up to the board and director at a meeting last Wednesday. Bowling said that every idea was turned away.

“I don’t want to hear ‘we can’t discuss this,’” Bowling said. “Show us how we can fix this.”

Johns and the board were all aware of the meeting Tuesday night, the parents said, but none of them were in attendance.

“We have to be heard,” Burden said. “I need to know who to talk to to fix this, because our kids deserve this.”