Since taking up the STAR program at the LaGrange Housing Authority in 2011, the children’s after-school program has increased from 16 to 81 registered attendees. The growth and planned future growth for the program fed into renovations for the newly dubbed Samuel F. Tucker Educational Building at 201b Chatham St.
Named after a late executive director of the housing authority, the new educational building is the headquarters for the West Georgia STAR program, offered at the Chatham and Borton streets locations. STAR stands for Strengthening Transforming Affordable Resources, and is a non-profit educational arm of the LaGrange Housing Authority headed by Cecelia Bray.
The renovated education building, funded through donations and a grant, began in December and wrapped up earlier this month. On Thursday, officials from LaGrange Housing Authority, LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce and elected officials came out for a ribbon cutting of the renovated facility, which serves housing authority residents and some outside residents.
“We are excited that we have a place where we can empower our residents and we can enlighten our children, which are our future,” said Michael Jackson, LHA board chairman and interim executive director. “… This is not only a great day for us, it is a great day for our community.”
The education building sports two computer labs, one for children and one for adults to allow housing project residents to use for accessing tools like online job applications. Bray and Jackson said there also are plans to possibly start GED classes.
“West Georgia STAR has been so awesome and it will be an awesome opportunity and awesome tool for our community as we continue to look forward to partnering along with our schools and different entities,” Jackson said.
Housing authority board member Debbie Burdette said education has been a big focus for her since she came onto the housing authority board and seeing the building come to fruition with the new computer labs, books and teachers is “a great day for Troup County.” Board member Inetha Hatten said she had a lot of confidence that Bray will lead all the children to greatness if they keep with the challenge and go on.
Board member Mamie Cameron, a lifelong resident of the housing projects, said the new building is a great opportunity for residents. She said her daughter and two grandsons all were educated from the housing authority and she thanks God for the opportunity.
Bray said her staff of teachers and paraprofessionals that work with students in the STAR after-school and summer programs have made a big difference in students’ lives.
“I’ve got a great staff … these ladies and one guy really work hard to nurture our community,” Bray said.
She said the high school-level program, serving 13 to 18 year olds, works to reduce the time children that age spend on the street and teach life and leadership skills. The STAR team has created its own curriculum, but is in line with the Common Core Curriculum used by the school system.
Students are assessed each week to see if they understand the lessons and find out what areas they need work on. Character education focuses on addressing behavior or emotional problems in students and encouraging them so they think about the correct ways to act.
“We’re seeing grades improve, we’re seeing behaviors improve,” Bray said. “Everything that we do is in support of our school system and our kids, and we tell them ‘you can do anything you set your mind to. You got people here who care about you, who love you, who support you, but whatever you do, it’s up to you if you want to use it, or you’re going to lose it.’”
Bray said the goal of STAR staff is to see their students become straight-A students and work toward the housing authority mission of providing quality of life to residents. Students in the after-school program come straight from school and stay until 6 p.m., which is structured instructional time. Although they may have opportunities to use the computers for non-instructional purposes, they are monitored online.
“Over the last couple of months we’ve done great things,” Jackson said. “With the new computer labs, we have a great opportunity to educate and empower our residents and children.”