Thursday, October 30, 2008

Good News for ALASA Academy

A recognition of the importance of education is something I share with my husband's family. His sisters have all been involved in the education field at one time or another and Griff's mother always loved the summer program which was held at the farm for many years, known as the ALASA Center.

Four years ago Alasa Farms became the host to a new program,(see previous post) which, under the capable direction on Sharon Maher, set out to prove that learning can be fun and rewarding. ALASA Academy, Alternative Learning Academy for Student Achievement, Inc., identifies its vision as follows:
We seek to provide a small, flexible, cooperative learning environment that educates the whole person and promotes physical and mental well being. We believe there are many ways to learn and that all learning starts with play. We believe that individuality, creativity and self-expression must be recognized and supported and that every individual has an equal right to be heard. We believe in supporting and encouraging personal excellence. We believe that trust and communications are more important than rules. We believe that to be successful as an adult, one must balance individual freedom with responsibility to the natural environment and to the community.
What started with a 2-week summer program has grown to include some weekend activities but Sharon has always had a much larger dream. She is currently working on the establishment of some after-school activities with the ultimate goal being the establishment of a full-day school, that would offer a unique learning environment for kids struggling in the traditional classroom. As described on the website:
The ALASA Academy Full Day School will follow the Sodus School District calendar and will begin with children from ages 8-9 through completion of high school credits and/or sufficient skill development to move on into society. Curriculum will focus on personal skill development, academic growth through hands-on integrated activities, satellite courses and customized skill development and evaluation. All work will be correlated to the New York State Education Standards. Students will work at their own pace with benchmarks to identify growth, and evaluation to confirm skill mastery—including passing appropriate New York State Regents exams and standardized tests. Community service will be a strong component of the curriculum, enabling students to work with adults in various Wayne County businesses/organizations, developing the skills of giving, teamwork, self-worth and pride. The number of students enrolled is expected to be small (based on the rural nature of Wayne County), but is expected to grow over time.
Sharon is completely committed to this project but she faced a major obstacle to moving forward in the implementation of a year-long program since many of the classes were held on the farmhouse porch, outside, or in one of the barns. For a couple of years she has been singularly focused on obtaining the necessary financing to purchase a small piece of property from the farm where a building could be constructed to house the school. So when I received her email earlier this month, I was thrilled for her, the kids of Wayne County, all the tireless volunteers, as well as Griff and Nancy--my mother-in-law.

Saturday’s raw winds and steady downpour weren’t about to dampen anyone’s spirits as dozens of people streamed on to the large, welcoming porch of the Mangan family’s home at Alasa Farms. Only a couple of days before, word had been received that Senator Nozzolio wanted to meet with organizers of ALASA Academy and members of the community who have participated in the Academy’s programs over the past four years.

Their summer workshops for children were expanded to three, one-week sessions this year and offer a completely new and fresh approach to a summer day-camp experience. Awareness of and concern for the environment, interpersonal skills, team building, importance of community service, and personal pride are only a sampling of the values that ALASA Academy reinforces while providing a real-world opportunity to make math, science, journaling, and other areas of academia a part of each child’s life that they can relate to day to day.

A primary goal has been to purchase 10 acres of property at Alasa Farms, where the Academy could erect its own building and enable them to conduct programs for children all year. Senator Nozzolio beamed as he lauded the efforts of ALASA Academy and their dedication to the children of Wayne County. “You are helping kids to engage in the right activities, to get a good start in life, to do the right thing,” Nozzolio said, and shared his thoughts on the importance of providing the children of Wayne County with such a unique learning opportunity. One of the facets of the Academy’s program that is of particular significance to Senator Nozzolio is that of their partnership with Cracker Box Palace Farm Animal Haven, which also resides at Alasa Farms. An integral part of the Academy’s curriculum is daily hands-on experience with the animals at the haven, many of which have been rescued from cruelty, abuse, and neglect.

A hush came over the crowd as Senator Nozzolio addressed Sharon Maher and the other Alasa Academy volunteers and thanked them for their dedication and commitment to the children of Wayne County, and a look of total disbelief came over everyone’s faces as he presented Sharon with a grant for $30,000 – the amount necessary to purchase the land and begin building their school.

I wish everyone at ALASA Academy the best. Now, Sharon, I only hope the path to fulfilling my dream is as successful as yours has been. Congratulations, this is a huge step toward achieving your goal.