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Macon’s Cirrus Academy poised for growth and all that the process entails

Cirrus Academy
Cirrus Academy

Cirrus Academy is moving onward and upward.

After a freshman year filled with spectacular challenges and sometimes tough choices, our mission to help children become better educated depends on our forging full-steam ahead with the community by our side.

It is a well known fact that children increase their opportunities when they are educated. They increase their chances of attending college, graduating, getting a job, owning a home and living a more healthy and active life. And while studies have shown that education alone is not the great equalizer in American society, it represents the best chance for students to reach the next level in making their dreams come true.

At Cirrus Academy, we are providing both access and opportunity for greatness as we prepare our kindergarten through eighth grade students to compete against peers from across Georgia, the United States — and yes — even the globe.

Our integrated, hands-on curriculum based on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM), will ensure our young scholars have access to the tools and knowledge they need in order to exceed world-class standards.

Our students are already experiencing increased exposure and understanding of exciting STEAM opportunities through various aerospace, marine and environmental science field trips and visits undertaken in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the National Park Service, Museum of Aviation, Museum of Arts and Sciences, the Georgia Aquarium, and many other institutions.

In addition, our administrators, teachers and staff are training so Cirrus can participate in the Civil Air Patrol Educators and Cadet Program, which focuses on STEM and aerospace topics, while strengthening our students leadership and teamwork skills. Students who join the program can become licensed pilots by age 14. Very few schools offer this type of opportunity, and make certain, other academic institutions in Georgia and nationwide are taking note.

Classroom at Cirrus Academy Woody Marshall

As we prepare to move full-STEAM ahead for our sophomore year, our projected enrollment for the start of the 2017-18 school year is 568, more than a 30 percent increase over last year. Such growth both demands and attracts new teachers. The Telegraph reported on the need and other anticipated changes in the June 19, article, “Cirrus adding teachers, projects enrollment boost for 2017-2018 school year.” The Cirrus Academy Board of Directors, meanwhile, voted in June to approve the school’s $4.5 million budget.

The funding will go toward improved maintenance and operations, school administration, the school nutrition program, and enabling Cirrus to introduce more STEAM curriculum, music and creative arts courses. Also, because we are concerned with a holistic approach to learning, we are not only invested in the intellectual capabilities of our students, but their physical well-being, too. To that end, we softly launched a small soccer club this past spring that was coordinated by the Macon-Bibb Parks and Recreation Department. That has now led to the department affirming its commitment to allow our students to participate in several team sports for the upcoming school year.

As I reflect on my first year with Cirrus Academy, I consider the challenges, but also the built trust that our teachers and students are developing in one another. We faced hurtful allegations and other tensions that threatened to derail our first year as the city’s newest charter school. But our vision is clear, our priorities are firm and our potential is great.

Several of Macon’s local elected leaders, law enforcement, business owners, clergy, moms and dads, have at one point or another, told me, “We believe in Cirrus,” and asked, “howcan I help?” The answer is simple: partner with us. Become mentors, engage in our community by investing in the education of our children. We need supporters who care about increasing access to college for students who have previously been locked out due to family circumstance. We need compassionate people who care about our entire community. At Cirrus, we are moving on and moving up because our students deserve it, Macon needs it, and our future requires it. We are laying a foundation that we can build on later. And that type of transformation is priceless.

Dr. Ashanti Johnson is CEO and superintendent of Cirrus Academy and one of the first African-American chemical oceanographers in the nation. An advocate of science, technology, engineering and mathematics diversity and professional development initiatives, Johnson has been recognized at the White House and the U.S. Department of State for her excellence in mentoring underrepresented students globally and encouraging their significant achievements in STEM. To learn more about Dr. Johnson, watch a video here.