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Mce Property Management Roanoke Va – Students finish turkey carving Friday as Academy kindergarten teacher Jessica Hiner organizes her class of 10 for another activity. The academy opened in late August to serve families living in poverty. STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Times
Then she retrieved a tube of Elmer’s glue and glued the picture to a thick, light green sheet. After it is displayed in the classroom through Thanksgiving, she will take her artwork home with her.
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Cagle and her nine classmates at Northeast Academy — the newest school in the valley — got a proper Thanksgiving turkey and side dishes last week, courtesy of the school.
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The academy is a private school designed for children and families living in poverty, and it opened in late August with an inaugural kindergarten class of 10. The school has just a few employees, including a teacher, Jessica Hiner, a Head of School, Tina Kitchen, and an Assistant Head of School, Beth Mattox.
The brainchild of the local nonprofit McLeod Family Foundation, the school offers full scholarships, free transportation and three hot meals a day for its 10 Kindergarteners. And the trustees of the foundation, John and Kathy McLeod, are planning an ambitious expansion of the school.
“Between these two buildings we can teach K-5,” said John McLeod, among the welcoming guests at the school’s first grand opening last week. “Then we have to build a middle school and high school.”
The McLeods own the property and the surrounding 3.5 acres through their property management company, MCE Owner Occupied LLP. The one-story buildings on Belle Avenue, near the intersection of King Street and Gus Nicks Boulevard, served as a church. Most recently, it was one of the 12 HoneyTree Early Learning Centers in the New River Valley, before the center was moved to Brambleton Avenue and.
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HoneyTree was founded by the McLeods in 1979. The long-time provider of early childhood education is also a major donor to local students. Since the McLeod Family Foundation was established in 1996, it has provided nearly $1 million in scholarships to Valley children and families, and awarded scholarships to students at Virginia Western Community College.
Since 2013, the foundation has started offering personal finance classes to low-income families, and grant programs for families to save to start a new home, an education or a business.
The academy’s mission is “really to get families out of poverty, out of that environment, physically and mentally,” John McLeod said.
McLeod said learning in a small classroom setting — one teacher for every 15 students — helps students get the individual attention they need in the classroom. The course must also meet Virginia Department of Education rules, which also ensure that students pass tests consistent with the state’s Standards of Learning.
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But if schools are to truly transform lives, they must provide a learning experience that goes beyond the classroom. As students move up the levels, they will take field trips, and hear lectures on life and career skills from local business leaders and guest speakers, McLeod said.
“They learn reading, writing and arithmetic, but we want them to learn these broader concepts,” he said. “It’s important, especially for children who are in the third or fourth generation of poverty.”
For now, the “class of 2031” is just learning the ropes. On Friday, after completing their turkey artwork, Hiner’s class worked on addition and subtraction using M&M’s. Hiner, who previously taught in the Total Action for Progress Head Start program, separated the candy by color while her students ate lunch.
An employee of HoneyTree for 23 years, Mattox was the school’s principal until Hiner was hired this month. She said that the small school environment has created a close-knit environment among the students, and connections to support staff.
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Hiner is currently the school’s only full-time employee. But with each new class, the school plans to hire a different teacher, McLeod said. Almost all part-time employees at the school are also HoneyTree employees.
A HoneyTree bus driver takes students to their homes throughout the city, county and as far away as Salem.
The school is working on an application process for future students. But the first class was found through connections with HoneyTree and local agencies like Total Action for Progress.
Mary Garrett of Salem is the grandmother of student Maddie Burton, 5. Garrett said she has learned from the school through Big Brothers, Big Sisters and has been impressed so far.
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She has high hopes for The Academy, and wants to send her granddaughter to the school for as long as possible.
Mother Hailey Goodwin of is also excited about the prospect of her 5-year-old Kimorah keeping up with the academy.
“It’s more of a hands-on, group effort way of learning, rather than being in a public school with a million kids where they don’t get the individualized help they need,” Goodwin, 22, said.
McLeod said the foundation can fund the school as it expands to its second building, although it will need renovations like the work being completed on the current school building.
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But as the student body and staff size grow, McLeod said, the foundation must find additional funding sources and rely on community help, including volunteers, to help cook, clean or replace.
“Right now we’re off the field and we’re happy with everything so far,” he said. “But it’s a very small start. We’re learning how to do better. When the class of 2031 graduates, we’ll have about 200 students. Our goal is to get about as many of those 200 kids out of poverty as we can .
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Students finish turkey carving Friday as Academy kindergarten teacher Jessica Hiner organizes her class of 10 for another activity. The academy opened in late August to serve families living in poverty.
The academy has also launched a capital campaign to pay for $200,000 in renovations, along with a new atrium and playground, co-founder John McLeod said Thursday during the school’s fall open house event.
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McLeod and his wife, Kathy, started the school a year ago through their nonprofit, the McLeod Family Foundation. The McLeods are the founders of the HoneyTree Early Learning Centers in the and New River valleys.
The academy’s mission is to help families break the cycle of poverty, McLeod said. Located near the intersection of King Street and Gus Nicks Boulevard, the school provides free education, transportation and three meals a day to students in need.
The inaugural kindergarten class progressed to first grade this year as the school welcomed another kindergarten class. The school now has 26 students and two teachers. Jessica Hiner has returned to teach first grade, while Assistant Head of School Beth Mattox will teach kindergarten.
Administrative offices and the two classrooms of the school are in one of two, one story buildings. MCE Owner Occupied LLP, the McLeods property management company, owns the buildings and surrounding 3.5 acres.
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McLeod said the bulk of the capital campaign — $125,000 — will pay for the renovation of the second building to house its second through fifth grades. HomeTrust Bank has already pledged $20,000 to pay for the playground.
McLeod’s foundation also partners with Total Action for Progress, Freedom First Credit Union and Goodwill to help students’ families with some of their personal, financial and job training needs.
Head of School Tina Kitchens said that the school, which must report to the Virginia Department of Education, has had great success in its first year. Because the school offers a summer camp from June to August, Kitchens said, the first-grade students retained the material they learned in their freshman year.
In the long term, McLeod said the foundation wants to attract more families to the school while adding a new kindergarten class each year.
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The foundation hopes to build a middle school and high school on the property over the next five to 10 years.
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