The 29 students — high functioning adults — are reaping the benefits of 80 years of teaching experience by the four certified teachers at the school. Right now the school is going through the process of accreditation.
The student body is split between Cleveland and the Chattanooga/Ooltewah area — 40 percent from Cleveland and 60 percent from Ooltewah and Chattanooga.
Some of the students work on jobs in the community. “We do not babysit the workers, Clark said. “We drop off (the students) and pick them up. The staff works with parents to help students reach goals of academic study and fitness. They are assessed three times each year to show the progress of each one.”
Recently the Magnolia Garden members visited the school to see how their gardens grow. They had come earlier in the season to plant and show the students how to garden. And now they’re seeing the results of their efforts.
The vegetable garden has produced lettuce, carrots, radishes, squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and herbs. The students’ own veggies were used in salad when they had their cooking camp. This is the first year for gardening, but now plans are set for getting an orchard started, also.
The summer schedule also includes bowling and a modified curriculum in academics including life skills and computer. And the students will soon be publishing their first newspaper.
The club members were given a tour of the facilities, which includes classrooms — named by students after Tennessees state symbols, computer lab, lounge, living skills area with kitchen, a safe room, gym and auditorium.
The school partnered with Asbury United Methodist Church in 2008 — leasing the property — and purchased it in 2011 for its permanent home. The church has already built a gym especially for young people — a project that is fulfilling the church’s vision for its purpose. Next year, a residential facility is planned with dorm rooms to meet the housing needs of students.
Allen said that for the first three years, everything was operated in the gym. Now there are dedicated rooms for writing, math and so forth. There is a sports program, too — including golf— and performing arts.
Marilyn Sherlin is the performing arts director, as well as the school nurse. She begins practice with the students in January, preparing musicals to perform at local schools and other places when requested. The performances include singing — quartet and ensemble — and dance.
The Magnolia Garden Club was invited to see the students perform a musical which included “Shake Your Tail Feathers,” “God Bless the USA” and “O Happy Day” from “Sister Act.” Sherlin said “O Happy Day” was performed in full nun costume. “You never know what’s going to happen,” she said, when they perform, as the students improvise and add things on their own.
Their energy and excitement only added to everyone’s enjoyment of the performance, as hands kept time with the music. And when those onstage sang “God Bless the USA,” it was from the heart, and “it was hard to hold back the tears,” commented some in the audience. And afterward, there were smiles and hugs all around.