By Kara Witherow, Editor
Andre Greene wants to be a lawyer. And a doctor.
The 13-year-old already has plans to finish high school early and start college before his peers.
His big dreams are being nurtured at the Robert Lamar Anderson Academy of Excellence, an after-school program serving at-risk minority students at Columbus’ Baker Middle School.
Begun in October, the RLA Academy provides an art and music-based curriculum that includes leadership training, fine and performing arts training, individualized academic support, male mentoring, counseling, and ongoing exposure to cultural activities.
“We learn a lot of stuff like chess, piano, and drums,” said Greene, an eighth-grade student at Baker Middle School who says the group has bonded so well they’re like a brotherhood. “It helps us a lot in our real-life skills and we’re doing stuff we never knew we could do.”
Exposure to experiences the young men may not otherwise have is part of the Academy’s vison, said Dr. Shae Anderson, the Academy’s executive director.
The program has four core values under which all their activities fall: fine arts, mentoring, civic responsibility, and servant leadership. Anderson saw the importance these values played in her father’s life and wanted to build a program that helped develop them in Columbus’ young men.
“My father is a great supporter of the arts and we want these boys to realize they can be good citizens and give back to their communities,” she said.
The RLA Academy meets Monday through Thursday afternoon from 4 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. The young men receive two hours of chess instruction each week; drama coaching; and percussion, piano, and voice lessons. They also study music production and have time to play games, exercise, and study. Guest speakers come in once or twice a week to share their expertise or teach a skill. A snack and meal are provided each afternoon, and the teenagers have begun to prepare, serve, and clean.
“It’s been amazing to watch the young men step up to pray, to lead, to prepare meals, and assume responsibility,” Anderson said. “The time after school is where trouble and problems happen, and this gives them something to do … and gives them skills they hopefully will be able to use for the rest of their lives.”
The Robert Lamar Anderson Academy of Excellence is named for Anderson’s father, a prominent Columbus citizen and longtime member of South Columbus United Methodist Church. He also serves as lay leader of the Northwest District of the South Georgia Conference.
A former Muscogee County School Board member, Robert Anderson is a Spencer High School graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree from Fort Valley State University and a master’s in education from Georgia State University. He taught high school science for a year and a half before working in the banking industry for nearly 40 years. Passionate about education and service, he substitute teaches in retirement and works with the students in the RLA Academy.
He laughs, though, when asked about having a namesake. Serving others is a way he lives his faith and is part of his daily life.
“If you come into this world and you don’t do something for someone else, something to help them along the way, then your living might have been in vain,” he said.
While still in its infancy, Academy leaders have high hopes for the program and dream that one day it will grow to become an independent school. For now, though, they plan to continue to be part of the students’ lives throughout high school, supporting them and positively impacting their lives.
“I want the Academy to help these young men know that there are alternatives to the life they see every day,” Robert Anderson said. “I know they’re young, but I hope we are planting some good seeds on some fertile ground.”
The pilot program has about 20 young men participating. School leaders will nominate a new group of eighth-grade young men for next year’s program, which will begin in August.
“They’re realizing things they never knew they could do and learning things that are completely new to them,” Robert Anderson said. “What they’re getting now they’ll never get anywhere else. One thing’s for sure – they will never forget this experience!”