By Morgan Bryce
Beginning in mid-February, a new program at the Ward 2 Opelika Learning Center called the ‘Ward 2 Academy’ will offer its citizens the ability to further their education and pursue higher paying jobs.
Conceptualized by Councilwoman Tiffany Gibson-Pitts, she said she saw the need for a program like this during her campaign last year.
“While I was out in the district, I met a lot of guys who were just hanging out on the corners, so one thing I was asking them about was their education, if they had a GED or not, and many of them did not have jobs. They were really stressing to me that they wanted employment … some of them had a diploma, but I think the majority of them did not,” Gibson-Pitts said. “And I also listened to a lot of elderly people when I was out, talking about how things used to be and what needs to happen, and I talked to a lot of young moms. There was a lot of tears on the campaign trail when people were talking to me about things that their children were encountering, and just a lack of activities and things for them to do.”
After her runoff victory in early October, Gibson-Pitts approached Opelika City Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Neighbors with the idea of an academy to improve the lives of citizens in her ward.
Following Neighbors’ approval of the project and confirmation of assistance from Opelika City Schools, Gibson-Pitts put together a plan of action for the academy’s development. She said the community’s support for the project has been tremendous.
“It has been great as far as the amount of people who have expressed interest in helping out … I’ve been getting calls from so many retired school counselors from Opelika and Auburn who are wanting to help out. This project is a partnership with the city of Opelika, Opelika City Schools and Southern Union, who are helping to provide for all of the programs,” Gibson-Pitts said.
Once fully implemented, the academy will have four programs to offer to the community. The first two programs, which start in February, will consist of GED certification courses for adults 18 and older, career training and placement through Southern Union’s Ready-to-Work program and child mentoring.
“The GED program is going to go off a little bit better than I imagined … and I think once students complete their GED, they can, with help from grants get into that program, which is six weeks long, and come out with two certifications where they can have access to better jobs in the area. I’m really excited about that for the community,” Gibson-Pitts said.
Programs for both parents and the elderly in the community will begin this summer.
Southern Union is covering the cost of the GED teacher, but Gibson-Pitts said that she is still looking for volunteers, particularly men, to help teach and assist. She said she hopes that people come out of the program with a more stable financial future and the ability to one day become homeowners in Ward 2.
“I think that they’ll have a better quality of life … if you don’t have your GED, there’s not many jobs that you can apply for where you’re going to be making more than maybe $9 an hour. If you look at that amount, that’s not a whole lot to take care of a family,” Gibson-Pitts said. “I want to produce more homeowners in the Ward 2 area.”
Neighbors said he believes that the program has the potential to make a significant impact not only in Ward 2, but in the entire city.
“In any successful community like ours, you have to have people involved in all aspects of our community life, whether it’s children or adults who need extra support … but certainly, Ms. Pitts is bringing a level of enthusiasm … we certainly applaud that and appreciate it,” Neighbors said. “The needs she’s starting out with now, like the GED and some other prep work and employability skills, not to mention tutoring and other things … as you start seeing other needs arise, people tend to adapt, and I’m sure she will. Like many things, there are some people that stick to one, but I think that this will kind of be broad and be responsive not only to the needs of that ward, but to our community at-large.”
Classes and programs offered at the academy are free of charge, but interested participants must register. There will be an academy signup Feb. 2 at the Opelika Learning Center, beginning at 6 p.m. For more information, email Gibson-Pitts at email@example.com, or call (334) 444-5869.