Woman begins local reading academy to help build skills

Students use word cards to form sentences during a learning session at The 1865 Academy in Manning. In operation since July, the academy has more than a dozen students attending the weekly sessions to improve their reading and comprehension skills.
Students use word cards to form sentences during a learning session at The 1865 Academy in Manning. In operation since July, the academy has more than a dozen students attending the weekly sessions to improve their reading and comprehension skills.
SHARRON HALEY / THE SUMTER ITEM
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MANNING - Seeing a need and then filling it was the drive behind the formation of The 1865 Reading Academy, a weekend two-hour-long school where students receive help in spelling, grammar, sentence structure, phonetics, writing and comprehension.

The idea of founding a school tailored to meet the needs of students who were struggling to read was formed when Sharmane Anderson attended a forum in Charleston earlier this year.

During the forum, leaders from across the state discussed the plight of education and the disparities in reading levels, particularly between minorities and others in the state, Anderson said.

"Dr. Nelson Rivers, who once led the state's NAACP and is currently pastor of Charity Baptist Church in Charleston, talked about the disparities in learning among minorities," Anderson said. "He told us that 70 percent of minority students were not reading at grade level. That's mind blowing."

Anderson, who has an 11-year-old daughter, said she asked herself, "What can I do to help bridge that gap? What can I do to encourage parents to assist in bridging the gap? What can we do as parents and the community?"

Anderson said she also wanted her daughter to know the benefits of helping people in the community who might not be as gifted as others.

Anderson's answer was to found The 1865 Reading Academy. The name of the school was derived from history, she said. The South Carolina Constitution of 1865 provided for all students of all races the opportunity to read, she said.

"I used my own money to get it started," Anderson said. "I wanted to create a reading academy that was free to all students and where they could receive the necessary tools and resources they needed to improve their skills."

Anderson, who graduated from Manning High School in 2000, brought three of her former classmates and a friend she met when attending Francis Marion University on board to comprise the academy's board: Erica Cousar Epps, Lakeisia Ragin and Kaleena Henry Gibson, along with Kenneth Stokes. She said that all four have careers that center on education.

"They all excelled in education," Anderson said. "They all have a passion for education, and they are innovative in their approaches to learning."

Since its inception, the academy received donations from a variety of sources.

"Dr. Alice Ridgill, the Rev. Dr. George Windley Sr., Deputy First Class Gabriel Blackwell, Joanne and Robert and Joanne Deas, Margaret and Darryl Walker ... and I know I am forgetting some people ... were very helpful in getting the academy started," Anderson said. "People have been so gracious and helpful."

The academy is based at Windley's church, Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Manning, where the academy uses the church's fellowship hall. Anderson said that when the church's hall isn't available, the academy is held at Blackwell's 180 Boxing and Fitness Gym on Brooks Street in Manning.

Each Saturday, the academy begins at 10 a.m. and ends at noon with a snack about 11 a.m., she said. Using a team of volunteers, Anderson said she uses fast-paced sessions to keep the students on task and enthusiastic.

"On the fourth Saturday of each month, Educators Rock, a group of teachers from the Manning Early Childhood Center, attend and assist with the session," Anderson said.

Anderson said the academy is soliciting donations of books, educational materials, snacks and, of course, money to help buy what's needed. Anyone interested in volunteering or donating can contact her at the1865academy@gmail.com.

Parents or guardians interested in having their child attend the academy can receive a registration form by emailing Anderson at the1865academy@gmail.com. Additional information is available on the school's Facebook page: The 1865 Reading Academy.