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New Private School in Georgia to Focus on Cyber Subjects

Challenge Preparatory Academy in Augusta will teach cyber literacy as a core subject, plus classes on cyber ethics, technical details and other aspects of cybersecurity. It will also host evening classes for adults.

(TNS) — It's only been a week but Daryl Rolle knows he made the right decision for his son Bryson's future.

Bryson is one of the first students at newly established Challenge Preparatory Academy in the Harrisburg neighborhood. The private school officially opened last week and will focus on a cyber curriculum.

"My son was going to a magnet school, and I need more out of his learning experience. When I found out that Challenge Academy gave him the ability to be able to be emerged in a cyber curriculum, it was a win for me," Rolle said.

Dr. Mayreather Willis said she has been wanting to bring a school to the area since 2015. Willis serves as Challenge's principal and one of its teachers. She was a teacher at a Richmond County school and worked under the Department of Defense Education Activity School System on military bases, so she always been engaged in education.

It was during her time as a teacher in Richmond County that she realized children needed something better.

"I saw that certain students needed a smaller learning atmosphere. They needed a school that wasn't so much a cookie-cutter model," she said. "The kids could participate in classes that were structured differently and I knew that a [private] school allowed the leadership of a school to have autonomy to create a space to meet the needs of the students they were serving."

Rolle said it's good that Augusta has become a national hub for cybersecurity, but he sees his child having the ability to learn about it in school as an opportunity to enter the global economy.

He thinks his son will have more avenues to enter the cyber world by attending Challenge Academy.

Willis said the school is using cybersecurity learning standards to teach students at the school. She started to see cyber growth in Augusta and decided it would be good for children to be introduced to cyber in school and get a job straight out of high school, rather than going into debt by going to college.

They want to focus on cyber literacy and making sure students understand the moral and ethical parts of cyber, how gadgets work and why they work and learn the good, the bad and the ugly parts of cyber.

"They are the next generation of creators and we want them to have some sense of obligation to be moral and ethical in how they use (cyber)," she said. "The way we teach here is cyber literacy connection; we look at the ecosystem of the Internet of things."

Willis said new cyber-related information will be part of the curriculum at each grade level. The school will also teach all the core subjects, but at Challenge, cyber literacy will be a core class.

The school also offers cyber classes for adults in the evenings, if someone is interested in getting into the cyber workforce.

Willis had been trying to open the private school for four years before the COVID-19 pandemic derailed her plans for a year. The school is located at 1946 Ellis St. right behind Greater St. John Baptist Church in Harrisburg, which Willis said was intentional.

The school originally began as an after-school program at Greater St. John, but she later approached the pastor at the church about expanding it into a private school.

For her, the first week was amazing. She described it as the "most gratifying thing" she has ever done. It showed her that education matters and has allowed her to create a program she believes has integral parts for the learning environment.

Rolle said he liked the fact the school administration and board members have a vision of how the school is going to grow and is excited to see how his son fits in that vision. Today, the school only offers fifth through seventh grade, but Willis said the goal is to add one grade level up every year until they reach 12th grade and then add kindergarten through fourth grade all in one go.

"Our kids will have a quality education. They will be equipped with the ability to articulate themselves, to create and understand why they as people can do anything that they set their minds to," she said.

Willis said they are only enrolling 30 students at the school this year, and there are still spots open for any interested parent.

"The reason for that is so that we can shape the program and build school culture. All the children that will come after that, those 30 will establish what the school culture is," Willis said.

Tuition is $7,500 and there are scholarships available. Parents can go online and complete their child's registration. In addition to two full-time teaching positions, the school also has part-time positions yet to be filled as well as staff including an administrative assistant, a marketing director and counselor, according to its website.

The school offers early bird drop off at 7 a.m. and extended day care until 5:30 p.m. for any parent that needs it. The school year is a regular 180 days with school starting at 8 a.m. until 3:50 p.m.

Willis said class size will always be limited, and the school will only have a maximum of 15 children to one teacher.

"All of our students will have an individual learning plan. We do pre-diagnostics for all of our students for reading and math. We use that diagnostic as a baseline to write individual lesson plans for those kids," she said.

Rolle feels confident his son will get a better education at Challenge and he is glad he made the decision to enroll his son. He is encouraging other parents to look into it and see if it works for their children.

As the pandemic continues, he also says he's more comfortable with his son going to a private school that will follow CDC guidelines, instead of a public school system that changes its plans regularly.

"We are confident in the fact that the staff at Challenge have a game plan and we understand that everybody is on the same page when it comes to how COVID is handled," he said.

©2021 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.