Aug. 23—It's quiet inside for now, but the halls of the former Jefferson Early Childhood Center are expected to again bustle with students beginning next year.
This time around the building at C Street and Kiowa Avenue will have a new name — Buffalo Ridge Academy.
Shared Blessings continued to move forward with plans to operate the academy after the McAlester Public Schools Board of Education agreed earlier this month to lease the empty building to the charitable ministry for $100 per month, plus utilities.
"This will be an after-school program full of positive role models, creative activities and big dreams," said Shared Blessings Director of Operations Dillon Roberts.
Plans call for the Buffalo Ridge Academy to begin when McAlester Public Schools classes resume in January 2024 following the holiday break.
"We want it to be a place to enrich, empower and encourage students with an opportunity to dream," Roberts said. "It will be a place where they can learn to engage with others, express themselves and expand their futures."
Plans are to begin with two grades, with the possibility of adding more grades as the program develops.
"Starting out, this will be the fifth and sixth grades," Roberts said. "We're starting as a pilot program and every year we're looking at expanding."
Shared Blessings believes helping children develop at a younger age can set them on a more successful pathway for the future, said Roberts.
Some after-school classes at Buffalo Ridge Academy will focus on technology, the arts and trades, Roberts said.
Arts classes could include subjects such as photography and videography, he said.
Music classes are another possibility under consideration, along with painting and digital art.
"We also want to have things such as coding," Roberts said, referring to computer programing languages.
More traditional skills are also being considered.
"One thing we're looking at now is woodworking," said Roberts.
Classes are planned in other areas as well.
"We're also focusing on life skills classes such as gardening, cooking and focusing on finances," Roberts said.
Shared Blessing Executive Director Joey Clark shared the enthusiasm.
"We are very excited about Buffalo Ridge Academy," Clark said.
"We believe the program can fundamentally change the lives of the students who are involved by teaching them valuable skills, helping them dream and allowing them to be around positive role models."
No charge is expected for those who attend the academy.
Other details are yet to be finalized, such as which students will be eligible to attend the Buffalo Ridge Academy.
"We're working with McAlester Public Schools on the selection process," Roberts said. It's expected to ultimately include an application process through Shared Blessings, which is at 1558 S. Main St. in McAlester.
Help will be needed from the community to make the program successful, Roberts noted.
"We're currently working on the people who will be involved," he said. "It will take a lot of volunteers."