VISIONARY EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
Purpose Point Learning Academy
Mt. Canaan Baptist Church Pastor Ternae Jordan has known 105 children who never got to grow up. Their lives were cut short by violence. Pastor Jordan had the solemn responsibility to officiate each funeral, comfort each family, and ask the question “how do I help stop the madness?” His career has spanned thirty years and led him to pastor in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the midst of the crack epidemic; to advise presidents on community policing; and in recent years to return home to shepherd a congregation his father led for 40 years. Pastor Jordan is a man motivated by God’s call on his life to impact his community, and he has a passion for Chattanooga’s children.
“I spent 40 years trying to interrupt violence in the lives of 13- to 15-year-olds,” he says. “Then I had an epiphany that we need to reach children at younger ages.”
Early Intention, Lifelong Impact
Pastor Jordan was witnessing in the Highway 58 community what is prevalent across Hamilton County. Fewer than one-third of students are on track for reading or math by the end of third grade, and for students living in poverty only one in six have mastered necessary concepts. Academic achievement in third grade is a predictor of future opportunity. Devastatingly, it is considered the first step in a pipeline to incarceration, and as Pastor Jordan and his congregations have experienced, the cemetery.
Research shows that children’s earliest years are a significant predictor of long-term success. Well before third grade, we know that children need to be ready for kindergarten, and years before that, children are learning at an exponential pace. Ninety percent of brain development happens before age five. Pastor Jordan and his congregation recognized that their community had an acute need for high-quality early childhood education – not simply child care. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, their vision materialized as Purpose Point Learning Academy, a learning center serving 73 children and their families.
Partnering with Purpose
As a State Licensed Learning Center, Purpose Point classrooms are alight with activity. Children from age 12 months to five years receive play-based quality instruction that prepares them for kindergarten, nutritious meals, and a caring environment. This alone is a tremendous win for the Highway 58 community. But Pastor Jordan and the Mt. Canaan team have layered values of equity, dignity, and excellence into every part of the school, and arguably these are what bring their vision to life.
To begin, Pastor Jordan asked early childhood education center expert Ellwanda White to help plan and now lead Purpose Point. As Executive Director, White’s knowledge of how to efficiently manage an early childhood program creates a foundation for sustainability and growth. Purpose Point also benefits from a partnership with Chattanooga Christian School (CCS), which initially approached Pastor Jordan about creating a “micro” K-5 school.
“When CCS learned what we wanted to do at Mt. Canaan, they were excited to help us. They know schools and I know the community. It has become a true partnership,” Jordan says.
This winning combination has created a diverse, mixed-income school including private pay, state childcare certificates, and sliding scale tuition as well as a Head Start classroom. Teachers are paid a living wage and receive benefits, well above the industry standard pay of $13 per hour.
Purpose Point also surveys families annually and partners with community organizations such as Autism Speaks for monthly workshops.
“We are committed to wrap-around services and focusing on the entire family,” White says. “For our children to be successful we have to start early, and that includes supporting parents.”
Expanding the Mission
Purpose Point is ready to expand with plans to open eight more classrooms this year. Doing so will allow White to welcome children as young as six weeks and grow the school to serve 236 children. Pastor Jordan and CCS Vice President of Advancement John Stroud are working closely to share the Purpose Point vision and secure funding for both the expansion and long-term sustainability.
“You will be what you see,” Pastor Jordan says. “We want to give the community something they can see and be a model for what’s possible.”
Benwood Foundation is proud to support high-quality early childhood education at Purpose Point Learning Academy. To learn more about the program or apply, visit pplacha.org.