“I started working with kids in the neighborhood because I realized that they are our future, and like Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ‘We are not alright if they are not alright.’ What kind of civilization can we call ourselves if we overlook our most valuable commodity?”
With a few donated books, a dingy old building, little help and her own resolve, Lillian Collins established Eastside Academy, an after-school program aiming to reach at-risk youth in need of additional instruction in math and reading. With many of its students living in a drug-ravaged part of Clinton, Okla., Lillian founded the school to provide a safe haven for its students. Much more than just a tutoring program, Eastside Academy offers students meals, transportation, field trips and incentives for attendance and effort, along with love, guidance and discipline when needed.
Knowing that the key to keeping students from falling into the wrong crowd is in keeping them busy with positive activities. Students can also gain exposure to the arts through a partnership with a local ballet school.
Although Eastside Academy is still an unfunded program, Lillian is able to meet the staffing needs of the program by being creative. Lillian calls upon junior teachers to teach younger children under Lillian’s supervision. The benefit is two-fold – the children have new mentors closer to their own age, and the junior teachers gain leadership skills and confidence.
Four years ago, after seeing the positive impact of Eastside Academy, Clinton residents voted to build a better facility to house the school. With Lillian’s leadership Eastside Academy is having a deep educational and behavioral effect on Clinton. Prior to Lillian’s founding of Eastside Academy, test scores for African American children in the local elementary school were lower than the 30 percentile. With more than 100 students enrolled at Eastside Academy, the students’ scores are now in the 80th to 90th percentile, and school administrators and parents have seen an improvement in overall student behavior and attitudes.