The Fort Worth Can Academy at Lancaster Avenue held a grand opening, ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony Wednesday, Oct. 4, for its new childcare and education center — the Louella and Nicholas Martin Wee Can Academy — which will enroll approximately 79 children.
The Louella and Nicholas Martin Wee Can Academy is located at 1316 E. Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth and is attached to the Fort Worth Can Academy.
Texas Can Academies President and CEO Richard Marquez remarked on the growth and expansion of the Fort Worth Texas Can Academies, saying, “We’ve come a long way, from two embarrassing buildings to two very beautiful facilities and all placed in the appropriate place.”
“The uniqueness of this place is that when people first heard that we wanted to buy this building and move in they said, ‘We’re afraid for the safety of your children,’ ” Marquez said. “But we said don’t worry about our kids, they live in tougher neighborhoods than this. They know how to handle these kinds of things”
Wee Can Academy was created by Texas Can Academy to help address barriers to education for high school students, such as early parenthood. Where Texas Can Academies fill a gap in educational opportunities for the students, the Wee Can Academies go a step further and assist not only the students but their children, giving them “that support [and] that second chance they need to get through school,” Marquez said.
Almesha Jackson, a current student parent at Fort Worth Can Academy, spoke at the dedication, calling the Wee Can Academy “a big blessing.”
“I know the students at the school, including myself, [think] it is great that the Wee Can has started because now student don’t have to miss school because they don’t have a babysitter,” Jackson said.
Students in the Can Academy can attend school and have their children looked after at Wee Can. Wee Can also serves to help children of the academy staff and those who are classified as homeless, thanks to a partnership between Fort Worth Can Academy and both the Presbyterian Night Shelter and the Fort Worth Salvation Army.
Toby Owen with the Presbyterian Night Shelter said he is really excited to have the Wee Academy coming to the neighborhood.
“There are so many needy children in our area — just across the street in our Morris Foundation Women and Children’s Building we had 40 homeless mothers spend the night last night with 101 children,” Owen said. “Of those 101 children, 42 of them will qualify for this daycare program. Not only will Wee Academy be making a difference for the students and their children that will be here, but it has potential to impact hundreds of homeless children each and every year.”
He added that he feels it’s partnerships like the one they and the Salvation Army have with Texas Can that make the city of Fort Worth, and individuals in the city, better.
The school is named for the academy’s long-time supporters and philanthropists Louella “Lou” Martin, Ph.D. and Nicholas Martin. The dedication ceremony was held in honor of the Martin’s “passion and dedication to the education of Fort Worth’s children,” according to a news release.
“Nick and I are very happy to be a part of the Fort Worth Can Academy, especially Wee Can Academy. We love children, we are very blessed with 19 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren so far, so we do love children,” Lou said.
“The global community sets up the idea that although each person is not physically close to others throughout the world, we are all neighbors in the sense that the actions we take as individuals impact not only our immediate surroundings, but also the rest of the world,” she said.
Earlier this year, Fort Worth Can Academies honored Lou with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her influence in the Fort Worth community during the organization’s Cares for Kids Luncheon.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price attended the dedication and ribbon cutting as well, saying that
Fort Worth Can Academies fit in “real well” with the city’s Read Fort Worth initiative.
Price explained that for children to succeed, they need to be able to read on-level by the third grade. She said that children who start really early are better critical thinkers and learners.
“Seventy-four percent of our prison population reads below a third-grade level. There’s a corresponding factor here,” Price said. “We need a well-educated workforce and Fort Worth is blessed to have this facility.”
Marquez said that the Texas Education Agency approved Texas Can’s expansion of its charter to include pre-kindergarten teaching. Because of this, the Louella and Nicholas Martin Wee Can Academy will be able to offer on-site education for children 6 weeks to 4 years old, as well as after-school care for children age 5-12.
“The future of the Wee Cans is beginning to look quite bright,” Marquez said.
According to the release, the mission of Wee Can Academies is to “provide a safe, nurturing and educational environment for children and to partner with and support the families that are a part of the school.”
The programs at the Wee Can Academy aim to assist toddlers and elementary school children in learning through play, social and academic activities to stimulate the three different types of growth — physical, emotional and cognitive.
“Every child, fortunately or unfortunately, isn’t going to succeed in the mainstream,” Price said. “Many children, for whatever reason beyond their control, need that little bit of extra help that you provide at Can Academy, and you can give their children that strong start that they need.”
Throughout Texas, after 31 years of providing educational opportunities for students in often facing significant obstacles, there are currently 13 Can Academies and six Wee Can academies. The organization has served 5,500 kids this year so far and had 2,000 graduates in the class of 2017. There are two Can Academies in Fort Worth, the Louella and Nicholas Martin Wee Can Academy being the first of its kind in the area.
“Simply put, we do one of the most unique things in education, which is teach kids to read and think. That’s it,” Marquez said. “We teach them how to read and think. That’s why they’re successful. If you think about it, that’s all you truly need to learn how to do to take care of yourselves.”
But, places like Texas Can and Wee Can aren’t just about providing an education. Though that is the bread and butter of that they do, they also provide opportunities for economic and career development.
Ciera Bank CEO Charlie Powell said it best, “The true cornerstone of what this organization does is we provide an education, but we also provide an opportunity for the graduates of Can Academy to better their lives.”
“It’s an economic development issue. We need to educate people in our community to work in our community,” Powell said. “If you don’t give them that opportunity, we both lose. We’re losing as a community and they’re losing the opportunity to move up and help support their families … and better work in the Fort Worth area.”