Dr. MaLinda Sapp (Courtesy: Lighthouse Full Life Center Church)
GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - After many years of planning Grand Rapids now has its first school for the performing arts. Grammy winning, gospel singer Marvin Sapp opened the Grand Rapids Ellington Academy of Arts and Technology to students Tuesday after a brief assembly and ribbon cutting.
"The students are excited. The parents are excited and the staff is really excited. We are ready to go," said Tamela Brown, principal. "We have students who are experiencing different emotions. They are crying. They are laughing and they are really excited. So, it is just a wonderful feeling. I have chills. It is amazing for this day to finally come."
Co-Founders, Sapp and his late wife, Dr. MaLinda Sapp started envisioning the charter academy five years ago. Since then the couple encountered many setbacks. Then, in 2010 Mrs. Sapp lost a long battle with colon cancer.
"This was her passion. She worked hard really" Sapp said. "The fact that it has come to pass speak volumes of who she is as a woman and I just couldn't let her vision pass with her."
The couple dreamed of build a school where the arts are not just celebrated but are an integral part of the learning process. A school like they remember having as children.
"I want it to be a model. A model for a whole new type of learning environment. It is sad that when you look at schools now-a-days the first thing they get rid of is the arts, and when you do an in-depth study you will find that schools that have the arts implemented in core curriculums students test four to five times higher than schools that don't have it," he said. "It makes an absolute difference. It causes students to think differently. It gives them an opportunity to use a whole new aspect of their brain. that has always been our passion and dream, to bring back what was taken away many, many years ago."
The school offers core courses in performing and mixed media arts as well as technology and language and integrates arts into every day academic instruction.
"It will also provide the opportunity to go right into the arts industry if they so choose. As our students transition into our high school program they will choose a major and focus on one area of the performing arts to really refine and fine tune their talents and skills in that area. So they will be ready to jump into an arts career if that is their choice. But, they will also have the academic rigor and academic skills and competencies to go into college as well. So our students will have multiple choices when they leave here," said Brown.
6th grader, Anthony McConer says he is starting the year eager and ready to learn and take advantage of the special opportunity he's been given.
"I feel really blessed to be here right now," he said. "You can learn in a fun way while you are doing what you love the most. I know some people don't have this chance to go to school and learn as much as I have or to be as talented. I know I have the chance so I'm going to use it."
The school currently has around 180 students enrolled with a capacity of 225 students. This year the school offers grades 6th, 7th and 8th and will add one grade level each year until it has grades 6 through 12.
Marvin Sapp told students Tuesday, they will succeed because "excellence is the standard, not the goal."
He said, "It is very clear. The school is called GREAAT. What we are trying to do is invoke greatness in the lives of each and every child that is a part of the school. And we are going to do it."
Although his wife did not live to see students walk the halls of the school, Sapp says they are able to only because of her tenacity and dedication. And The Grand Rapids Ellington Academy of Arts and Technology will always be an important part of the legacy she leaves behind.
"I'm grateful that she laid the foundation and did all of the real work," he said. "And I believe she would definitely say 'well done, well done. You know I loved her. I'm still in love with her and now that we have accomplished getting her dream off the ground now it is time to move on to even bigger and better things we pray."