For Mrs. CelestineLewis, The Jacqueline Harris Preparatory School is more than just a school, it’s a way to allow African American children the same opportunity without any labels. “It’s part of my life; it’s the little girl coming up way back when, the environment, things that was taught to me and instilled at any early age, speaking in complete sentences and most of all, knowing whose I am and who I am,” she began. “I am a firm believer that in order for a person to really know who they are they have to know about themselves.”
The school was named after an educator; Jacqueline Harris. She grew up in Cedartown-North Cantonment, was highly respected, and loved children. There were a couple of us that got together and decided to take the label off of the children-take off the design brand, shoes put them in uniform and see what the outcome would be. For Lewis, she admits, it has been a journey. “The Board (of Directors) was presented a charter in 2001and it was approved. It was started in 2001 and we’ve been in business for eighteen years.” She said. Jacqueline Harris was a part of the beginning stages of the school but passed suddenly before the Charter was actually presented. “She doesn’t even know we got the Charter approved.” Said Lewis.
The school first opened its doors at 615 N W Street in 2001 and quickly outgrew the building. By 2003, the school had to find a larger setting and moved to 1408 North Blount Street. “God blessed us to be there from 2003 to 2017. In December of 2016, we closed the deal here (8190 Pensacola Blvd.) and began moving in May of 2017. We outgrew the facility on North Blount, not because of the large number, but because we wanted to incorporate the arts; the piano, the choir, dance, sewing and swimming. We have also partnered with the University of West Florida Aquatics for swimming. It wasn’t about having the capacity to take more children; it was about having the space to offer more programs.” She said.
The school has volunteers that assist with the extra programs such as the piano, dance, etc. “These programs, including Math and Reading will be offered to the students with the IB Students from Pensacola High School tutoring,” stated Lewis.
The school is a SACS accredited school “We have to have all of our teachers accredited. It is a tuition free school that is uniform based. If parents cannot afford to purchase uniforms, we have uniforms available to them. Jacqueline Harris has its own closet for its uniforms and a boutique for Escambia County Schools. It’s from K thru high school.” Lewis stated.
Lewis is no stranger to the educational system. “I was on the Escambia County Utilities
Authority and I had my own group home keeping siblings together. I did that for 10 years. In fact, that’s how my son came to me,” she said.
“I’ve gotten involved with projects because of the need. I started programs to work with all behavioral. I did that for the entire school district. At that time, we used community transportation.” Lewis was issued a Medicaid number so she was able to bill Medicaid for the children behaviors.
When asked what was her most rewarding moment she replied “To see these children come back and see how well they have done. We’ve had very few that we’ve had fall through the cracks. Most of our children have done very well. All because they have a foundation – they know who they are.”
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