Huntsville Learning Center moves into new building with same mission to help students with limited opportunities

Executive Director Ray Allister says if students stay the course, they’ll likely get their diploma.
Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 8:32 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The Huntsville Learning Center is moving into a new space and will celebrate with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday, September 18, 2023, at 12 p.m. But its mission remains the same. Helping transform the lives of students with targeted after-school programs to make sure students with limited opportunities don’t fall through the cracks in school and become the best versions of themselves.

Leaders at the Huntsville Learning Center explain the program started as a response to the alarming high school dropout rates in the area.

Executive Director Ray Allister says if students stay the course, they’ll likely get their diploma.

Formerly known as Huntsville Inner City Learning Center, the goal is to provide structured after-school programs focused on academic excellence, spiritual growth, physical fitness, and personal development.

Put simply, this program is meant to help these students one day get jobs and become part of society, according to Allister.

The center has helped nearly 1,000 at-risk kids from several elementary and middle schools in Huntsville.

While Allister says the payoff is worth it, he adds it can be challenging to get students to buy into the benefits they can’t see yet.

“You have to do the work. You have to put in the time. And if you do, you’re going to reap the reward,” Allister said. “That’s really difficult because a lot of the students that we work with, their issues are right now, and we’re selling them a future. In 10 years, in 15 years, if you keep this course, it’ll be different. So they’re making decisions about surviving now and investing in the future. It’s really challenging, and we want to support them through that.”

All of that hard work does pay off, as the Executive Director explains students who were in the program for two years consecutively had a 100% graduation rate from high school.

Whether it’s learning character development or social skills, learning center leaders say their focus is to have students grow educationally, as well as grow as citizens.

Allister explains a lot of the kids wouldn’t have these experiences without an after-school program like this because their families just can’t afford it.

The program is free, but Allister says there is a cost. Attendance.

If students don’t show up, they lose their spot which is important because there is a waiting list to get into the K-9 program. The plan is to add grades 10, 11 and 12.

As for what some of these kids are going through at home, Allister says it’s more complicated than most people realize.

“It’s kind of sad because I’ll tell my students all the time that the things that I feel like I went through in high school, they’re going through in middle school. Just depression and anxiety,” Allister said. “They go through a host of challenges and financial deficiencies as well. Having to worry about where you’re going to live and what you’re going to eat and it’s just, it’s a lot that they come with.”

In spite of having pretty challenging things to deal with at home, Allister mentions success stories they’ve seen at Huntsville Learning Center, including some students who went to Ivy League schools after participating in the program.

The new center is located at 3207 Kavanaugh Drive in Huntsville.

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