Congratulations, AYA Class of 2016!



On May 27, Atlanta Youth Academy (AYA) graduated its 13th class at Bible Way International Ministries. The Class of 2016 has 13 students and we could not be prouder of them!

Jaquez Dew: Whitefield Academy

Jesse Fejoku: Greater Atlanta Christian

Jessica Fejoku: Greater Atlanta Christian

Dwayne McGruder: Whitefield Academy

Kayla Price: Cristo Rey Jesuit High School

Loi Morris-Smith: Undecided

William Smith: The Piney Woods School

Chevell Strozier: The Piney Woods School

Alecia Taylor: Undecided

Nandi Thompson: Elite Scholars Academy

Kennedey Thrasher: Cristo Rey Jesuit High School

Tyler White: Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School

Tyson Williams: Arabia Mountain HS

Key administrators from the Class of 2016’s secondary schools were present on stage to welcome the students into their new school families. After the welcome and blessing by Peter Rooney, the commencement ceremony included a presentation by Mr. David Plyler, who leads an 8th grade philanthropy program: under his mentoring, the Class of 2016 awarded $3,000 to the Chastain Horse Park! Reflections were read aloud by faculty members Katie Koerten (6th), Kathryn Stanley (7th grade), Kris Jones (8th grade), and Shirley White (8th grade).

The night before, the Class of 2016 was honored at a gathering held at the Cochise Riverview Club in Vinings (GA), bringing together their families, all AYA trustees, and special invited guests. Alumni also returned, celebrating at Grant Central Pizza in Grant Park following the commencement. It’s an annual AYA tradition!



April 20, 2016: AYA Spring Luncheon

April Luncheon 2016 5
The luncheon’s beautiful decorations and table centerpieces were done by AYA volunteer Mimi Brown.

Atlanta Youth Academy (AYA) is blessed to have hosted 135 attendees at our annual Spring Luncheon. With 18 table hosts and a tasty lunch served buffet-style from Jack’s New York Deli, we enjoyed the camaraderie of close friends, old friends, and new friends. Around 30 students from our 6th, 7th and 8th grades served as school ambassadors, greeting our guests, lunching with them, and escorting them on campus tours after luncheon concluded.

Eighth grader Jaquez Dew gave the blessing, and his classmate Jessica Fejoku made the welcome address. Other program highlights included:

•  President Peter Rooney, who welcomed everyone and gave an overview of AYA (see remarks below);

•  Stephanie Banner (AYA Kindergarten), who recited a poem that she had written entitled, “Power”;

•  A performance by AYA’s Kindergarteners (pictured below), who recited Maya Angelou’s poem “I Rise” and sang “Armor of God.”

April Luncheon 2016 2

We were very proud to have two AYA graduates shared their alumni perspectives: First, Caleb Croft (AYA ’13/Rabun Gap ’17) spoke to the person of character AYA had taught him to become as he entered the boarding-school learning environment of Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School for the remainder of his secondary school career. He progressed with confidence, “focusing on God first, and academics second.” Anthony Sgro, head of school at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee, not only introduced Caleb to the luncheon audience, but expressed appreciation for AYA and the caliber of students his school has received from our community over the years. Currently, at least six AYA graduates attend his school.

Next, Jamesa Stokes (AYA ’04, Lovett ’09, Auburn ’14) addressed the audience. Jamesa is a 2014-2015 Fulbright scholar who studied in Germany. Currently she’s a PhD candidate from Penn State University, focusing on materials science and engineering, with research on thermal barrier coatings for gas turbine engines. Of her AYA experience, this stellar young woman said, “I definitely appreciate all the teachers who made my love for learning possible. I think it is a worthwhile school to invest in, I hope that students at AYA continue to get the same support that I did.”

Billy Peebles, headmaster of The Lovett School, said of Jamesa, “I can speak for the entire faculty and staff of The Lovett School, that she was a tremendous asset to our community. She threw herself into life at Lovett with verve and excitement from the moment she set foot on campus in 9th grade. She blessed everyone with whom she came in contact. We are enormously proud of Jamesa and her incredible accomplishments.”


April Luncheon 2016 8

In welcoming the gathering, Peter Rooney (pictured above) described the AYA community:

  • Who we are: “If you are new to AYA…we are a 20-year-old Christian inner-city prep school for 150 boys and girls from grades pre-K to eight. We are old school — we pray, say a pledge, and have Chapel weekly.”
  • What we do: “All of our graduates go to high school, they graduate high school, and go to college. They do this because they understand they have the opportunity. They understand they are not entitled to the opportunity, they know it’s an opportunity — that if they work hard they can claim it. And they know that is the key to a brighter future.”
  • How we are shown grace and good fortune: “We are blessed to have volunteers who serve on the Board of Trustees and Directors, who serve on the Leadership Gift Committee, who serve on auction committees, who assist with girls’ and boys’ Bible studies, and who serve as mentors for our students every day.”
  • Why we need you: “We are blessed because today there are more people in Atlanta who know us and can help spread the word that great things are happening at the Atlanta Youth Academy… Pray for us, talk about us, support us, and come back to AYA soon and often.”

What about you? Do you have any questions or comments about AYA? If so, please leave them below. We would also like to thank Mimi Brown for the beautiful decorations, and Peachtree Tents & Events for the tables and linens. Thanks to all who came, helped, and participated!

Next post — Stay tuned! There’s a lot happening at AYA and we don’t want you to miss some exciting news!

Career Week 2016!

Steve StaesSteven Staes (left) is Chief Operating Officer and Counsel for K&G Fashion Superstore, a division of Tailored Brands.

Atlanta Youth Academy (AYA) kicked off our 2016 Career Week with an inspiring Chapel service, featuring an address by a world-class individual who knows all about achievement — Steve Brown: All-American, NFL/CFL, Olympian, Hall of Fame. Mr. Brown relied on an acronym to illustrate his point: FOCUS — Faith, Options, Commitment, You, and Support. Encouraging our students to find their strengths, he added, “If you’re not willing to work for it, you’re not going to get it” and “If your friends aren’t going to check you and keep you in line, you need a new circle.” Mr. Brown’s bottom line: “You can accomplish your dreams if you have the right faith, the right work ethic, and the right people surrounding you.”

In further illustration of his insightful wisdoms, from Monday, March 21, to Thursday, March 28, nearly 30 speakers presented unique details from their educational and professional journeys. Each classroom and grade level received a visit from a professional who came in to discuss higher education and career-building.

Universally, each speaker highlighted the importance of goal-setting, of aspiring to high bars of achievement with faith, preparation and endurance. They talked about mentors and influencers, taking calculated risks and making careful choices, delaying gratification in return for longer-term returns on both education and professional growth.

“You need to be the best version of you, and that will help those around you be the best version of them.”

John Featherston, Senior Director, New Ventures, Chick-fil-A

“My parents were my role models and they sacrificed to put me in the position to get the best education and to be successful.” 

Morgan Ingram, Sales and Marketing, Terminus

“I believe that God brings opportunities across your path at the right time. I ask God every day to open doors in front of me to lead me. I also ask him to close doors that I shouldn’t go through.” 

Sonja Jackson, Sales, Kompan Playground Solutions

Our students and faculty look forward to this week every year. Its positive and lasting impacts on the AYA community is both motivating and energizing to children and adults alike, and we are so grateful for the great individuals who made time to be with us!

Professional fields represented include:

  • Wealth management
  • Dentist
  • Author
  • Software Sales/Programming
  • Community Health
  • Broadcast Engineering
  • Digital Media Marketing
  • Interior Design
  • Legal Cousel/Law
  • Restaurant Business/Owner
  • Judge
  • Police Officer
  • Entrepreneur
  • Music Producer
  • Psychology Professor 
  • Athlete 
  • Firemen

Many professionals of the Atlanta Metro Region establish a relationship with AYA through exposure to our school community during Career Week. If you’re interested in becoming a 2017 Career Week speaker, would like to join our mentoring program, or take a closer look at our Friends of AYA group, please contact us!

What about you? Who were your role models and guiding inspirations? What were some of the choices you faced on your journey? Feel free to leave your comments below as you scroll down and enjoy some pictures from our wonderful Career Week.

Judge Jackson

Pictured above, Judge Phillip Jackson was appointed an Associate Judge in the Fulton County Juvenile Court in June 2009,  where he continues to work today.  He presides over delinquency, deprivation, and status cases.


Millie Turner

Millie Turner was an AYA art teacher who left one profession for another — to explore the Atlanta food scene. She now works in human resources and operations at Banner Butter.


Next post — The annual AYA Spring Luncheon! We had great fun gathering with old friends and meeting new ones! Stay tuned.

Nina Akerman, our Spanish teacher: “Never give up!”

Nina Ackerman

Nina, would you share about your Clayton State program and why you’re studying Spanish?
I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish ever since I was a little girl. When I went to high school I took two years of Spanish as an elective. When I started at Clayton State, I was required to take four semesters of Spanish. I decided to minor in it, in hopes that one day I’d be able to use Spanish to help others. I love to travel and to be able to help those in Spanish-speaking countries — or even in America — learn English.

How has AYA helped you grow in the realm of teaching?
I’ve really enjoyed watching our students get excited about learning Spanish. I’ve had a lot of experience working with children of all ages, from teaching Sunday School at church, and from working with the after-school program in Clayton county. This experience is a bit different because I’m teaching all grade levels at AYA, not just one age group. This has helped me to adjust to each grade  level and communicate with each age group. This has also helped me gain better organizational skills.

What do you appreciate about education?
I believe education is very important. As a student, I always strived to make A’s. I made the dean’s list every semester. I love learning and helping others learn. The key is to never give up. If you struggle in a certain subject, never think of yourself as a failure. Stop saying you can’t learn it. Just keep practicing and praying about it. Do all you can and God will help you with the rest. This applies to everything in life.

Would you share some student stories of life here at AYA?
There are so many stories. Each of the students is important to me. Some of the most recent AYA stories include watching a student in 4th grade make a 105% on a Spanish quiz for the first time after not doing so well on previous quizzes!

Next blog post — Photos from Career Week!

Jessica: An AYA Profile in Leadership

The AYA community puts a premium on leadership in teaching and learning — in everything we do. Check out Jessica’s response to our blog questionnaire, and you’ll understand our pride in all our students. (Click on the image to enlarge it, or read the transcript below).

What do you think?


How long have you been at AYA?
I have been here at AYA for seven years.

What are your three favorite memories through your career at AYA?
My three favorite memories are the fall festival Treats Town, becoming SGA VP (Student Government Association Vice President), and making the cheer team.

What is your favorite subject area?
My favorite subject areas are science, art, and math.

What accomplishments at AYA are you the most proud?
I am most proud of being SGA Vice President, a cheerleader, and head of the 8th grade community service group. Some of the projects we have done range from the fall festival to gift baskets donated to a church. I have also enjoyed being SGA Vice President.

Please share a bit about your leadership experience as an 8th grader.
I am head of the community service group and we have done four projects so far. One of our projects have been helping collect shoe boxes filled with treats for the Homeless at Heart organization. One of the things we have done in SGA is host a bake sale. The bake sale was a lot of fun for me.

What is your greatest goal?
My greatest goal is to go to Yale or Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Transformative Education: Reaching Goals Together

Earlier this month, AYA development director Erin Blair interviewed Lisa Kelly, executive director of the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program. 

Erin Blair (AYA):
The educational tax credit system that has been approved in recent years by Georgia lawmakers has been criticized by some as “offering more privilege to the rich or privileged.” How do you respond to that?

Lisa Kelly Photo-3Lisa Kelly (GOAL): The Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program was the first organization formed to implement Georgia’s education tax credit law, and GOAL is the largest of such organizations by a significant margin. From the outset, GOAL has awarded scholarships on the basis of financial need, through careful review of family size and income. I believe the results speak for themselves. Since inception, GOAL has awarded scholarships to more than 9,800 students all across the state. The average income of the recipient families is $25,496, and the average scholarship award is $3,682. Minority students have received over 43% of these scholarship awards.

Through this program, low and middle income families are able to seek the best K-12 educational opportunity for their children. Now, children who were previously limited because of a financial barrier can fulfill their academic potential and benefit from important character formation.

Can you give us an idea of the depth and breadth of the impact that scholarships awarded by GOAL have made across our state?

GOAL has awarded scholarships throughout Georgia — from the north Georgia mountains to Savannah, Macon, Augusta, Albany, Columbus, and many other cities — with the number of awarded scholarships proportionate to the population in each of those Georgia regions. Frankly, one of the beautifully designed components of this tax credit opportunity is that it taps into a deep yearning on the part of Georgia taxpayers to improve K-12 education in their own communities, and allows these contributors to do so. We have conducted surveys of GOAL recipient families across the state, and parents express their relief and delight in their children’s new private schools, often citing safety, classroom conduct, and academic excellence as meaningful differences.

We have seen a significant growth in the broad understanding among the AYA constituency in the tremendous impact that GOAL can make for a school like AYA.  How can our constituents share this understanding with our lawmakers to help them clearly see the need to raise the cap on educational tax credits?

Our perspective — which is shared by tens of thousands of Georgians — is that under the present Education Expense Credit program, student outcomes have improved, and communities throughout Georgia have been strengthened. The program, which empowers both low and middle income families and prevents the type of government over-regulation that is hurting school-choice programs in other states, is one of the national school-choice movement’s great success stories.

We would encourage those of you who have a close relationship with your legislators to visit or call those lawmakers to

  • Explain the need for a significant cap increase;
  • Encourage them to resist attempts by some school-choice advocates to undermine the present program; and
  • Inform them that GOAL proposed important amendments which, in addition to raising the cap, would increase SSO transparency and accountability, prevent a few large corporations from absorbing precious tax credits to the exclusion of thousands of individual taxpayers, and protect private-school independence from excessive government regulation.

Finally, while the failure of state lawmakers to expand this program is frustrating, national school-choice experts consider our tax credit scholarship program to be a model one. We are thankful that each year there are $58 million worth of tax credits to improve the lives of children and the communities in which they reside. Nevertheless, the possibilities for empowering even more families who are desperate for greater opportunities for access to learning dictate that we remain hopeful and diligent.


GOAL scholarship programWe are thrilled to work with Atlanta Youth Academy, the mission of which we embrace and appreciate whole-heartedly. Your delivery of an excellent Christian education to Atlanta youth is changing lives and developing leaders. Thank you, AYA, for all that you do for Georgia’s children!


Peter Rooney’s Mid-Year Report

January 4, 2016

AYA Parents,

We hope that you and your family had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! God was very faithful in 2015, and we look forward to what He will continue to do at AYA in 2016.  There have been a number of fundamental curricular and extra-curricular enrichments and enhancements this academic year that I am honored to share with you.

• The 2015-16 academic year began with a successful orientation for our new teachers and a fresh beginning to the year for our returning faculty. Co-acting Deans Katie Koerten and Paulette Woodruff led the faculty in a Chapel service which focused our attention on the reason we are here; this spiritual focus has further infused into the depths of our campus this semester.

Horacena Tate, Georgia State Senator, delivered the keynote address at our Honor Assembly in September; Senator Tate highlighted the life-long importance of truthful character amongst our students.  Most immediately, students signed the AYA Honor Code and committed to upholding integrity inside and outside of the classroom.  AYA’s Junior Beta Club inductions occurred during this event as well.

The Seventh and Eighth Graders participated in the Civil Rights and College Exposure Trip in October, traveling the state of Georgia and visiting boarding schools, colleges and civil rights sites.

• A new critical thinking program, headed by our Co-acting Dean and Learning Specialist, Paulette Woodruff, is now being taught as a separate class for Grades 3-8.  Teachers work from a list of grade-specific skills to ensure that standards are being met.  Students are exposed to critical thinking daily, but specifically in a weekly session.

The Board of Trustees hired a facilitator for a strategic planning process that will gain shape in the coming years. The strategic plan will be refined throughout the spring and then completed by May 2016.

• The Academy celebrated Thanksgiving with a wonderful chapel service. We welcomed back to campus Rock Curlee and Derrick Lockwood and honored their steadfast commitment and service to AYA.

AYA has made strides to significantly upgrade its safety and security program.  The completion of the gym storage unit has allowed for more space in the gym and has provided a secure storage space for AV and technological equipment. Numerous improvements were made to our plumbing infrastructure as well.

“T.I.E.S. to Success” is an after-school program that was implemented by 4th Grade teacher, Jamal Webb, this fall.  The purpose is to instill the qualities of Tenacity, Integrity, Eminence, and Success, all while teaching young men how to successfully tie a neck tie and prepare for the business/professional world.

• Our Pre-K through 5th Grade students performed a Christmas Pageant for our AYA community last week. It was not only beautiful and vibrant, but it also focused attention on our Christian mission. Several of these pageant performances will be performed again at our Christmas Chapel service, keynoted by Andrew Cathy, on Friday.  Our annual Christmas Chapel featured a keynote address by Andrew Cathy who pointed us to the most significant gift we are given in life, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Field trips during the fall included serious academic content and refreshing breaks from the classroom. These trips included: The Center for Puppetry Arts, Spivey Hall, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, and the High Museum.

This semester has been a series of such momentous moments — we are hopeful and prayerful for many more in 2016. Thank you for entrusting your children with us here at AYA. Please let me know how we can better serve you —
parents, mentors, leaders for these incredible youth.

We look forward to welcoming students back to campus tomorrow as we begin an incredible 2016.


Peter Rooney

Peter Rooney at the start of the 2014-15 school year, welcoming AYA students back to campus.


AYA Civil Rights and Colleges & University Tour 2015: Day Five!

This post was written by Alecia Taylor, 8th grade,
Tyler White, 8th grade, and Khalil Simms, 7th grade.

Day 5 of our Civil Rights and College & University Tour began with us being able to sleep in. It’s been a busy trip and we appreciated grabbing some extra hours of sleep in the morning. We started our day at the SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) Museum. The SCAD Museum is a museum of primarily contemporary art. There were a lot of interesting works displayed outside the museum and in the lobby. The first sculpture that we viewed were tall columns made of steel nails that were welded together. The tour guide showed us various artists’ work but our favorite was that of famous African American artist, Jacob Lawrence. His art depicted the life, love, and history of African Americans. The highlight of his displayed work was his 8-frame depiction of “the creation” story.

Next, we participated in the African American Heritage Tour. A portion of this tour included visiting First African Baptist Church. The church was well crafted consisting of furniture originally constructed in the mid 1800s. Slaves had a heavy-hand in constructing First African Baptist Church. We learned that slaves used art or symbols to express themselves or share messages since they couldn’t read or write. The squared ceiling design shared to slaves that the church was a safe haven and a part of the Underground Railroad. In the basement we saw groups of small holes in the floor, which helped with ventilation, as slaves traveled under the floorboards. We also visited Savannah’s Civil Rights museum that displayed Savannah’s impact and contrast in their Civil Rights experience. We learned that Savannah became very integrated but didn’t experience the same level of violence experience in other southern cities. After the tour we had a quick lunch and made our way to Fort Pulaski State Park.

Fort Pulaski is a historic Civil War site located on Tybee Island. We got to see the cannons they used during the war. Also, we learned how to shoot the cannons. It was a team effort requiring five people, each with a specific job. It was interesting to discover that what we refer to as “guns” today was referred to as “small arms” during the Civil War era. Cannons were called guns during the Civil War. Fort Pulaski was also a safe haven for slaves. When it was conquered by the Union Army emancipation was issued, freeing all slaves on the Fort grounds. Finally, we departed Fort Pulaski and headed to Macon, GA. It was the longest leg of our trip but the singing of chaperones Ms. Scales and Mr. Lucas kept us entertained. Saturday is our last day of the tour which will include a stop at the Harriet Tubman Museum.

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AYA Civil Rights and College & University Tour 2015: Day Four (of Five)

With this year’s trip winding down, AYA students continue to experience new insights and discoveries about their home state. Check back tomorrow for the last day of this wonderful tour!

This post was written by Tyson Ringold, 7th grade;
Khalil Simms, 7th grade; and Dwayne McGruder, 8th grade.

 The fourth day of our wonderful trip was spent at Georgia Southern University, Savannah State University, The Sisters of The New South, and River Street.

Our first destination was going to be the Pinpoint Museum, but we had to show limitless flexibility because Pinpoint was flooded due to the rain earlier in the week. So instead we went to Georgia Southern. One of our alumni, Aab Gruduah, (AYA class of ’11) met us and had a good conversation with us. Also, one of our chaperone’s friends, Christopher Pugh, works at Georgia Southern. He gave us words of inspiration for how we can be successful. We didn’t stay long, but we got a lot out of brief time there.

After we left Georgia Southern, we went to Savannah State University, the oldest public historically black college in Georgia. After touring the whole campus, we were surprised by the presence of the Junior Class Vice President resident as well as a group of marathon runners dressed in silly costumes to celebrate Halloween. We checked into the hotel and some of us had the chance to play basketball.

We had a delightful dinner at Sisters of the New South. Then we went down to the famous River Street where we treated ourselves to ice cream and candy at River Street Sweets, Savannah’s famous candy store. The candy store reminded us of New Orleans because the shop had a distinct set-up and color that made us crave sweets. They even made candy right in front of us! When we left the candy shop, we heard the sound of beautiful music that we had to check out. It was a gentleman with a trumpet. He played music and we had a great time.  Tired, we returned the hotel to debrief, relax and get ready for tomorrow.

Savannah has a lot to see, so we’ll be spending more time here tomorrow.

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AYA Civil Rights and College & University Tour 2015: Day Three (of Five)

Over the next few days we’ll be posting photos and reflections from AYA students on this year’s tour of Georgia — so please stay tuned!

Day 3: The Lucy Laney Museum and Paine College,
written by Loi Morris, 8th Grade, and Zxavien Lucas, 7th Grade

Today marked the third day of our college tour and our itinerary was packed full of excitement and adventure. We hit the road at 7:30am, heading to Augusta, Ga. On our first stop we toured the Lucy Laney Museum. Our tour director was Joyce Law. Mrs. Law is a native of Augusta just like the famous educator Lucy Laney. Touring was Mrs. Joyce’s dream job; she was very passionate and knowledgeable about the history of Augusta. Lucy Laney founded the Haines Normal and Industrial Institute that is currently under renovation. Pine Grove Missionary Baptist Church donated a beautiful grand piano to the Lucy Laney Museum. The Lucy Laney Museum has something for people all over the world to learn. One of the most interesting pieces of the museum were the quilts that displayed symbols the runaway slaves used to communicate with each other. After we toured the museum, everyone got on a trolley to explore a few historic places in Augusta related to Lucy Laney. We also saw two statues of James Brown and James Oglethorpe. Some of the seventh and eighth graders took pictures with the statues. After we were done at the Lucy Laney Museum we headed to Paine College. 

When we got to Paine we were scheduled to observe the rehearsal of the Paine College Chamber Singers, led by Professor Wayne Woodson. The Chamber Singers are known as one of the best College Choirs in the state! To our surprise, the Chamber Singers divided us up in to sopranos, altos, tenors, and base and we enjoyed singing along with them. Very soon, the singing turned into dancing, and we had an awesome time. This was definitely a highlight on everyone’s list. We then toured the Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel. It was one of the most beautiful sanctuaries we had ever laid our eyes on. The chapel is also used for various musical concerts and symphonies conducted in Augusta.  Next, we began our tour of Paine College which included trading baskets with the Paine College basketball team. That was a very cool experience for all the up-and-coming basketball stars! Our day ended with dinner and team building exercises with Mr. Thaddous, an educator, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., and a friend of our very own Ms. Stanley. The workshop with Mr. Thaddous was very hard but it was fun and rewarding. Tomorrow, we travel to Savannah, GA making stops at the Pinpoint Museum, Savannah St., and a night on River Street!

Click on the images to enlarge them for best viewing.

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