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Online Exclusive - Posted June 15, 2012 3:40 p.m.
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photos by Sarah Clark

Land of Opportunity

School for low-income families gears up for first Obstacles for Opportunities event Saturday

The strife of working-class life, with homes where a dollar is permanently stretched to its breaking limit make times hard for those who make their home on the north side of Amarillo.

Yet, tucked in the crook of this side of Amarillo is a haven of opportunity, one that is closely guarded and nurtured by its community.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” says Jill Goodrich, the executive director of Opportunity School, a learning facility for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years-old whose mission is to help young children, primarily from low-income families, succeed in school and life. “And that’s what we’re doing. We like to develop a relationship of trust with the family that goes beyond the school hours. We’re a community.”

Jill Goodrich is a bubbly woman and dons an effervescent smile as she sits in the lunchroom of Opportunity School, located in the Community of Grace United Methodist Church on Grand Street. She is the driving force behind the school’s presence and her passion for the school’s past and future is manifest in her energy and zeal. Opportunity School’s original campus, located in downtown Amarillo within the First Presbyterian Church, boasts humble origins.

“It was a summer project,” Jill explains. “Well, basically, in 1968 or 1969 some ladies from a Sunday School class at First Presbyterian were given a challenge to make a difference in the community. They saw that the children of low-income families usually did not have the basic academic skills required when they entered school and found it hard to catch up to their peers. So they created the Opportunity School and that summer project has lasted ever since then.”

The Central Campus, as the original school is known, is one of only two preschools in the Texas Panhandle that is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The Grand Street campus, which was opened in 2000 to meet rising demand, will be up for accreditation this coming fall. The driving focus of the school is to provide low-income children with a high-quality education beginning well before kindergarten in an effort to establish a love of learning within each child to break the cycle of poverty.

“Every child here knows that the next step after here is kindergarten, then elementary school, and so on all the way up to college if that’s what they choose to do,” says Jill. “With the way the world is going today, study after study shows that the higher education you have, the more chance you have at getting a high-paying job and being able to pay for your home, your bills, groceries… A lot of families here can barely do just that.”

Opportunity School is more often than not at full capacity with a waiting list, and members of the community are quick to lend a helping hand. Her eyes bright with gratitude, Jill rattles off the people who have come forward to help the school: “We have members of the community come to read for the children, so many people have made sure that the lights stay on here, that we get the help we need.”

Since 1993, the school has maintained its public presence and funding through an annual benefit, LIPS! where community members impersonate their favorite stars and lip-sync to well known songs; this coming Saturday will see the introduction of another benefit, Obstacles for Opportunity, taking place at Thompson park.

The event is an obstacle course with 10 teams comprised of members of the community that will complete a variety of brainteasers and teamwork challenges in a race toward the finish. The headlining participants for this premiere event are United Supermarkets, Tascosa Office Machines and Happy State Bank, among others. The event will begin at 3 p.m. in picnic area 17 at Thompson Park and will last until 5:30 p.m. when awards are given out.

For more information about the event, contact Jill Goodrich at 373-4245.

More information about Opportunity School can be found at opportunityschool.com.

by Sarah Clark

Sarah is a senior at the University of Texas and plans on attending law school once she receives her B.A. in political communications. She is a former editor of the AC Current and is addicted to the rush of publications. She is currently held captive by her two dogs, iPhone and never-ending to-do list.
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