On Thursday, June 21, leaders and community members from around North Hollywood gathered at the new in North Hollywood to celebrate its grand opening.
The academy, built for an estimated cost of $15 million on two acres at 5949 Lankershim Blvd., has actually been open and serving kids for almost a year, but the grand opening ceremony was the first announcement to the public that it is open for business. The academy is a private school for kids in the kindergarten and pre-kindergarten age group, but it is next door to a brand new public charter elementary school that is currently under construction and slated to open before the new school year in the fall.
Dr. Susan Kumar, who founded the academy, said the school would serve around 70-100 students in an inclusion model, meaning many children with special needs will be integrated into the programs.
"For children who are 'normal,' the so-called 'normal,' they will learn how to teach the other students how to be compassionate and how to be the leader in the group to lead these children," Kumar told Patch. "You cannot have the special needs children to be put away in a bungalow in the early stages. They have to be included in the community."
At the ribbon cutting ceremony, parent Steve Elsey, whose son, Gabriel, has attended the academy since February, told the crowd through tears about the positive changes he has seen as a result of the school's inclusion model. Gabriel has Down syndrome.
"When Gabriel started attending United Children's, he was nearly completely non-verbal. Today he can speak the alphabet and has a vocabulary that is expanding daily," Elsey said.
The ribbon cutting ceremony was led by Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the NoHo area but will no longer as of July 1, when redistricting moves his area out of NoHo. Kumar and others heavily credited LaBonge as being instrumental in getting the academy built.
"I'd like to introduce an amazing man whom without this day would not have come, Councilman Tom Labonge," said academy's administrator, Andrew Elliott, when introducing LaBonge to the crowd.
While onstage, some of the strings LaBonge had helped pull to get the academy built came to light.
"The City of the Angels is our name, and it's a very special place, Los Angeles, and this is the angel right here. She connected with us in the beginning to answer a complaint, if I have that right, that she was so anxious to get this place built she was working without permits," LaBonge, referring to Dr. Kumar, told the crowd to laughter.
For more information on the United Children's Learning Academy, visit its website at www.uclearningacademy.org.