This post was originally published on St. Louis American

By Ashley Winters

Jessica Gant announced to family and friends at her 30th birthday gala she planned to pursue a goal of opening an educational academy. The themed “roaring 20s” party highlighted quality affordable education, and ticket sales proceeds went toward school supplies and Gant’s scholarship fund that assists financially stressed families. 

Six months after her announcement, Jessie B’s Academy was enrolling students for a summer camp program. Her dream was now a reality. The school was located in the Goodfellow-Wells neighborhood in the basement of the Emmanuel Baptist Church. 

However, heart-wrenching news of her mom’s breast cancer returning caused Gant to re-evaluate her plan. She left her job as a behavioral specialist for the Special School District, so she would not miss her mom’s doctor visits and radiation/chemotherapy treatments.  

Gant needed a sustainable income and thought, “I could kill two birds with one stone.” She opened Jessie B’s Academy full-time at her mom’s house. Family and friends came together to turn the home’s basement into a school. 

She said there were some “tough moments,” but with grit and family support she pulled through. Her mom’s breast cancer also went into remission. 

In 2018, a friend told Gant of a vacant Normandy Collaborative school looking to again fill its halls with young students.

Jessica Gant owner of Jessie B’s Academy in Normandy, Mo. Photograph courtesy of Wiley Price/St. Louis American.

“It was so difficult to find a permanent building,” said Gant. “But now Jessie B’s Academy has been a part of the Normandy community for four years.”

Jessie B’s Academy serves children ages infant to 5 years old or kindergarten ready. She uses the Star Fall Curriculum, which includes reading, language arts and mathematics. It emphasizes phonemic awareness and common sight words in conjunction with audiovisual interactivity.

“It’s a good curriculum because it ensures that our families are receiving a quality education, and students study age-appropriate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). They are learning to build on their fine and gross motor skills,” said Gant.

She says that each lesson is designed so that all of her students can learn at a pace that is comfortable for them. 

Gant is dyslexic, which made it difficult for her to learn to recognize letters and words.

It didn’t stop her from graduating from the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff with a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development in Family Studies.

She later earned a Business Administration degree from Webster University, and then a second master’s in Human Resources. 

But before her academic success, Gant supported others facing learning obstacles. 

“One of my friends was being teased about not being able to keep up with the other kids in the classroom. I told that bully that wasn’t nice and how would they feel if I was to talk about them,” said Gant.

She was completely unaware that the teacher was paying attention to the student’s exchange and nominated her for a Do The Right Thing Award

Gant said, “When I got that award I made a vow to myself that I would make a place for all students. No matter how they learn, we can all learn together.”

She was not a stranger to taunting either, adding that she felt embarrassed to walk down the hall to the special education classroom.

“I wondered why there was such a difference and realized it was a form of segregation. I remember the hallway being dim, having poor lighting tucked away in the corner,” she said.

“I felt there is nothing wrong with us in this classroom. We need a little help, but we just want to be treated the same as the other kids.”

Gant plans to expand to a larger building in the next five years, and add more sensory spaces.

“At the end of the day, we’re a family. If we don’t keep a family environment, then how can we expect to raise the next doctors and lawyers?” she said.

Ashley Winters is The St. Louis American Report for America reporter.