ST. PETERSBURG — For over eight decades, Happy Workers Learning Center has been educating and delighting children of St. Petersburg. From doctors, lawyers, pastors, and award winning actresses, this institution has started them all out in life with a good foundation.
The graduating class of 2014 held its ceremony Thurs., June 19 at the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum. Twenty-two families had the privileged to watch their children graduate from such a historical institution.
The graduates showcased a few tunes they sing in school including “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” and “What a Wonderful World.” They dazzled their parents with their counting skills going all the way to 100, and showed their grasp of the Spanish language with reciting the days of the week and colors perfectly.
Graduations such as this have been happening at Happy Workers for over 80 years, and each one is just as exciting as the next. The activity culminated with every boy and girl walking to receive their Pre-K diploma.
Happy Workers was the brainchild of Willie Lee McAdams, the wife of a Presbyterian minister. She recognized the need for childcare for many of the children from her neighborhood and responded with the opening of Happy Workers August 14, 1929.
The daycare became a place where children would learn to be peacemakers, where they were loved and most of all where they would be educated not only in the social graces, but also academically.
The school’s reputation grew and assistance came from diverse resources, particularly the religious community from throughout Pinellas County. In December 1974, the not-for-profit organization called Friends of Happy Workers and took ownership of the very popular school.
Graduates of Happy Workers include names such as Oscar nominated actress Angela Bassett, Don McRae, the city’s first African-American city manager, and Reverend Wayne Thompson of First Baptist Institutional.
In 2011, under the leadership of board President Angela Parrish, the legal name was changed to Happy Worker’s Learning Center Inc. After she retired the Vice-chair, Maria Scruggs, was elected as president of the Board and later chief executive officer.
Under Scruggs’ leadership, the Board of Director’s assumed the name Happy Worker’s Learning Center Inc. S.M.A.R.T. Board of Directors. The acronym, meaning strategic, measurable, accountability, respectful, and team, set the tone for the future direction of Happy Workers.
Recognizing that more and more of the emphasis for early childhood education was moving toward quality and the need to ensure that the children were prepared to enter school and their parents were prepared to guide and assist in their children’s academic success, Scruggs and the board acknowledged that there must be a fundamental shift in how they conduct business.
The Board of Directors, which consists of Gregory Duckett, Cynthia Harris, Stephanie Henningsen, Valarie Lee and James Robinson, along with Scruggs, has been able to claim significant successes within the last year.
Those successes have included hiring a new executive director, Cherie Green, who came from the Pinellas County Head-start as a 19-year administrator as well as creating the position of assistant director, which was filled by long-term employee, Shirley Collins-Sanders.
The two in conjunction with Scruggs and the Board have seen outcomes such as enrollment tripling, revenue increasing by 20 percent, refurbishing of all the classrooms as well as the historically designated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. building and more importantly the purchase and use of an evidence based-curriculum.
Fortunately, the class of 2014 was able to benefit from all the exciting changes. The 85th anniversary celebration of Happy Workers will take place in August.