Baylin Carmena struggled to build a steady block tower. His base wobbled and each new layer leaned before crumbling down. Robert Flowers is Baylin’s teacher, but he could easily be his grandfather. Robert Flowers helped his student start over, plan a solid base and progress to new levels thanks to a firm foundation.
Baylin is a kindergartner at Flowers Solutions Academy, a small private Christian school in Clinton providing pre-K through 12 instruction and a foundation its students can use to progress in life and career aspirations, school leaders say. Robert and Mary Flowers, both retirees, started the school where their daughter, Marlene Jarreau, serves as principal.
The school welcomes students from all backgrounds but serves a mostly African American student body. A recent school day found the students using masks or face shields while divided into found groups: kindergartners, early elementary, late elementary-middle school and high schoolers.
Jarreau said they are following the guidelines set forth by the Louisiana Department of Education for opening during the coronavirus crisis with in-person instruction. “We changed the layout of the classes to maximize the distance between students and we require temperature checks and the wearing of masks for all students and staff,” she said. “We also limit the entrance of visitors in the building. Students bring water bottles and lunch from home. We sanitize throughout the day as well as after all students leave.”
“Our parents prefer for their students to receive in-person educational services and our size affords us the opportunity to do it,” Jarreau added. “I am grateful that we are able to serve our community in this capacity during these tempestuous times.”
Flowers Solutions Academy opened in August with 13 students enrolled. They offer before and after school care for parents needing assistance and special programming on request. “We have a Performing Arts Program that offers a great opportunity to all students to excel in the arts,” Jarreau said. “At the end of each school year, the Performing Arts Program host a yearly production every May to showcase the students’ talents.”
The “solutions” in the school’s name can allude to the specializations the schools afford its students. It can tailor to both struggling and advanced students. Black male children are among the most at-risk demographic in education. Robert Flowers offers his two current kindergarten students small group engagement and a Black male role model in the formative years, a rarity in any education setting.
“Small class sizes provide opportunities to give our students one on one attention which leads to higher student academic engagement,” Jarreau explained. “We are able to adapt our lessons to meet their needs. We can also get to know them and their families and build relationships that lead to fewer disruptive behaviors and suspensions.”
The school started meeting the needs of a young advanced student, the daughter of the founders’ son. Her grandfather said that when Selah Flowers was in second grade, she would work with younger children when her school day was complete. Selah, 12, is now in the ninth grade.
Jarreau said her niece was identified as an exceptional student before she left public school. “We have been able to tailor her educational experience to meet her needs for a rigorous and challenging curriculum," Jarreau said. “She is 12 years old and continues to excel in her studies. She is preparing for college. She has many interests including visual and performing arts.”
The devout family of educators are also happy it is a Christian school providing a spiritual foundation in addition to tradition learning. The school follows Abeka Curriculum, an education learning system developed more than 30 years ago in a Florida Christian academy. “Using the Abeka Curriculum, we are able to teach students academically and help meet their spiritual needs,” Jarreau said. “The Abeka Curriculum allows students to receive a quality education and a Christian foundation. I believe this curriculum is a great resource for all students.”
“We want to bring Christ into the situation,” Robert Flowers said. “Because we believe that this school wouldn't be a school without Christ because it is based on prayer and faith. There was a lady who told me ‘if I have my child, I want to send my child to this school’ and she did. She had a child and she brought her child to this school.”
The school’s staff has a mixture of secular and Christian training. Mary Flowers, the executive administrator, received her teaching education at Southern University and she later got a bachelor’s degree in Bible and Theology. Jarreau, the principal and science and math teacher, has a mechanical engineering and education master’s degree from Southern and a Bible and theology degree. Robert Flowesr, the School Board vice president, teaches pre-K and kindergarten classes and is enrolled at Baton Rouge Community College.
Mary Flowers said the school was started in response to community needs. “Before completing my degree, I worked in my neighborhood tutoring students in the afternoon and during the summer,” she said. “It was during this time I saw the need for help with reading and math. During my years at Southern University, I acquired a desire to open a school to help the children in my community.”
Mary Flowers did her student teaching at Clinton Elementary School and said she fell in love with the students and teaching. She worked there was the next decade and started cultivating a dream to open her own school. “My daughter Marlene Flowers-Jarrell and I started by tutoring students after school and hosting summer camps.”
The dream became a reality August 2014. Flowers’ Solutions Academy opened with five students and the enrollment doubled by October of the same year. The enrollment peaked at 35 students. “We spent many hours seeking ways to best serve the students God had given us — programs, monthly field trips, and school clubs,” Mary Flowers said. “From the time of conception my husband has been assisting in all areas.”
Robert Flowers seconds that the school and children are shared priorities. “We've been married for 49 years, so we kind of know a little bit about each other,” he said. “God has allowed me to not only be a teacher, but everything else that needs to be done here physically. I have to be the janitor and be accountable.”