ATLANTA — Big smiles and energy surround the kids at the Boyce L. Ansley School in downtown Atlanta.
"These kids are brilliant despite what they go through every day," Dr. Leah Skinner, head of the school, said. "They come to school ready to learn."
But behind the classroom fun of singing, dancing and learning, students' families deal with a difficult challenge.
"Homelessness now is such a vast conglomerate of experiences for families," Dr. Skinner said. "So homeless children and families could be families living in shelters, literally living on the street, could be in hotels, and now the newest thing is multiple families living in one household."
The Ansley School is small, serving kids pre-K through second grade, but unique with a special mission to meet the needs of kids who've experienced homelessness. The tuition-free private school is an option Breona Joyell's family is grateful for.
"Without the Ansley School, I feel like I would be absolutely lost," she told 11Alive's Liza Lucas.
Joyelle's family has been with the school since its doors opened in 2018, a time when she said her family badly needed resources. They found such support, all in one place, at the school.
"Everything was free of cost so that there was just a burden lifted on me," Joyelle said.
In addition to tuition, the school provides uniforms, meals, coverage at hotels and even gas and MARTA cards. There's also therapy and social services on hand to help both kids and families in job and housing support.
"What makes us special and different from other schools is we provide wraparound services for family, not just the child," Dr. Skinner explained. "We know that there's a lot of trauma associated with homelessness, and so for us, it's important for us to address those traumatic experiences that the children and the families may have in order to move them forward."
Joyelle, who now leads parents in an advisory council, credits the school for her family's success.
"I [give] kudos to them because they helped me grow and develop," Joyelle said. "And make sure I can be prosperous for my kids, and then they can see me be prosperous and they have a great example."
But despite the many resources provided to families, challenges do continue. As the Ansley School's reach continues to grow, more families are dealing with transportation challenges when getting their kids to school.
"Parents told us they need a little more help because they are still coming an hour plus away to be here," Skinner said.
As a result, the school is partnering with nonprofit Love Beyond Walls to raise $130,000 towards two school buses, launching the "A Bus For Us" campaign Friday, April 29 during the Ansley School's day at the Georgia Capitol.
“The Ansley School is a critical component to the collaborative work we’re doing to end homelessness in the city of Atlanta. Dr. Skinner and the leaders of Ansley are interrupting the cycle of generational trauma by providing a safe place for children to truly thrive,” Terence Lester, founder of Love Beyond Walls, said in a statement.
The hope is the new school buses will not only keep current kids in school but help other families, like Joyelle's, find their footing.
"I put my heart and soul into it because I feel like the education my kids receive will abundantly flow back into our life," she said.