Berea Early Learning Academy: Planting The Seeds Of A “First Crop”

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

Five years ago, Berea Baptist Church pastor Pat Lawrence was approached by our local Chamber of Commerce with regard to starting a day care center. Why, you may ask, would the Chamber ask a church to get involved in the “commercial care” of children? It turns out that the early indicators of the phenomenal growth in Athens-Limestone County that we are experiencing now were already beginning then, and one of the problems that the Chamber was encountering was that people moving into the area were finding there weren’t enough day care choices, let alone early learning centers. “Corporate executives wouldn’t move here due to the fact that there were not enough facilities,” Pastor Pat told me recently. The leadership team at Berea, which is located at 16779 Lucas Ferry Road in Athens, began to dream, pray, plan, and move forward to prepare a set of classrooms that would be used throughout the week rather than just on Sunday. Then, COVID hit and for a while everything ground to a halt. But they knew that they were heading in the right, prayerful, and positive direction, and kept working on their dream until things could start up again.

What was important to everyone was that this would be a learning center, not a babysitting service, and that the 3-and-4-year-olds that will be what Pastor Pat calls “the first crop” would be exposed to learning as well as to the reality of the love of Jesus Christ. Pat’s grandchild is going to be amongst the “first crop” at Berea Early Learning Academy (BELA), and I can attest to the fact that Grandpa-Pastor is seriously invested in making “my BELA” a wonderful place to learn, grow, and play.

Below you will find the mission statement of BELA, which is also referred to as “my BELA,” because of the web address:

“Our mission is to develop young leaders with a Christ-centered education at an early age. Every child has a special place in God’s plan, and our students will learn that God loves and cares for them.”

Berea Early Learning Academy is using Abeka curriculum for the foundation of their academy. Abeka has been around for over 40 years, and is the brainchild of veteran Florida Christian educators Dr. Arlin and Beka Horton. Here is what Abeka has to say about their Pre-K offerings:

Abeka’s preschool curriculum features a traditional approach to teaching and learning, cross-subject integration, spiral review, and plenty of hands-on activities. It’s no wonder the Abeka program has helped thousands of preschools successfully prepare children for a lifetime of learning.

Abeka says further:

Love of Learning

The Abeka preschool curriculum turns play time into learning time, laying a strong academic foundation that prepares each child for the next level of their educational journey.

Biblical Worldview

Not only is there a preschool Bible curriculum as part of the Abeka program, our entire program has been developed from a Christian worldview, planting seeds of faith in children all through the year.

Age Appropriate

Abeka is an age-appropriate curriculum for preschool that takes into consideration the differences in motor skills and cognitive abilities among preschoolers. With Abeka, they’ll experience early success at realistic learning milestones.

Engaging and Fun

Any early childhood education program should recognize that preschoolers yearn for hands-on activities. The Abeka preschool curriculum fosters preschool learning with colorful, durable resources that invite lots of child involvement. As their preschool learning grows through exposure to phonics, numbers, art, poetry, and the Bible, three-year-olds become students naturally and gain a strong foundation for kindergarten. The Abeka preschool program for K4 serves as a bridge between a preschool experience and kindergarten.K4 serves as a bridge between a preschool experience and kindergarten.

Speaking of colorful, the learning rooms are indeed that. They are clean, bright, inviting, with real wood cubbies and furniture, have colorful mats on the floor, and cheerful alphabets on the wall. There is even a display of aprons of every color in the rainbow that serve as a way to keep clothes clean, and when the art project is finished, go back to being wall art. The rooms also have experienced a complete overhaul after they were flooded due to a burst pipe during the winter, and are now better than ever. “We blessed God for the flood,” said Pastor Pat, and he spoke as a man who understands from experience that God does indeed work all things together for good.

Pastor Pat also told me that there are plans to get all new playground equipment soon, and they are looking forward to the sound of littles enjoying life and getting fresh air.

One can have a wonderful facility, but if there isn’t a loving, competent, experienced staff to do the teaching, it really doesn’t matter. And, it is the staff about which Pastor Pat is the happiest. “We prayed a lot about the teachers,” and he went on to tell me that Berea Early Learning Academy will be headed up by Siobahn Holt, who hails from Ireland, and brings with her years of experience loving and teaching “the littles.”

If this is what you are looking for as a place for your three-or-four-year-old, go to, for more information and to download an application. The completed applications can be emailed to

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner