Leika’s School celebrates 80th anniversary

Published 10:00 am Thursday, August 31, 2023

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By David Lovell

The Selma Times-Journal

Leika’s School at Church Street United Methodist in Selma completed its first full week of classes on Friday, culminating in a parade around the church’s campus. Parades and celebrations are a commonplace for Leika’s students but this walk held special significance by celebrating the school’s eightieth anniversary and honoring the life and legacy of the school’s founder Leika Collins.

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Students as young as two and as old as five were guided by teachers and greeted by parents as they traveled south on Lauderdale Street before turning right on Selma Avenue and ending at the church’s steps facing Church Street where the students sang the traditional Calypso Birthday Party song in Leika’s honor.

“Leika was a person who was young at heart and all ages loved to be around her,” Leika’s Director Joy Green said. “She was so fun, was full of life and humor but her heart was in her school and in her church which was Church Street Methodist.”

In an article from The Selma Times-Journal dated April 12, 1981, Collins’s own words are recorded describing how the school began.

“I suppose all my life I must have dreamed of a school of my own, the signs were all there,” she said. “I used to gather all the children in my neighborhood and play school with them.”

In 1943 as Craig Air Force Base was opening, Collins’s dream became a reality when the wife of the commander of the base, whose child was one of the would-be-school owner’s Sunday School pupils, asked why Collins didn’t start a kindergarten for young families pouring into the base.

The school began at 100 Lamar Avenue in an enclosed back porch with an iron stove, two small tables, and 12 children. The one room school continued to grow and remained at that location until 1987 when Leika, suffering from poor health, came up with the idea to move the school to Church Street Methodist.

The preschool opened on Church Street in the fall of 1987 with 93 children in the church’s new educational building. Mary Drue Wheeler and Joy Green co-directed the program.

Even after the school was moved, Collins still took an active role in teaching the children.

“Leika would come down and do music with us even in her later years,” Green said. “We had music just like she had in her house. She led the music, taught the children, and was able to be a part of the school even after it was moved, which was incredible.”

The traditions Collins founded still continue today as children are taught to love God and their family while also learning to play, pray and sing. According to current co-director Daneen Turner, Collins would be pleased with the longevity of the program and the continued efforts put forth by the staff to teach Selma’s children.

“I believe Leika would be pleased that Joy is still conducting music time and and after that the children will get the flags out and say the pledge of allegiance,” Turner said. “All of the traditions that were so important 80 years ago are still important today and In our high-tech world we sometimes lose sight of the importance of teaching our children these fundamental values. I think Leika would be very happy to see that these traditions are being continued.”

“We have a wonderful staff of teachers, and I would like to thank each of them for having the vision that Leika had,” said Green. “They are committed to this vision, and I can’t thank them enough.

The celebration will continue throughout the school year, focusing on Leika’s 2023-2024 theme: “Leika’s happy Birthday”.