Smart Start Early Learning Academy approaches opening day

Published 12:02 pm Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Harlan County has a new option for daycare for young children with the Smart Start Early Learning Academy opening for business in the Woodland Hills area of Harlan.

Co-owners Lee Roark and Sarah Veillom discussed the facility’s opening during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday.

“We are licensed as a type 1 childcare facility. We will serve children from 6 weeks old until they enter kindergarten,” Roark said. “We’re set up more like a preschool. We have seven classrooms.”

Roark explained that the facility features a large indoor play area beside the classrooms.

“Eventually, we’ll have three playgrounds,” Roark said. “The playgrounds are still in progress.”

Roark noted it took nearly one year to get the Harlan facility up and running. The Smart Start Early Learning Academy is housed in the building which formerly housed a Christian school.

“When we came up here last year to take out the carpet, the trees were blooming, and now they’re blooming again,” Roark said.

Roark explained that the facility is close to opening, has passed most of the required inspections and licensing requirements, and is awaiting final approval.

“We’ve passed all inspections except for the last one,” Roark said. “We have filed our application to childcare licensing, and as soon as they come out and approve us, we’ll be ready.”

The original Smart Start Early Learning Academy has operated in Middlesboro for a few years.

“We opened our Bell County Location in 2018,” Veillom said.

Veillom gave some information on the co-owner’s backgrounds.

“My career is as an occupational therapist,” Veillom said. “She’s (Roark) a speech-language pathologist, so our background is in child development. That’s what led us to open a childcare facility because we have a passion for that.”

Veillom noted what brought the pair to Harlan is Harlan is considered a “Desert Zone” in daycare.

“It’s very limited,” Veillom said. “For every potential daycare spot, there is 4.5 children that could fill that spot.”

The Smart Start Learning Academy will open at 7:15 a.m. and serve breakfast, lunch and snacks.

“Throughout the day, each classroom will have their own schedule, their own curriculums they follow,” Roark said.

The pair are looking forward to becoming part of the Harlan community.

“We’re excited to be here and excited to become part of Harlan,” Velliom said. “The community has been very welcoming and very helpful. Anything we’ve needed, they’ve been quick to help us out.”

City of Harlan Mayor Joe Meadors, who attended the ribbon cutting, commented on the new business.

“We’re tickled to death to have a new business open in the city of Harlan, with new opportunities for our parents and especially our young people,” Meadors said. “We look forward to them having a long and prosperous future within the city, and we’ll do everything we can do to ensure that happens.”

Roark also mentioned there are employment opportunities at the facility.

“We are hiring,” Roark said. “We have currently hired about half of our staff.”