RedefinED atlanta is helping public schools in metro Atlanta improve learning and increase equity and quality by providing innovation to ensure students get a great education.
In March 2021, the organization awarded more than $168,000 in grants to 24 recipients, which included schools in the Atlanta Public School (APS) system.
Last October, the company launched the redefinED atlanta Innovation Fund: Pandemic Education & Restart, where the funds came from, to address education needs created by the pandemic and to encourage innovation in schools for future learning.
“When Atlanta Public Schools began the school year virtually last August, we knew that students who were already facing unimaginable circumstances would need more educational and mental health support if learning was to take place,” said Ed Chang, executive director of redefinED atlanta.
“The Innovation Fund was born from this need, as well as to inspire schools to think about how they could initiate positive and sustainable changes for the future. We are thankful to our partners who helped make these grants a reality, and are happy that many of the programs awarded grants are already seeing meaningful results.”
When the pandemic began last year in March, redefinED atlanta quickly moved in to make a difference to help APS leadership, schools, and families.
In May of 2020, the nonprofit granted funds to two local parent groups who administered pandemic hardship grants through the “For Us By Us” fund for APS families experiencing heightened or extended difficulties during the early months of COVID-19.
Last June, redefinED atlanta partnered with Learn 4 Life to release “Quantifying the Impact of COVID-19 School Closures on Metro Atlanta Student Proficiency,” a report to help school leaders with possible solutions to mitigate the learning loss caused by closing of schools.
With the awarding of Innovation Fund grants, redefinED atlanta has provided more than $270,000 in pandemic support to Atlanta communities during the last year.
APS schools benefiting from the grants include Beecher Elementary, Harper Archer Elementary, Charles R. Drew Charter School, Jean Childs Young Middle School, Wesley International Academy, and M. Agnes Jones Elementary School.
Organizations that were awarded grants from redefinED atlanta include the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights, SKIP Georgia, Inc., TheraPink for Girls, Inc., Fathers Incorporated, and the Girls Scouts of Greater Atlanta.
The schools are implementing various innovative programs to assist students throughout the pandemic.
Harper-Archer elementary has created an SEL based Kindergarten-2nd grade school-wide Principal’s Book of the Month to engage its virtual and in-person students while promoting literacy and SEL.
The students receive a set of books and each month they will have the opportunity to read a common text, and engage in learning, thinking, respond to that shared text and the Principal will read the books live on YouTube.
After the reading, the scholars will work with the classroom teacher to create a product using Flipgrid, visual art, create monologues, etc. to communicate their feelings and learning.
Wesley International has created a book club for parents and students that will focus on anti-racism, literacy and parent engagement with the book “Stamped.”
It is virtual for now, but the school is planning in-person events for the future. The school is also investing in more professional development/teacher trainings on how to be anti-racist and teach these principles.
Young Middle School is working with nonprofit TheraPink Girls, created by a licensed therapist after reading the statistics of mental health issues and suicides in Georgia, on the mental health and social-emotional learning through two weekly programs, Candid Conversations and Self-Care Saturday.
Drew Charter School is developing/implementing a whole-child wellness program that a more robust, holistic initiative that is built for the virtual environment and responds directly to the issues students are facing, including pandemic anxiety, social isolation, and heightened mental health concerns.
The proposed program will support whole-child development through the following components: new SEL curriculum developed by Drew’s SEL Team; weekly student-centered wellness programming; wellness take-home kits for students; an online student mental health screening tool; and professional development for teachers on topics such as trauma support, coping strategies and self-care.
SKIP Ga is a nonprofit that works with children with a parent who are, or have been, incarcerated in hopes to break the cycle. This year, one of their programs is working with seniors at five different high schools in south Atlanta to provide mentoring, mental health support and get them through to graduation.
“Engaging in this book with them has definitely helped them to be more reflective about their spot of confidence,” said Dr. Dione Simon, Principal of Harper Archer Elementary School. “When talking to many of our scholars, they have a vivid memory of reading this book with me or listening to me read via YouTube”
“They remember so much of what I wanted them to take away, which is we must do all that we can and surround ourselves with people who help us to grow our confidence spots. Our Principal’s Book of the Month supports our literacy initiative by providing opportunities for our scholars to read, write, speak and think with each other, our teachers and me. It also helps them to hear and see what good readers do while reading and learn and use new vocabulary. Principal Book of the Month will also give our scholars opportunities to engage in additional thought-provoking discussions about their emotions. This will undoubtedly help them make connections to the text, to self and to the world around them, as well as help them to express and enhance their SEL competencies. There are several ways the redefinED atlanta grant has benefited the school community during COVID. First, we were able to provide parents with two workshops to support the unique needs emerging during the pandemic. In the initial workshop, parents and teachers were encouraged on the importance of self-care during traumatic times by Restore More. The second workshop provided tips for parents on how to navigate the social-emotional needs of their children over the summer and to prepare them for in-person learning in the fall. The redefinED Atlanta grant also funded the CASEL workshop for our counselors and social worker on the social-emotional needs of students during this time. This training gave each professional the resources needed to strengthen their ability to support students and staff,” said Dr. Melanie Dukes, Gifted & Talented Coordinator at Wesley International Academy.
“Additionally, COVID illuminated inequities and racial disparities in the United States, and the grant helped Wesley to support our community in these conversations. Our staff and middle school students engaged in a book study of Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You. This reading facilitated deep conversations on the root of these disparities and has created a community of brave conversations among all Wesley staff and students on race and anti-racism.”
“The schools benefiting from our program, through the redefinedEd atlanta grant, are Phoenix Academy, Maynard Jackson High School, Therrell High School, Washington High School, Carver High School, Douglas High School, and Kipp Collegiate. On a weekly basis, the program served a maximum of 20 students, virtually, for one hour via the Zoom platform.
Project PrimeTime sessions included training students on how to produce an A+ PowerPoint presentation, financial literacy, self-awareness, personality and skills training, a resiliency model for managing stress, and use of the environmental eco-system as a tool to help focus.
For reasons due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, attendance and measure of metrics was accumulated through screenshots and check-ins of attendance during each session. This process was a lesson in preparation and time management as well,” said Valencia Miller, M. ED, Executive Director for Skip Georgia Chapter, Inc.
“We are able to see the end result of the ongoing impact our programming has on the students. Students participating in the Project PrimeTime program demonstrated their ability to better engage in small group, and peer-to-peer conversation while expressing themselves verbally. The Sunday Brunch Literacy Project successfully created an atmosphere for multi-generational relationships to work together on improving their reading level. A pre-and post test was used to gauge students’ improvement. Overall a 65 percent improvement of students moving up at least one letter grade. Eighty percent of the caregivers increased at-home literacy engagement.”
The redefinED Innovation Fund, was open to all public schools and nonprofit organizations that operate in Atlanta and served students from the Atlanta Public Schools district.
For more information about how you can help or support these initiatives, visit www.redefinEDatlanta.org.
This article is one of a series of articles produced by The Atlanta Voice through support provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Word In Black, a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media outlets across the country.