redefinED atlanta Invests $100,000 To Aid Schools’ Engagement Efforts for the 2023-2024 School Year


redefinED atlanta Invests $100,000 To Aid Title I Schools’ Engagement Efforts for the 2023-2024 School Year

Atlanta (May 17, 2023) redefinED atlanta, a nonprofit that engages communities, advocates for equity, and funds critical work to drive systemic level improvement in K-12 public education for students and families, today announced it has awarded approximately $100,000 in grants to 10 schools serving students in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) district. Grants are awarded through the Family and Community Engagement (FACE) grant fund. RedefinED atalnta created the fund to support schools in strengthening their family and community engagement efforts and this year’s recipients’ awards are for the 2023-2024 school year.

“Each year, we continue to learn about the challenges schools face getting more families and community members engaged in children’s education,” said Denesha Thompson, director of public engagement and advocacy, redefinED atlanta. “With school budgets allocated heavily towards academic recovery efforts, we know additional funds will allow schools to activate families and community members by bringing them into schools and informing them of ways to get involved in supporting students and schools.”

The redefinED FACE grant fund was launched in 2022 to meet the requests of school leaders, teachers, and family engagement coordinators. The fund evolved from a 2018-2019 micro-grant opportunity that awarded schools up to $1,000 per school for a family and community engagement event with a maximum investment of $20,000 per school year. Today, the FACE grant fund awards up to $10,000 per school, with a full investment of $100,000 for the 2023-2024 school year.

redefinED atlanta believes parent and community engagement is one factor that will help advance our mission of every child in every community receiving a great K-12 public education.

Grants Supporting Schools Serving Atlanta Public Schools Students

  • Kimberly Elementary School – $10, 000
  • Benjamin E. Mays High School – $10, 000
  • John Lewis Academy – $10, 000
  • M. Agnes Jones Elementary School  – $10, 000
  • Hutchinson Elementary School – $10, 000
  • Barack and Michelle Obama Academy – $10, 000
  • Ethos Classical Charter School – $10, 000
  • Centennial Academy Charter School – $10, 000
  • Atlanta SMART Academy – $10, 000
  • Beecher Hill Elementary School – $10, 000

About redefinED atlanta:

Every student in Atlanta needs access to a great K-12 public education. Together with parents, educators, community leaders, and philanthropists, redefinED atlanta is transforming Atlanta into a place where every student in every community has: opportunity, well-being and self-determination. For more information, please visit

About Atlanta Public Schools:
Atlanta Public Schools is one of the largest school districts in the state of Georgia, serving approximately 50,000 students across 87 schools and five programs. The District is organized into nine K-12 clusters with 64 traditional schools, 19 charter schools, six partner schools, two alternative schools and five alternative programs. To learn more about Atlanta Public Schools, follow us on social media – Twitter (@apsupdate), Facebook (Atlanta Public Schools), and Instagram (apsupdate) – or visit us online at

How COVID School Closures Have Impacted Students

On the heels of temporary school closures and the shift to digital learning environments during the COVID-19 pandemic, 95 percent of the world’s student population experienced learning disruption and a disconnection from the classroom that are still affecting them today. While these changes were necessary for the safety of students, teachers and those working within schools, this resulted in a severe gap between where students should be in regards to their respective grade level and their current performance. The impact of school closures was harder on colored students than we immediately realized.

For students of color and those in under-resourced schools, many already faced inequity within their educational experience. “A lot of people call it the achievement gap,” said Learn4Life executive director Ken Zeff in GPB. “It’s really an opportunity gap. Achievement gap makes it sound like it’s the student; it’s not the student that is not achieving. It’s the student who’s denied the opportunity.” 

This long-term absence from the classroom and challenges to access to digital resources caused worsened learning outcomes that compounded intergenerational inequalities. This induced mental and physical health issues, even crisis, for some students. The learning disruption and opportunity gap seen in students’ academics has only been exacerbated by additional school closures and mergers happening as a result of a decline in enrollment. 

Impact of School Closures on Students in Metro Atlanta

Atlanta has the highest income inequality among large U.S. cities, with a median household income for white students of $167k, and just $23k for Black students, and that disparity impacts every aspect of the Atlanta Public School (APS) system. During the pandemic closures, students needed access to wifi, tablets, laptops, or other digital learning devices to keep up, and for many lower income families across the city that created a large barrier to education.

Almost 10 percent of Georgia’s students are without internet or a computer device at home, The Atlanta Voice shared. While many schools sought to provide the necessary tools for children, students and teachers within under-resourced APS schools had to contend with broken and outdated technology, as well as shortage of materials at times. 

These hurdles for students of color or students from low-income families lead to a significant drop in their academic achievement. A 2020 study from redefinED atlanta and Learn4Life projected that only three out of 10 historically underserved students will now be on track to grade-level proficiency within Metro Atlanta. 

The predicted impact on childrens’ academic experience was unfortunately proven true. Using recent Georgia Milestone results, redefinED atlanta uncovered that, between 2019 and 2022, APS saw a six percent decline in reading and a 12 percent decline in math for 3-8th graders. For students who entered the pandemic behind grade level, likely due to inequity in education, there was an even greater learning loss.

The Direct Impact on Education for Black and Brown Students

School closures left students months behind the benchmark for where they should be in their learning. During this loss of educational progress, primary school children, especially children of color, were most affected, including struggling to acquire basic knowledge and study methods needed to grow and excel academically. Students of color were also at an increased risk of dropping out of school, resulting in lost opportunities and earning less money over their lifetimes than they would have otherwise, UConn Today cites. 

While students at majority-white schools are closing the gap and are almost caught up, students from majority-black or under-resourced schools are falling farther behind. According to this 2019 report by GeorgiaCAN, it would take 127 years for Black 4th graders in APS to catch up to White 4th graders at current rates. 

The economic impact of the pandemic and school closures have had broader implications for Black and Brown families. “Students of color and their families are more likely to have lost paychecks due to COVID-19, and are also more likely to have rethought going to college,” Best Colleges states. 

Effect of School Closures and Mergers on Students’ Learning

In recent years, a decline in birth rate has led to a decline in student enrollment, prompting school systems like APS to permanently close and then merge schools within the district. An 11Alive article stated that APS officials aimed to free up resources to better serve students, but some argue that the communities affected directly by this weren’t considered or consulted. 

While some of these mergers were proposed prior to the pandemic, school performance following the temporary COVID-related closures expedited these plans for soon-to-be merged schools or delayed newly merged schools’ aspirations to bolster performance and bring equity to their students’ educational experience. New mergers came just as students returned to in-school instruction, meaning students who were still grappling with COVID-related changes now had to deal with changing schools, classes, routines and more.

Additionally, leaders of newly merged schools had their plans derailed by the temporary closures during the pandemic. A prime example of this is the Harper-Archer merger in August 2019, in which two academically challenged schools were reformed as one school at a renovated Harper-Archer School site. According to The AJC, “stability is critical in turnaround schools, and the Coronavirus crisis has upended schoolhouses and homes. The need to close buildings and switch to distance learning will disproportionately harm low-income students who are already behind, experts predict.”

How We Can Help Students Catch Up

As children, teachers, and administrators try their best to close learning gaps, there are ways that parents and guardians can help. 

  • Partner with your child’s educators to see how your child is doing academically and what they recommend your child needs to grow. 
  • Use any supplemental resources, like in-school tutoring programs, that may help your child get the individualized attention they need to catch up and excel.
  • Lastly, use your voice at school, district and community meetings. Making a public comment at APS Board of Education meetings is one way to share what your children need to succeed directly with APS leadership. When advocating for progress or stopping unwanted change, grassroots and community efforts can make all the difference. 

Are you interested in using your voice and making a difference for your children, but don’t know where to start? redefinED atlanta can help.

This Teacher Appreciation Week, Celebrating A Change of Careers

In recognition of Teacher Appreciation Week, we’re profiling Sonya Hanks, a 9th-grade life transition teacher at Daniel McLaughlin Therrell High School, an International Baccalaureate high school in Southwest Atlanta and graduate of the Relay Graduate School of Education. 


Relay trains teachers at every stage of their career– from recent college graduates seeking their masters degree, veteran teachers who want advanced trainDing, career changers like Hanks who are using Relay to prepare them for the teaching profession after time in other fields, and certificate seekers who want additional credentials in high-need areas like ESOL, special education, and more.


This post is about Ms. Hanks, but it represents the thousands of teachers in Atlanta Public Schools who plan and persist every day to serve students and families. Their creativity and commitment inspire each of us at redefinED atlanta, and we are immensely grateful for their service to our city.


Sonya Hanks’ path to becoming a teacher was long and circuitous, so when she arrived at her new school and heard students not taking her class seriously, she stopped that talk cold. 

“I teach a course, high school transitions,” said Hanks. “They were saying it was more of a study hall, and I was like ‘No, no, no. I didn’t come into teaching to do study hall.’”

Hanks came into teaching to change lives, and that’s just what she’s doing as a career-changer who attended the Relay Graduate School of Education so she could act on her belief to “not be part of the problem, be part of the solution.”

redefinED atlanta spent almost two years rallying partners and philanthropic investors to bring Relay Graduate School of Education to Atlanta in 2018.

Relay is a nationally accredited talent organization with campuses and partnerships in multiple cities like Atlanta.  Relay’s programming is largely known as a “gold standard” talent organization in our field. Since its launch in 2018, Relay has: trained over 250 new teachers in metro Atlanta; addressed a critical hiring need for Atlanta area schools and districts; and at full scale, will be able to graduate 100+ highly trained teachers per year


“We believed bringing Relay to Atlanta would be transformational for Atlanta area schools as Relay would substantially increase the number of high-quality new teachers entering Atlanta’s teaching pool every year,” said Ed Chang, executive director at redefinED atlanta.


Hanks’ teaching area is uncommon, but her skills are in heavy demand. In a national survey released in January, Americans’ foremost educational priority was “a concentrated focus on ‘practical, tangible skills’ such as managing one’s personal finances, preparing meals and making appointments.”

That’s what Hanks excels at, supporting students new to high school and putting them on solid footing for a range of future experiences. 

“I get students acclimated to what high school entails and then prepare them for real-life living,” Hanks said. 

Being a teacher wasn’t always Hanks’ plan. She went to college for communications, then moved to Alabama, where she worked as a receptionist. Her path changed when a category-five hurricane impacted her hometown. The damage forced Hanks and her family to relocate to Atlanta, where she started working as a substitute teacher.  

Hanks’ principal instantly saw her potential as a full-time educator and encouraged her to attend Relay, which is known as a teacher preparation program that grounds educators in practical skills and data-informed instruction. Hanks said the program really pushed her thinking and stretched her skill set. As a result, she graduated with a keen awareness of when students are and are not engaged. 

“Relay walks with you every step of the way,” Hanks said. “That’s different from what I see with many other teachers in similar programs. But, even now, I can still reach out and get support for whatever I need help with.”


Now, at Therrell High, Hanks is seen by her peers as an exemplar of classroom management. 


Hanks knows her journey to becoming a teacher was nontraditional. But, she says, she appreciates what she has learned every step of the way and the opportunity to serve young people every day.


“I look back,” Hanks said, “and I wouldn’t change a thing.”


redefinED atlanta believes great schools have strong school leaders and teachers. For every student in every community to attend a great school, we must increase and retain the number of high-quality teachers and leaders entering Atlanta. We invest in organizations that grow talent at all levels because we believe every neighborhood deserves great schools. To learn more about how redefinED atlanta cultivates strong school talent, visit

How Education Grants Help Students from Under-resourced Communities

Education grants — sources of aid that support a specific need within a classroom or school district — provide vital financial and tangible resources to K-12 classrooms across the South, where “56 percent of all Black students in the United States” live, as of 2019. Grantmaking in education is an attempt to create equity in schools where racial discrimination, income inequality, and unjust practices have created gaps in life outcomes for students. 

“School districts where the majority of students enrolled are students of color receive $23 billion less in education funding than predominantly white school districts, despite serving the same number of students – a dramatic discrepancy that underscores the depth of K-12 funding inequities,” U.S. News shares. This imbalance can be linked to the discrimination of Black and brown families. Practices like redlining and housing segregation directly impact property taxes, which, in turn, affect the amount of money school districts receive, creating inequity. Particularly for students of color or those living in under-resourced areas, grants help bridge those gaps that antiquated state funding and discriminatory public policy leave. “That is what equity is, that different needs require different funding amounts,” states Georgia Budget and Policy Institute education director Stephen Owens in GPB News.

Inequity in education is a pervasive problem, which deeply impacts students of color and children living in under-served areas. “The state’s population has roughly doubled, and costs for expenses like transportation, technology, and counselors have radically changed,” according to GPB News, and “Georgia is one of only six states that do not allocate extra money to students living in poverty.” This leads to a lower quality education for the students facing this reality.

Education grants in K-12 schools are especially important because they introduce money and supplies directly into a classroom and or a school district that needs it the most, which supports efforts in literacy, curriculum, equipment, materials or staffing to provide the best and most equitable academic experience possible for students. 

redefinED atlanta’s mission is to transform Atlanta into a city where every student in every community receives a great K-12 public education, and we help Black and brown students and under-resourced schools through grantmaking to help combat the gross underfunding of these communities. Since the beginning, grants have been a fundamental part of how we engage community and advocate for equity, and almost $20 million in grants have been awarded since our launch in 2016, funding critical areas—equitable systems & schools, school-level talent, and parent or caregiver and community mobilization. 

What Is an Education Grant, and What Are the Benefits?

Unlike loans, grants provide needs-based financial support that typically doesn’t have to be repaid. Grant funding can come from a variety of sources, including the federal government, state government, college or career school, private organization, or a nonprofit, like redefinED atlanta. 

Education grants are often used to help students whose communities were historically oppressed or under-resourced. They directly supply funding to classrooms that would otherwise not have access to necessary academic support or materials for their students. For Black and Brown students, grants can help repair the funding gap, increasing their opportunities and improving their overall educational experiences. “Additional funding should help to attract highly qualified teachers, improve curriculum, and fund additional programs,” states CAP

How We Make an Impact With Education Grants

We believe family and community involvement leads to a better education and a stronger Atlanta Public School system. redefinED atlanta invests in schools and communities through our Family and Community Engagement (F.A.C.E.) grants—designed to support schools, helping them establish and strengthen their community relationship building efforts throughout the school year. 

We provide the technical support needed to grantees to help them plan and prepare to organize, mobilize, or educate families or community members on the issues the school, and therefore, their children, are facing. These efforts establish relationships and trust that brings more people together to tackle those challenges and create more equitable learning environments.

How Parents/Guardians and the Community Can Get Engaged 

Active parent or caregiver and community engagement are essential to establish support for every K-12 student. You have more of an impact on your child’s education than you realize. Whether it’s signing up for coalition updates, attending an event, or advocating for change within the larger community and with the school board, your voice has power and you can use it to change the public school system for the better. 

Join our growing collective of parents, educators, community leaders, and philanthropists dedicated to transforming Atlanta into a place where every student in every community has access to a great K-12 public education.

Dr. Robin Christian Talks Family and Community Engagement Efforts at BaMO

redefinED atlanta believes that authentic and regular parent and community engagement is a critical factor in advancing our vision of every child in every community receiving a great K-12 public education. The best school leaders and teachers understand their students’ and communities’ unique needs and have thefreedom, flexibility, and support to serve those needs. Active parent and community engagement are essential to establish levers of support for every student.

That’s why in 2022, we began awarding Family and Community Engagement grants to schools serving Atlanta students. In the coming weeks, we will publish a series of blog posts in which school leaders will share how these flexible grant dollars helped them serve their school community better. First up is Principal Robin Christian of Barack and Michelle Obama Academy (BaMO), a pre-K-5th-grade school in Peoplestown. 

These features come as we’re investing another $100,000 to support schools throughout the 2023-24 school year. Eligible Title I schools can apply for up to $10,000 to support their broader family engagement plans across the school year. We hope to strengthen each grantee’s engagement strategy and look forward to creating stronger community ties within our partner schools. 

Now, here’s Principal Christian of BAMO:

redefinED atlanta: To start us off, can you share a bit about BAMO in terms of its educational programs and size? 

Principal Christian: We run a couple of programs in addition to our K-5 classrooms, including a pre-K program and regional special education units, so we serve between 250-270 students. Being such a small school helps us form bonds with families, but our size can be a sore spot when it comes to budgeting, which is based on how many students we serve. 

redefinED: What are some of the main challenges associated with serving a smaller student body? 

Principal Christian: We’re actually in one of the smallest attendance zones in the entire school district, which impacts funding for programs. 

We serve Peoplestown, one of the most historic communities in Atlanta and a highly marginalized community. Think Rashard Brooks and so many of the tragedies that have hit the nation’s media circuit; it’s a host of social injustices.  

We serve a lot of families living in subsidized housing, and right now we’re enduring one of the fastest rates of gentrification in the Atlanta metro area. So a lot of our families are being pushed out and fewer of our educators can afford to even live here. We’re a very resourceful community, so we’re trying to do what we can with what we have. 

redefinED: What goals have you been hoping to achieve as a school? How has receiving the Family and Community Engagement grant supported your work to date? 

Principal Christian: There’s this myth that when schools serve a large population of families of color, that families are not engaged. As a school, we counter that myth: we remain big on family engagement. With its grant, redefinED atlanta is helping us provide incentives to increase attendance rates amongst our students. 

The ability to create this space for bonding amongst students and families, that’s the important work that we’ve been able to focus on. redefinED helps us strengthen our academic parent-teacher teams and create connections between families and faculty in meaningful ways. We’re able to sit with parents and assess academic achievement data, and we’ve implemented a very student-focused agenda.

redefinED: Have you seen any positive shifts in attendance thus far?   

Principal Christian: Last year, we had one of the lowest attendance rates in the district, but we’ve already seen an increase of almost 5 percent. Thanks to the redefinED atlanta FACE grant, we host monthly events where students can use positive behavior points toward purchasing items from an attendance cart. This gives the students a sense of agency and, frankly, it helps make school more fun. We also take steps that don’t cost any money at all, like giving students shout-outs over the loudspeaker. They all want to hear their name!

The unrestricted funding has let me do what is best for my school community. We can’t use our district dollars to offer food for families who attend events, but everyone likes free food – regardless of socioeconomic status – and it can help attract more people. The redefinED grant lets us offer families refreshments at our events, and it’s helped us draw more families. 

We now have the highest attendance rates in our cluster. We’re changing the narrative. The BAMO community is grateful to come together with these new initiatives in place.

redefinED atlanta funds critical work to drive equity in education and promote great schools in Atlanta. We believe the best school leaders and teachers understand their students’ and communities’ unique needs. They work best when given the trust, freedom, flexibility, and support to serve those needs. Active parent and community engagement are essential to establish levers of support for every student. We’re offering new Family and Community Engagement grants for the 2023-24 school year. Visit to learn more.