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necessary tools for children, students and teachers within under-resourced APS schools had to contend with broken and outdated technology, as well as shortage of materials at times.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.

The Impact of Literacy for High School Students

Why is Literacy Important for High School Students?

Literacy is the ability to read and write, and for your children, literacy is the foundation of their education and communication skills. “The prevailing approach to literacy is failing millions of children who are disproportionately Black and brown,” states the Forbes article How ‘Reading Instruction’ Fails Black And Brown Children. The impact of literacy is bigger than most parents realize.

Despite the fact that students are often expected to be literate by the fourth grade, there are shocking statistics, like those shared by The Hill below, regarding literacy rates among young teens, particularly teens within communities of color and those who have faced inequitable access to education. Many students “lack proficiency in reading skills” or are “functionally illiterate” in Georgia. This means that they are considered to be “unable to manage daily living and employment tasks.” 

While this deeply impacts students in our community, this is not exclusive to Georgia, indicating systemic issues nationwide. According to insights from National Assessment of Educational Progress NAEP studies—a sector of the U.S. Department of Education—12th-grade students in the south, in cities or rural areas, Black and Brown students, English language learners, or students with disabilities show higher rates of illiteracy than their counterparts who fall within other demographic or geographic areas. NAEP also showed that, in 2019, Black students in 12th-grade had an average score that was 30 points lower than White students. 

Additionally, children who may not have received an equitable education due to systemic racism, ableism, or poverty, face challenges that trap them in a vicious cycle—educational policies and practices that fail to meet students’ needs, leading to illiteracy, leading to further problems in life caused by those same systemic issues, and so on. The Forbes article mentioned above shares that statistics from childhood illiteracy “translate into greater struggles in high school, lower college attendance and graduation rates, a higher likelihood of incarceration, and generally bleaker futures.” 

At redefinED atlanta, we are working to empower school systems, parents and guardians, students, and our Atlanta community to help create positive and equitable educational opportunities for K-12 students. Last year, we launched our two-year ARISE participatory grant, which provides a $300,000 fund to support Atlanta Public Schools’ goal of increasing student literacy outcomes. This aims to increase literacy proficiency, raising the percentage of students in grades 3-8 reading scores for Georgia Milestones from 36.9 percent, reported in 2019, to 47 percent by August 2026.

It is our job to work together to challenge current scholastic practices that don’t justly serve our children. Literacy impacts all students, and this skillset belongs to all students, including its benefits. 

Benefits of Literacy

A strong command of language sets a strong foundation for academic and job performance, and it promotes essential life and leadership skills, like self- and community-advocacy. Literacy has a variety of other benefits, including:

  • Higher self-esteem 
  • Improved concentration
  • Increased critical and analytical thinking
  • Expanded vocabulary
  • Meeting academic milestones
  • Managing daily living and employment tasks

These are just a few of the many ways that these skills can enrich your child’s life, and as a parent or guardian, you can make a difference. 

Prioritizing Literacy Skills with Your Teen

You may be asking, ‘how can I encourage and grow my teen’s literacy skills at home?’ Time and consistency are a few of the greatest indicators of a good outcome. Encourage your child to set aside time in their schedule to read something they enjoy independently, with their peers, or with you. Even for teenagers, reading with others and reading aloud, as well as listening to others do the same as they follow along, can increase their fluency and comprehension. Reading independently allows time for them to practice their skills. “Motivating students through topics that relate to their own lives and cultures” and new material related to developing interest areas helps them engage more easily with the words and story, according to Forbes. Reading for as little as 15 minutes per day is the consistent practice students’ need to improve. 

You can create a literacy-rich environment at home by getting your child a public library card or encouraging them to check out books from their school library. You can also prompt your child to write creatively, for school or for fun, which can improve literacy skills, as well as their imagination. This can be on paper, a computer, or simply in the notes app on their phone. 

And lastly, your teen has an opportunity to practice and improve literacy on each and every homework assignment they receive. If there are words they don’t recognize or understand, share the definition or have them research the meaning. Praising curiosity could inspire your child to develop a habit of looking up new words or words used in a new context, which can give them the tools they need to continue to expand their vocabulary.

How We Can Improve Literacy Together

Literacy is of the utmost importance for academic and long-term success in your child’s life. This is especially true for high school-aged students whose near-future goals and careers depend on their ability to communicate clearly and effectively. We, at redefinED atlanta, are here to listen and advocate for better educational practices for the children in our Black and Brown or under-resourced communities, as well as provide funding to give students the support they need and improve literacy proficiency in Georgia.

“There’s abundant scientific evidence that explains why our standard approach to reading instruction isn’t working for so many black kids—and others,” according to Forbes. We believe that people in our communities most impacted by injustices need to have more agency and the opportunity to take an active role in order to effectively address the historical inequities in Atlanta’s public school system that contribute to high teenage illiteracy rates. Even with teenagers, it’s never too late to help your child grow their literacy skills, and you don’t have to do that alone.

Fickett Elementary Uses Parent Engagement to Increase Student Attendance

Meeting Families Where They Are

Tonya Holmes acknowledges that sometimes families see social workers as only getting involved when there’s a problem, and she’s working to change that. “I’m here as a resource,” she says. She brings nearly 30 years of experience as a teacher and long-time high school principal to her current position as a school social worker at Fickett Elementary School. 

Now in her second year, she’s focusing on increasing attendance. That’s why she applied for the Family and Community Engagement (FACE) grant. A $150,000 investment by redefinED atlanta, FACE grants support eligible Atlanta Public Schools (APS) in their 2022-23 family engagement efforts. The money, up to $15,000 per school, gives recipients autonomy in how they spend the funds to address their priority needs. 

“redefinED atlanta engages with communities, advocates for equity, and funds critical work to drive systemic level improvement in K-12 public education for students and families,” said Denesha Thompson Pressy, director,  public engagement and advocacy, at redefinED atlanta. “We believe supporting schools’ broader family engagement strategy will lead to a more lasting impact on family engagement in schooling and thereby support student academic and life outcomes, ”she added. 

More Momentum and Shared Understanding

With thoughtful events, information and incentives, Holmes is working on increasing daily attendance momentum and understanding why attendance is so important at home. The program for students kicked off in September, with attendance winners going to the monster truck show. “Then we hit the reset button every month,” she says. “We don’t want you to be knocked out of the running because you missed a few days last month.” 

The announcement comes every morning asking kids to try hard to be at school and to be on time. One month, the winners went to a College Park Skyhawks basketball game, snacks included. Another month, children’s names went into a drawing for a video game console and parents received wireless earbuds, recognizing that the students would only be successful with parent support. Snack bags and perfect attendance t-shirts are other ways Holmes increases the visibility of students with high attendance to encourage more students.

For the Fickett Elementary School community, Holmes uses redefinED atlanta’s F.A.C.E. grant funding to meet people where they are with the information and support they need. “Anytime I have the opportunity for a captive audience of adults, I go,” says Holmes. For one of her outreach efforts, she and her school’s parent liaison organized a school meeting at an apartment complex where about 100 Fickett students live. While attendance was light, those who came left with bookbags full of useful items, and now other parents are asking when she’s coming back. 

To reach out specifically to dads, Holmes joined one of the All-Pro Dad’s meetings to discuss the importance of school attendance. The father’s group involves about 60 men who meet in the school media center monthly. “We have to stop the expectation that raising kids is only the responsibility of mothers,” Holmes says. “The dads were so receptive and happy to be included.”

Removing Barriers

There are many reasons why students at Fickett Elementary might not come to school. A child may need clean clothes because cleaning supplies are expensive. A parent might have a night shift and struggle to get their child ready on time based on when they get home from work. It removes a barrier when Holmes includes laundry detergent in gift bags. Also, she lets families know that even if a student is not on time, the school still wants them to come. “It’s about feeling welcome,” she says. “Better to come late than not come at all.”

Holmes underlines the importance of administrators having the power to allocate funds in the ways their school community needs. “The needs are different from one community to the next,” she says. “Some schools might have the same demographic makeup as ours, but students at that school aren’t missing class because parents have cars or children can walk to school.” In the case of Fickett Elementary many families don’t have cars, and if children miss the bus, they may live too far away to walk. 

At Fickett, there are also a lot of younger families and Holmes is emphasizing why elementary attendance is so critical for students. “With young parents, many of whom are trying to make it from day to day, taking this time to establish relationships will have a long-term impact,” she says. “A change in their mindset is happening.”

Already Holmes has seen an increase in two-way communication. Instead of the school always initiating calls if children are out sick, she’s getting more proactive calls from families that the school can document and keep track of, like if a student is out because of an asthma attack. “When we call parents, we don’t just say a student missed eight days,” she says. “We say, ‘Unfortunately, they’re not doing well in math and not on grade level.’ When my parents hear that, it means more to them — they want more for their children.” 

Her long experience as a high school administrator gives Holmes a unique perspective. “High school students are in control of whether they go to school or not,” she says. “In elementary school, students must rely on supportive adults to set the stage for their whole academic career. This year, we’re proud of the progress we’ve made. I’m very pleased with the parents being receptive. It’s not just about students being in school but being there to maximize their lives and reach their full potential.”

redefinED atlanta funds critical work to drive equity in education and promote great schools in Atlanta. With more flexible resources like the FACE grant, thoughtful leaders like Holmes can continue advancing critical elements of student success, like attendance and family engagement. redefinED atlanta believes 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. Learn more about our current FACE grant opportunity today.

COR combats food insecurity at Carver S.T.E.A.M. Academy

It started with what some might call a wild idea. Jennifer Bartl says she’s one of three Jenn’s, the ‘Jennerators’, (the other two are Jennifer Henn and Jennifer Greenlee) who decided to create COR to support trauma-affected and historically excluded students and provide them with what they need to succeed.

Bartl says that when they decided to house their organization in Carver S.T.E.A.M Academy in south Atlanta, they knew there was a lot of food insecurity in the school. COR works in South Fulton County (30315), which has a Child Well-Being score of 30.9 (avg. score for Georgia is 68), and 55% of children in the zip code live in poverty (United Way of Greater Atlanta, 2020).

“And so we opened a grocery store inside the school. If our kiddos have food in their belly and the rest of their basic needs met, they are more likely to come to school, stay in school, and thrive,” Bartl said. The food primarily comes from Second Helpings, an organization that “rescues” food that is still good from grocery stores, restaurants, and corporate events. Available items range from prepackaged sandwiches and organic fresh produce to hygiene items and clothes, all free to students and their families.

The CORner Store also has some necessities that can’t be bought with an EBT card. For instance, the Homeless Period Project provides pre-made bags of period products for students to grab and go, making menstruation one less thing that gets in the way of learning.

COR tries to reduce any barriers that might stand between students and their needs, and they provide more than nutrition. Bartl said that COR is unique because they offer counseling, prevention education and care coordination for students and their families, on-site at school. Services are offered where kids spend most of their day. Counseling is free and doesn’t require an appointment or an insurance card, so students can walk in when needed. They also equip students with important social and emotional skills necessary for adulting.

“The Whole Child Approach is an example of how we ensure students have access to a great K-12 public education,” says Dennis Dent, communications director, redefinED atlanta. “We [redefinED atlanta] partner with organizations like COR to address intersectional issues that create barriers for student performance and negatively impact students and families,” Dent added.

“Every child, no matter their socioeconomic status, deserves to flourish at school and beyond” Bartl said. 

“Our idea is that your zip code shouldn’t determine whether or not you have food in your belly or access to a decent education, or to see a successful future for yourself,” Bartl added. 

The CORner Store supplements the school lunch program when there’s not much food at home. Often the lunch and breakfast they receive at school are the two guaranteed meals they have. Bartl says that allowing students and their families to shop at their grocery store helps fill in those gaps. 

“Maybe it’s that dinner meal that they don’t get at school, or weekend meals, or snacks,” Bartl said.

Another benefit of the store is that it provides a point of contact with parents or guardians who may otherwise be hard to reach.

 “It’s like, oh, this students’ Mom comes every Tuesday to get groceries,” Bartl said, adding that regular contact and resources also help the adults in a student’s life to see interaction with the school as positive, rather than just a sign that their child is in trouble.

Improving family engagement is a frequently discussed goal of many school districts because involved parents can mean better outcomes for students. Bartl says that developing a strong relationship with parents was a happy consequence of the pandemic – they made countless home visits and became quite the fixture in many south Atlanta front yards and porches. Connecting with parents and caregivers is something they’ve been intentional about prioritizing since a return to in-person learning.

COR tries to educate students and families about nutrition by using models like the US Department of Agriculture’s My Plate plan. They love to share personal family recipes and parents often return with pictures of what they made and stories of getting their kids to try something new.

COR’s “CORner Store” and the other on-site services they provide help keep students in school. COR also advocates for students and will try to intervene if a student is on the verge of being disenrolled due to absence, starting with asking what is happening in the student’s life.

“We try to jump in if it gets to the point of saying ‘we’re going to disenroll’ and say, can we put some brief interventions and support in place to see if we could get this kid to come to school?” Bartl said.

Bartl said that school-based grocery stores and the kind of wraparound support that COR offers is an idea that is spreading.

“There’s one at Tri-Cities High School this year and they just put one at Banneker [High School],” Bartl said. 

“In a perfect world, I think that this model of tiered levels of structured, in-school support should be the norm,” Bartl added. 

While improving nutrition is an important part of COR’s approach, Bartl says the goal is to reduce all of the barriers that get in a student’s way.

“It’s never just food insecurity. Poverty, housing insecurity, racism, and the subsequent historial exclusion…you can’t separate [them]. And I know that none of our families struggle with just one. It’s layered, it’s infuriating, and it’s largely preventable,” Bartl said. 

redefinED atlanta is transforming Atlanta into a place where every student in every community has opportunity, well-being, and self-determination. We will continue to grow and participate in coalitions to address intersectional issues that create barriers for student performance and negatively impact students and families. To learn more about our intersectional coalitions and grow your understanding of public education, take the A.R.I.S.E. pledge today!

Voting for Education Celebrates Black History and Black Futures

Black History Month highlights Black achievements and people pushing for change. What better way to celebrate these past efforts than to advance future opportunities?

Education promotes future success and well-being for individuals and communities. That’s one reason to increase access and equity in our K-12 education system. Others include fighting systemic oppression, honoring Black youth and ensuring that every child in every community receives a great K-12 public education.  

As passionate education advocates, we move this work forward in many ways. Whatever each of us does to advance systemic change, it’s also critical that we vote for education and encourage our friends and neighbors to do the same. 

Civic Leadership and Our Schools

Since nothing about this work is quick or easy, keeping historic civic leaders and their progress in mind is helpful. Centuries ago, during post-civil war reconstruction, Blacks overcame countless barriers to educate children and increase the number of Black teachers. In addition, Black leaders and activists laid groundwork we’re still benefiting from and building on today — one being the building of the nation’s largest complex of Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) in Atlanta between 1865 and 1881.

The effort was impressive and successful despite being repeatedly undermined by constantly shifting rules and political responses. One prominent example of this systemic undermining happened when the U.S. government stopped funding the Freedman’s Bureau in 1872. Another happened 82 years later when desegregation coupled with systemic racism shut out many successful Black teachers from our public school systems in Atlanta and nationwide. 

Today, communities across the country continue to feel the impacts of disparities and inequities and a shortage of representative teachers and administrators in public education. Like those who came before, current-day leaders like you, parents and caregivers, educators and advocates, and our youth continue to navigate obstacles and find this moment’s opportunities.  

Why School Board Elections Matter

One current-day opportunity worth taking a closer look at is school board elections. Unlike national elections, school board elections take place in a local context. By learning about and supporting candidates who champion educational equity, we can better our schools and create a pathway for more representative leadership at the state and nationally. 

School board elections also promote democracy. Communities gain more understanding about school issues when candidates bring attention to their priority issues. Candidates representing and in dialogue with communities give citizens a voice and ownership over critical education decisions. Once voted into office, we entrust these elected officials to protect children, create safe and welcoming schools, equitably distribute funds, write, research, and vote on policies that ultimately advance the impact of education as a public good. 

Voting Takes Our Work Further

At redefinED atlanta, we believe one vote can make a difference, but collectively we are even stronger. Our work around voter mobilization means activating a well-informed voter base that can help elect community leaders into seats of power who will aid in advancing policy change to ensure all children and families have access to high-quality public education. 

In 2022, we set specific goals to grow voter participation among Atlanta public school families during the midterm elections and the race for state superintendent. The results are worth celebrating. Highlights include a 19% higher voter turnout at our four partner schools than in the general election in 2021. The turnout in 2022 among these families was also 23% higher than voter modeling predicted. 

After incorporating lessons learned from our 2021 voter mobilization efforts into our 2022 campaign, we plan for even more progress later this year. A few lessons learned included starting our efforts earlier in the year, increasing the content we distributed online and in print, and securing voting champions at every school to increase outreach and engagement. 

In addition, we launched an electoral fellowship, a pilot cohort designed to engage families and educators who served as organizers for their schools’ community. The fellows also hosted and tabled at events, canvassed in school communities and phone banked to mobilize families to increase voter turnout.  

While one vote can sometimes feel insignificant, it’s not – especially when done as a community. It’s yet another example of the power of sustained collective effort over time. By making it a top priority to vote and urging those in our circle to do the same, our impact continues to grow. To learn more and grow your understanding of the power of voting, visit

How to Achieve Equity in Education: A Guide

Understanding Equity in Education

To achieve equity in education, we first must understand what it is. Equity is the pursuit of fairness and justice, used to create balance where there was originally imbalance. This imbalance typically exists in access to resources or opportunities. Equity in education means that all children receive what they need to develop their full academic and social potential.

Educators and students bring their perspectives to the classroom, including different:

  • Identities
  • Experiences
  • Backgrounds
  • Biases
  • Trauma
  • Assumptions

A “typical” student doesn’t exist. Each child’s set of circumstances and needs to meet their full potential are unique. With this in mind, to achieve equity in education, communities must actively work to break down existing barriers and inequalities that exist in our school systems to give students the personalized learning experience they each need to thrive.

[Link to the equity page once published – recommending to link to the first paragraph, third sentence, where “equity in education” is first mentioned OR farther down where we get into the Why]

Why Equity in the Classroom is Important

Often, schools that are a part of under-resourced areas or historically-marginalized communities don’t have equal access to scholastic resources or opportunities, creating imbalance or inequity in education. For teachers to be as effective as possible in the classroom, they need updated textbooks and technology, as well as access to enough materials for all students to participate actively.

Unfortunately, when inequity persists within a school system, teachers are limited in what they can offer their students—and students suffer the consequences. Inequity can lead to learning gaps, sliding grades, and slowed grade progression–all of which significantly impact a child education.

When students receive equitable access to educational opportunities, there is no limit to what they can accomplish, and their success in school now will lead to better student outcomes.

Ways to Achieve Equity in Education

For Educators and Administrators:

  1. Start with Yourself
    Challenge yourself to address your role in the current education system. Are you working to create a more equitable school system? Where do your identities, biases, and assumptions come into play? How can you shift your mindset and practices to ensure your students receive equitable access to education?
  2. Engage Students, Families, and Communities as Full Partners
    Each of these groups are just as invested, if not more invested, in the success of their or their students’ growth. Remember that their voices and input are valuable and should be acknowledged. Consulting each of these different perspectives, you can gain invaluable insights into creating a more equitable learning environment.
  3. Champion Equity For Your Students
    Be a leader in this area, and let your actions speak. Teach students about equity, the importance of equitable education, and how they can advocate for themselves. Share your thoughts in meetings within your school or at community gatherings to ignite the conversation about what your students need to succeed.
  4. Find Innovative Teaching Styles
    Not all students learn the same and many students learn at different paces. Some learn better online vs. offline, others need accommodations due to a learning barrier. Each student and their needs are unique. Finding an innovative approach to teaching can help ensure that students receive the best fit for their learning.
  5. Create an Equitable Classroom/School Environment
    Build a better classroom or school environment by simply listening and using that information to make changes. Even small shifts toward equity in the classroom or school can have a lasting, real-life change for your students.

For Parents/Guardians and Community Members:

  1. Start with Yourself
    Just like educators and administrators, challenge yourself to address your role in the current education system. Are you working to join or rally your community to create a more equitable school system? Where do your identities, biases, and assumptions come into play? How can you get involved and begin conversations with your children about their experiences? How can you begin conversations with your kids’ teachers and school leaders to help ensure they receive equitable access to education?
  2. Engage Teachers and Administrators as Full Partners
    Educators spend a lot of their time helping students grow. Whether that time is structuring curriculum, attending conferences to learn about new teaching methods or in-classroom instruction, teachers are committed to student success and can be a great partner in the pursuit of equity in education.
  3. Continue to Learn
    As you learn more about equity, current school system practices and policies, and how to become an advocate for equitable education, remember that there is always new information to find and avenues to explore. You can only act on possibilities and opportunities that you know exist. The journey doesn’t end, but the hardest step is the first. In reading this, you’ve taken that initial step and you can take the next.
  4. Use Your Voice
    Your voice and the voices of your children are powerful, valuable, and deserving of recognition. Be curious. Ask your students about their experience in the classroom, ask educators about the ways that they are practicing equity in their teaching, and ask how you can be involved in bringing about positive change. Attending school and community meetings can also offer an opportunity for you to speak out about the need for equity in education.

For All:

  1. Patience Is Key
    Systemic change takes time, and doesn’t happen overnight.
  2. Advocate for the Change You Want to See
    Even small efforts made consistently can make a big difference over time.
  3. You Are Not Alone—Encourage Each Other
    For all those fighting for equity in education, no matter where you are in the journey, remember you are not alone in your efforts. Encourage each other, and don’t give up.
  4. Share Your Knowledge
    Share this knowledge with those in your circles so that they can join your efforts toward educational equity for all students.

Equity in education empowers children, their teachers, and their communities to bring balance, justice, and fairness to their school system so that all students can reach their full academic and social potential.

Join our growing collective of parents and caregivers, 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.

STEAM Program Immerses Students In Hands-On Curriculum

Celebrate National Engineering Week!

This week is National Engineering Week, a call to recognize engineers for their contributions to society. redefinED atlanta recently sat down with one of our pandemic innovation fund partners Dr. Marsha Francis, executive director for STE(A)M Truck, a program dedicated to immersing students grades 3-8 in hands-on STE(A)M content through high-tech and low-tech tools, unleashing their creativity to ensure that they can design the lives and future communities of their dreams. 

Dr. Marsha Francis describes STE(A)M Truck as “an amazing mobile maker space and innovation lab on wheels.” Through their programs, 3rd-8th-grade students can roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. STE(A)M Truck carries high-tech and low-tech tools into the classroom…from 3D printers, drones, virtual reality, and coding to drills, hammers, saws and glue guns.

That creative focus sparks understanding and interest in students who might need access to more intensive STEM programs in their neighborhood or district that engage them in ways that traditional classroom learning does not. It’s an intervention that can change the trajectory of their education and future careers–exactly the type of innovation and opportunity that redefinED atlanta strives to make possible to all K-12 students

As a former elementary teacher and district administrator, Francis believes the rigid “sit and get” style of teaching doesn’t stick, and more to the point it doesn’t allow students to develop the imaginative, creative, collaborative skills that corporations whose bread and butter is innovation are looking for.

Francis earned her Ph.D. at the University of Georgia, studying equity in science education, especially for elementary school students. When shewas teaching, one of her principals told her, “the kids we taught only needed to learn to read and count, and I knew that wasn’t actually true,” said Francis.

At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, redefinED atlanta provided funding that allowed STE(A)M Truck to convert its very hands-on approach to something that could translate into remote learning.

“The funding helped us breathe a little bit, spend some time thinking about what does this mean to provide virtual components and get materials out to kids and families and engage them multiple times to create a similar build,” said Francis. She added that while they couldn’t send everyone saws, hammers and 3D printers, they could find coding and art projects and other ways to get students to make things from home. 

That necessity led to a partnership with Clayton County Schools, which is still thriving. Francis said that at first, they partnered with schools providing instruction virtually. Their programming staff led class builds through Zoom and eased the burden on teachers, who were trying to navigate the shift to remote classrooms. But as students returned to school buildings, they pivoted to providing professional development and support for teachers to lead projects with their students with coaching from STE(A)M Truck’s Teacher Engagement team.  

Francis said that the teachers, who are frequently as weighed down with regimentation as their students, seemed to get just as much joy out of the opportunity to be creative in the classroom. “It’s not a worksheet, it’s not a lecture, it’s not a video, it’s a thinking, a doing, a talking, percolating, and that’s really really rich,” said Francis.

“That early support and that vote of confidence and that seed money from redefineED atlanta really helped us stretch and continue to be relevant and provide this just-in-time service to kids who were home but really deserved an opportunity to learn like this,” said Francis.

Francis said the pandemic highlighted the need to be innovative and nimble, but the need remains after schools re-opened. Changing technology means that the relatively slow pace of curriculum development and education policy changes may need to catch up with the demands of the job market.

Enter companies like SNIPES and Nike, that are willing to put their money where their sneakers are to develop the imaginative design skills they are looking for. 

Francis said she got a call from SNIPES in September for a program that launched in October. “They wanted us to create an eight-week program for high schoolers to think about universal design, sneaker design and creating innovative sneakers for differently abled people,” said Francis. 

“They said, high schoolers are really smart. We want to see what they would dream up if we gave them all these resources. And that’s STE(A)M Truck in a nutshell,” laughed Francis.

“I’m a person that when I get a blessing, it won’t be squandered,” Francis added.

Students were divided into teams and given roles equivalent to real-world project management jobs. They did everything from considering who their target audience was for a design, to sawing a sneaker in half to see how it was made and making multiple prototypes of inclusive footwear.

Students in the program responded with exactly the innovation the sponsors hoped for. One student designed a sneaker that would alert a deaf and blind wearer to a nearby object through electronic pressure sensors near the toe of the shoe.

“I’m optimistic about all that we have on our horizon. I love the commitment that our corporate partners are making to students. And we’re just excited to continue this work,” said Francis.

STEAM programs are important in exposing students in under-resourced communities to unique opportunities that enrich their education journey. redefinED atlanta will continue supporting STE(A)M Truck in its vision to ensure K-12 youth throughout Atlanta have equitable access to relevant, transformative and inspiring learning experiences that open doors for future life opportunities. To learn more about STE(A)M Truck and its programs, visit