Fuel Your Day! All APS students, families take full advantage of free meal program

As a school district educating students from mostly lower-income families, Atlanta Public Schools faces numerous challenges in ensuring children are ready for school each day, especially those who come to school hungry.

We’ve seen the research: Children whose nutritional needs are met throughout the day have fewer attendance and disciplinary problems and are more attentive in class.  According to the School Nutrition Association, a healthy meal in the morning boosts students’ academic performance, grades and test scores; increases concentration, alertness, comprehension and memory; and improves classroom behavior. 

We also know that more than half a million Georgia children suffer from what has become known as “food insecurity,” according to a 2018 bulletin by the advocacy group Voices for Georgia’s Children. In 2017, about one in five children in Georgia had limited or uncertain access to adequate food, according to the Feeding America. That’s slightly higher than the national rate.

So I could not be more excited when APS qualified this year for a national program that enabled us to provide free meals to ALL students! Through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), 77 of our schools now provide breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge with no meal applications!

Our Department of Nutrition has also implemented the Access to Breakfast for every Child (ABC) initiative that ensures that all elementary and middle school students are offered breakfast throughout the first hour of the school day.

For a district that serves more than 155,000 meals each and every week, that equates to feeding an additional 2,100 to 2,700 students every day!

As part of the stipulations of the program, APS is required to maintain certain participation levels to continue the program. While many students take advantage of the free breakfast and lunch meals at schools, overall student participation in breakfast and lunch needs to increase from the current districtwide percentage of 65% to 79%.

Getting to 79% participation districtwide will ensure the continued CEP designation for APS.

That’s why the district has launched a “Fuel Your Day” awareness campaign to get more students eating breakfast and lunch at school. In addition to educating our families about the need for good nutrition every day, we want to provide them with more options to just eating in the cafeteria. Our schools are trying out Grab & Go Carts, where students receive meals from carts located in the entrance hall or in each hallway and eat the meal on the way to class or in class. Our Breakfast in the Classroom program allows students to eat in other designated dining areas in school or even in classrooms with their teachers.

So Fuel Your Day … and this program … by having breakfast and lunch at school!

Breakfast Statistics:

According to the School Nutrition Association, current research demonstrates that school breakfast consumption has many positive proven benefits:

  • Boosts students’ academic performance, grades and test scores
  • Increases concentration, alertness, comprehension and memory
  • Improves classroom behavior
  • Reduces absenteeism and tardiness

School breakfast participation is also linked to:

  • A lower body mass index (BMI)
  • Lower probability of being overweight or obese
  • Improved diet quality Federal nutrition standards ensure school breakfast offers nutritious choices including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low fat milk while meeting limits on calories, unhealthy fat and sodium.



APS Rocks + Runs 5K returns to Historic West End

District announces second annual edition of district fundraiser for Saturday, May 2, at Brown Middle School to kick off National Teacher Appreciation Week

Atlanta Public Schools will be off to the races again in May as it will sponsor its own 5K and fun run event for a second year!

With the success of APS Rocks and Runs last spring – more than 900 runners took to the streets of Historic West End for that inaugural race – the district today announces that it will hold the second annual edition of the 5K on Saturday, May 2, at Brown Middle School, 765 Peeples Street SW.

The event celebrates our schools and especially our teachers as a fundraiser event to kickoff National Teacher Appreciation Week. All proceeds will go towards APS teachers.

The race will feature a fun run for ages 4-11 yrs., special pricing for students, vendors and giveaways! Registration for both the 5K and fun run will include a race bib, commemorative T-shirt and finishers medal. Teachers and Instructional Paraprofessionals run for FREE. The race will begin at 8:30 a.m. The event hashtag is: #APSrocks5K

The race also serves as the final leg of the John Lewis Freedom Runners effort to raise $55,555 as part of the “Five 5Ks in Five Months in Congressional District 5” in honor of Congressman John Lewis to support those who are battling pancreatic cancer. I wrote about that effort here.

Get more details and sign up today at: https://www.atlantapublicschools.us/APSRocksAndRuns

So get your jogging and walking teams together now and start training. APS participants are encouraged to wear school spirit gear, district apparel or the APS Rocks and Runs 5K T-shirt! The district also recently launched the official APS apparel store, so get decked out for the race! All proceeds go to APS!

Every race begins with a few steps. Here are a few tips to help you transition from the couch to knocking out your first 5K!

MLK Day 2020: Finding Greatness in Service

Just a few days ago I recognized what would have been the 91st birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. if he had not been assassinated on April 4, 1968.

While sadly he is gone, he will live forever in the hearts and minds of those who believe in social justice because of his actions and writings. With inspiration from Dr. King, I’ve written about hope and shared his vision of the Beloved Community. I’ve revisited the Dream. I’ve reflected upon a life too short as we commemorated the 50th anniversary of his death.

The words and lessons from Dr. King are invariably and reliably universal. They are profound. They always quoted.

Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve… You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day 2020, we will be recognizing the 25th MLK Day of Service. Soon after the day became a federal holiday back in the 1980s, many observers noted that not working on this day would not be a true celebration of the man and his endeavors. They quickly rectified that by calling for the day to be one for service as much as it was for celebration. Thus, the motto for MLK Day has become: “Make it a day on, not a day off.”

And has been evidenced across Atlanta Public Schools, we are a community that has an abundance of love and grace. So at the advent of this 25th MLK Day of Service, let’s celebrate the day with service.

Thanks to our partnership with Hands on Atlanta, we have several opportunities to participate in projects at our schools. On Saturday, the Hands on Atlanta Discovery program visited Harper-Archer, Scott and Usher-Collier Heights elementary schools to provide tutoring and enrichment. The program reinforces weekday learning through academic assistance, educational games, field trips, service-learning projects, and other enrichment activities. There are opportunities throughout the year to volunteer with this effort. 

Today, volunteers with Learning in Color will transform elementary classrooms at Harper Archer into color-rich and inspiring learning environments. Other volunteers will work on beautification projects at Scott, including landscaping, school garden cultivation and interior painting.

Go to www.handsonatlanta.org and learningincolor.org  to learn more.

But this dedication to service cannot end on Monday, January 20. It must continue throughout the year.

Within our own schools, we have students who need to be better served by our district and supported by our community. They are unable to keep up because their families are struggling without resources, facing intergenerational poverty and needing quality educational services from birth to high school graduation to college.

We have a lot of work ahead, but I believe we have the right people with the right attitudes and the right plans to give every child in Atlanta a fighting chance at a choice-filled life. While it starts with heart and soul and love and grace, it can be best achieved through service!


He Marched for Us, so We Run for Him!

In support for Congressman John Lewis’ battle against pancreatic cancer, “Five 5Ks in Five Months in Congressional District 5” starts Monday with MLK Drum Run in Piedmont Park.

As we neared the end of 2019, we learned sad news: Congressman John Lewis had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He would spend the new year undergoing treatment for one of the most invasive types of the disease. A man who valiantly fought for most of his life in some of the toughest fights in history for freedom, equality and basic human rights would be literally fighting for his own life in 2020.

As we started the new year, I made a pledge that I would be among those fighting for John Lewis. About two years ago, the APS running club rebranded itself as the John Lewis Freedom Runners in his honor. Over the past couple of weeks, we have come up with plans to do more. Because he marched for us, we would run for him!

A bit of background: An APS running club first began five years ago as we worked our way up to run the East Atlanta Village RunFest. Since then, we have run dozens of races across the district! We hit a running milestone on March 24, 2018, when the newly rebranded John Lewis Freedom Runners completed the inaugural run of the 51-mile Selma to Montgomery Relay Race in a time of 10 hours and 22 minutes.

At that time, we were inspired by John Lewis and the events of Bloody Sunday as we “ran” tribute to the brave marchers who walked that course 54 years earlier for civil rights. We took the tribute to Lewis and fitness to another level when we finally introduced our own run. Staying true to the theme of the 2018 State of the District, we called our race – APS Rocks and Runs.

Leading up to the race this year, we wanted to pay further tribute to the man who has done so much for all of us. We decided we would run a 5K for every month leading up to the next APS Rocks and Runs and, thus, “Five 5Ks in 5 Months in Congressional District 5” was created!

Here’s our race schedule:

January 20 – MLK Drum Run, Piedmont Park, Atlanta, GA
February 1 – Hearts & Soles 5K, Decatur, GA
March 14 – 2020 Shamrock ‘N Roll Road Race, Junior League of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA
April 18 – South Atlanta High School 5K, Atlanta, GA
May 2 – APS Rocks and Runs, Atlanta, GA

Alternate Races:
April 25 – The Sun Run/Walk, College Park, GA
June 13 – Purple Stride, Washington, D.C.

But you don’t have to run to support John Lewis.

Please visit http://gf.me/u/xcdbhj and donate to our campaign to support our beloved American hero and others to help raise awareness and end pancreatic cancer. We encourage you to donate in any increment of 5 that you are able (i.e. $5, $15, $25…$55…$155…$555…$5,555, etc.)! Our goal is $55,555!

All proceeds from your generous gift will go toward well-deserving nonprofits: the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s research and programs, the John Lewis Invictus Academy in Atlanta, and the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University.

You can also purchase a commemorative t-shirt to show your love and appreciation for John Lewis! Order here: https://apparelnow.com/john-lewis-freedom-runners-apparel

Join the runs or join the fight! Do your part so John Lewis and others can outrun cancer.

#goodtrouble #OutpacePancreaticCancer #WageHope #Five5KsIn5monthsInDistrict5

Saying Goodbye to Our Friend and Colleague, Alvah Hardy

It breaks my heart to share that our beloved friend and colleague, Alvah Hardy, passed away Friday, January 10, 2020. Alvah has been a pillar in the APS family for close to a decade, serving as our Executive Director of Facilities Services since joining APS in November 2010.

From 2010 to now, Alvah has had an impact on the lives of so many of us in his role in Facilities, making the sad news of his passing reverberate across the halls of every school and office building in our district.

In addition to working closely with staff in every school or building in APS, Alvah’s work kept him in close contact with people and organizations throughout the community. It was not uncommon for Alvah to be engaging with elected officials, neighborhood associations, community groups and everyday citizens who had questions about our schools and facilities. No question would go unanswered.

For those of you who may not have known him, Alvah spearheaded our most beautiful and recent renovations and construction through the SPLOST work in the district. I’m sure you’ve seen the new Walden Field, or the renovation of Howard and the new construction of Tuskegee Airman Global Academy, which just opened this school year.

He was also behind the renovations at Hollis and Gideons. Those projects were all led by Alvah, beginning as ideas on paper and evolving into gorgeous facilities that serve our students and staff. His hands helped guide those structures through to completion.

You can rest assured that everything Alvah touched, he touched with great care and attention to detail, from the repair of wobbly steps, wonky fences, and rickety handrails, to the large-scale school renovations and new construction. No project was too small or unimportant to him.

Alvah helped give APS the lift we needed as part of our transformational work in our schools and facilities.

From left – APS Chief Operations Officer, Larry Hoskins; and Executive Director of Facilities Services, Alvah Hardy, in front of Henry Grady High School

And, most recently, he played a major role in our facilities master plan process. This is our comprehensive five to 10-year look at population growth and school enrollment projections to help guide our decision making and spending around the need to expand existing schools or build new ones.

We are currently in the community engagement process of the facilities master plan of which Alvah was a key part.

I know that for many of us, Alvah was not just a colleague, but he truly was a member of our family. That makes his passing even more difficult to process.

We will never forget his determination, grit and his passion and commitment to APS. At the end of the day, everything he did was done with fidelity and grace. For that, we are all eternally grateful.

To Alvah’s beloved family, I offer my deepest condolences during this difficult time and I’m sorry for your loss. To Alvah’s APS family, especially our operations, schools and facilities teams who worked the closest with him and his direct reports Jere Smith, Director of Capital Improvements; Robert Palmer, Director of Maintenance and Operations; Herb Joseph, Director of Administration Management; and Tanya Cooper, Administrative Assistant; I offer my sincere condolences and my shoulder to lean on. We stand with you during this difficult time, and we will get through this together. Much love to all of you, and please take care of each other and your families.

Alvah, you will truly be missed, but we will hold on to the great memories in APS and we’ll never forget how you touched our buildings and our lives.

An APS Commitment to Help Human Traffick-Proof Atlanta and Georgia in 2020

As we move into 2020 – a new decade – it amazes me that we are 20 years into the new millennium and experiencing advances in technology and innovations involving the Internet, social media and smartphones that truly connect the world. And yet, we still see intense cruelty and degradation in society, such as child abuse and human trafficking.

The numbers are nothing less than shocking.

Research studies show that 25 percent of females and l6 percent of males experience sexual abuse as children, and an estimated 325,000 children are at risk for becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation each year.

Statistics show that traffickers are targeting minors more often and the entry age is getting younger. And, while we often think of sex trafficking happening to young girls, it’s happening to young boys as well.

Most startlingly to Atlanta is the fact that as home to the largest international airport in the country and host to multiple large sporting and entertainment events, Atlanta is a magnet – not just for tourism – but for human traffickers as well. These events often create opportunities for traffickers of commercial sex and human exploitation to take advantage of our vulnerable children and teens. The proximity of our school communities to these activities can put our students at greater risk of exploitation.

More numbers related to Atlanta:

  • Atlanta has been identified as one of the cities with the highest incidences of child sex trafficking (FBI, 2005; Urban Institute, 2014)
  • Between 200 – 400 adolescent girls are sold online per month (The Schapiro Group, 2010)
  • Approximately 65% of men who purchase sex with female children in Atlanta live in suburban areas outside the I-285 perimeter (The Schapiro Group, 2010)
  • Traffickers in Atlanta make an average of $33,000 per week (Urban Institute, 2014)
  • 7,200 men purchase sex from a minor every month in Georgia accounting for 8,700 sex acts (The Schapiro Group, 2010)
  • 91% of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking victims in Georgia were enrolled in school at the time of their exploitation (Georgia Cares, 2016)
Daryl Rice, our Coordinator of Health and Physical Education, who has led APS work in this area.

That’s why we recognize today, Jan. 10, as Human Trafficking Awareness Day, to raise more awareness across our District about the seriousness of this issue. But it goes throughout the month of January as part of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Our middle and high school counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses and health teachers are hosting sessions across the District to raise the issue, cover risks, and alert students to the potential indicators of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.

Our students are also taking an active role in stopping human trafficking by designing Public Service Announcement posters using the hashtag #stophumantraffickingAPS. We are also showing solidarity against trafficking by wearing blue and supporting the Blue Campaign, which was launched in 2010 by the Department of Homeland Security, as a unified initiative to raise public awareness about human trafficking, combat human trafficking, and help protect victims.

Standing with Deborah Richardson of the International Human Trafficking Institute

As a part of our professional development offerings, we have online courses for staff. All of our counselors, social workers, psychologists and nurses have received training on sexual abuse and exploitation. The executive director of the Atlanta-based International Human Trafficking Institute, Deborah Richardson, spoke to our central office staff during a lunch session today and has trained all of our health teachers, school police officers and bus drivers. For 2020, we are working in closer partnership with Richardson and the Institute to further educate our students, teachers, staff and community.

At the state level, I am proud to serve as a member of the GRACE Commission, created to combat the threat of human trafficking in Georgia. First Lady Marty Kemp launched GRACE (which stands for Georgians for Refuge, Action, Compassion and Education) last year after learning that the FBI had named Atlanta as one of the Top 14 cities with abnormally high rates of human trafficking. The commission meets on Monday, Jan. 13, at the State Capitol building. We will hear from representatives from Gigi’s House, the House of Hope Refuge of Love and Wellspring Living. We also expect to be making some important announcements about the work in advance of the next state legislative session.

So as we move into a new decade, let’s all do our part to eradicate this modern form of slavery. Let’s make a commitment as a school district and as a city to traffick-proof Atlanta for the 2020s. Educate yourself and become aware. Learn more at https://www.ihtinstitute.org/.

Signs Student May Be Trafficked

  • Unexplained school absences
  • Abrupt change in attire, behavior, or relationships
  • The presence of an older “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”
  • Travel with an older male who is not a guardian
  • Sudden presence of expensive material possessions
  • Chronic running away
  • Homelessness
  • Signs of psychological coercion, such as depression, anxiety, and/or an overly submissive attitude
  • Lack of control over his/her schedule, money, and/or proof of identification
  • Signs of physical trauma, including bruises, cuts, burns, and/or scars
  • Tattoos or other branding marks
  • Poor health, as evidenced by sexually transmitted diseases, malnutrition, and/or serious dental problems
  • Substance abuse or addictions, or selling drugs
  • Coached/rehearsed responses to questions
  • Uncharacteristically promiscuous behavior and/or references to sexual situations or terminology that are beyond age-specific norms

Proud of the Latest Class of APS Posse Scholars!

[UPDATE: January 13, 2019: And then there were eight! Two more APS students have been added to the latest class of Posse Scholars. Congratulations to Payton Gunner (Brandeis University) and Connor Mason (College of Wooster), both from Drew Charter!]

It’s great when we can start a new year – and a new decade – with an announcement that illustrates a wonderful example of preparing our students for college and career. I am so proud of our eight seniors who were awarded four-year, full-tuition leadership scholarships by the Posse Foundation.

The Posse Foundation is a college access and youth leadership development program that identifies, recruits and selects leaders from public high schools. These student leaders are then placed in supportive multicultural teams called “Posses” to attend partnering colleges and universities.

I cannot say enough great things about this program, but here are a few:

  • Posse Scholars graduate from college at a rate of 90 percent.
  • Since 1989, Posse’s partner colleges have awarded $1.4 billion in scholarships to Scholars. The Atlanta branch, established in 2007 with a grant from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, has awarded nearly $100 million of that.
  • The Posse network of scholars and alumni stands at 9,200 strong, so that’s a lot of support!

This year, 60 students from Metro Atlanta will be awarded $12 million in full-tuition scholarships to six institutions of higher education – Bard College, Boston University, Brandeis University, The College of Wooster, George Washington University and Texas A&M University. Posse Atlanta celebrated these students during a special program last night at the Fox Theatre’s Egyptian Ballroom.

The 2020 APS Posse Foundation Scholars are:

NameHigh School NamePosse Finalist University
Shania BarkerNorth Atlanta High SchoolBard College
Jelani SpainMaynard H. Jackson High SchoolTexas A&M University
Gabriela OliverosNorth Atlanta High SchoolGeorge Washington University
Payton GunnerDrew CharterBrandeis University
Connor MasonDrew CharterCollege of Wooster
Hasina Chimeka-TisdaleNorth Atlanta High SchoolGeorge Washington University
Jack PalaianHenry W. Grady High SchoolGeorge Washington University
Maria Nino SuasteguiNorth Atlanta High SchoolBoston University

APS School Counseling Coordinator Maria Grovner coordinated the multi-step Posse Scholars nomination process with students, which includes educating them about the application process and encouraging them to apply, maintaining the required GPA and coaching them on their scholarship interviews. Thank you so much!

Congratulations to these students and families who are living the APS mission!

Posse Scholars for Atlanta Public Schools this year include (from left) Shania Baker, Jack Palaian, Jelani Spain, Hasina Chimeka-Tisdale, Gabriela Oliveros and Maria Nino Suastegui.