This slideshow provides just a glimpse at some of the amazing things that happened at Atlanta Public Schools in November. Click through to see the highlights from your school. A new slideshow will be posted at the end of each month, so be sure to subscribe to APS Today and look for your scholar or your school!
I am APS is a special series highlighting students, faculty, alumni, and others in celebration of the rich and diverse experiences, backgrounds and contributions within the Atlanta Public Schools family. Together, we stand in solidarity of our shared admiration of APS and the mission which guides us. #IamAPS
Many of the great opportunities available to APS students come through valued partnerships that provide new and enriching experiences. Making those partnerships work requires a lot of work and collaboration, but it helps when you have an inside woman like Verizon’s director of government affairs and community engagement, Michelle Arrington.
Michelle is a proud product of APS, who graduated from Frederick Douglass High School with the class of 1995. She comes from a family of APS graduates, and her mother worked for the school district for many years. In her role with Verizon, she has been a part of bringing the only four Verizon Innovative Learning Labs in the state of Georgia to APS.
After the unveiling at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, she shared with us why she’s proud to be an alumni and a partner with APS.
Q: How does it feel to be able to work with APS as an alumni?
A: It’s amazing to be able to have a job where you can also give back to the very same school system that you grew up in. My family were all Atlanta Public Schools graduates from various schools throughout the district. I believe in public school education, and I’m glad that Verizon is investing in these labs across the country for public schools and partnering with them to give students opportunities for digital inclusion.
Q: How did your experience through APS set you on your path?
A: At Frederick Douglass High School, I definitely learned leadership skills. I was the editor of the school newspaper. I was president of the senior class. I was the assistant business manager of the entire student government association. I was president of the communications club, so I did the announcements every morning. It really taught me leadership, the importance of leadership, working with others, and building those core skills I needed and prepared me for college. I definitely felt prepared when I went to Howard University, and leaned on the skills that I learned at Douglass.
Q: What makes you proud to be an APS alumni?
A: I think APS is the best school system in the country. What you learn from the Atlanta Public Schools system, and public school systems in general, is that you get to interact and work with everybody, kids from other walks of life. It makes you a more well-rounded person, and you develop core friendships. My closest friends are people I went to high school with, and we still see each other and get together on a regular basis.
Operation Hope, in partnership with APS and the City of Atlanta, gave the first and second graders at Parkside Elementary an opportunity to start building their financial futures with the first Bank Deposit Day.
Operation Hope’s Child Savings Account (CSA) program allowed kindergarten students to receive $50 to start a savings account. Bank Day represents the next step where first and second graders can have an actual banking experience and deposit money into their accounts.
“It plants a seed for their future,” Operation Hope director of CSA program administration Ruth Wilcox said. “We really challenge our parents and our families to take the next step, which is activating the account, which then activates that seed for them. Then they can begin to make deposits in their account and begin to invest in their future.”
Students visited the school media center to register with the CSA program and activate their accounts before visiting the deposit station and completing their first personal banking experience on campus.
“This activity helps a lot because it puts what they’ve been talking about into action,” Parkside Elementary School principal Timmy Foster said. “Most kids have seen their parents go to the bank, but don’t really understand what that is all about. Now, having their own accounts and being able to deposit their own money really solidifies that understanding of how money works and how saving works.”
The partnership between Parkside Elementary and Operation Hope began two years ago, and the school’s parent liaison, Vernita Jackson, made sure families were able to take advantage of the opportunity. Out of 150 students, 75 signed up last year to start an account and receive the initial $50 in their CSA.
“This was the first bank deposit day in Atlanta Public Schools for first and second graders,” Jackson said. “It gives them an opportunity to know what financial stability is about and saving for themselves.”
Bank Day at Parkside Elementary gave the students a head start on their financial futures and provided an early lesson in financial literacy.
“The major reason Bank Day is important is for financial literacy to begin at an early age,” Foster said. “Having them involved in this type of activity early sets that mindset of, ‘I need to begin saving for my future now, and not wait until a later date.’”
The APS class of 2023 was a special class that made district history by achieving the highest graduation rate and surpassing the state average.
APS achieved its all-time high graduation rate (86.6 percent) and exceeded the state graduation rate of 84.4 percent by 2.2 percentage points, according to graduation data released today by the Georgia Department of Education.
“I am incredibly proud of the graduating Class of 2023,” APS Interim Superintendent Dr. Danielle Battle said. “We are simply elated to celebrate another historic accomplishment! Our students and staff have worked extremely hard to increase our graduation rate and for our results to surpass the state average is truly a testament to the tremendous efforts of everyone in Atlanta Public Schools. We plan to continue building on this momentum by amplifying the work we’re currently doing.”
Mays High School was one of the schools that made great strides in improving their graduation rate (89.9%) with a 5.7 percentage-point gain compared to 2022.
“A principal couldn’t ask for much more,” Mays High School principal Ramon Garner said. “That says to me that there are some really great systems and structures in place, and my job is to continue that work and take it to the next level.”
The staff at Mays High School implemented multiple strategies to help achieve the 89.9% graduation rate, but one of the more impactful strategies was making sure each student met with a counselor to help them stay on course for graduation.
“Of course, our goal is for 100% of our scholars to graduate,” Mays senior academy assistant principal Valerie Reed Taylor said. “But my primary role is working with Ms. (Tonya) McKenzie, the counseling team, the graduation coaches, and the college advisors to make sure that our students have everything in place that they need to be successful this year, as well as developing individualized post-graduation plans for all of our scholars.”
Mays also implemented repeater courses into schedules for students to retake courses in a classroom in the spring semester that they may have failed in the fall. They also made sure EOC courses were scheduled in a timely manner and worked with the night school program as well to ensure students were able to recover the courses they needed.
“Our team, along with some of our other colleagues who are not here now, worked really hard to make sure our kids were successful,” Mays business manager and master scheduler Tonya McKenzie said.
The hard work paid off and inspired the next class of scholars in the halls of Mays High School. Jacob Jordan, a senior in the class of 2024 at Mays, said the 2023 graduation rate has motivated him to aim even higher.
“I want our class to be higher than the 89.9%,” he said. “I want us to be in the 90-91% range. That also helps me to motivate my classmates to do better.”
Jordan often visits with his school counselor, who helps him stay on top of his grades. He also makes use of the Mays High School College and Career Center for his school assignments and college application preparations.
“My counselor, she’s there for me,” Jordan said. “Anytime I need something, I know I can go in her office, sit down and talk to her about it. She’s always making sure I’m on track with my grades.”
The teachers, staff and students at Mays High School are continuing the work that helped them reach that 89.9% graduation rate and pushing for another increase with the class of 2024.
“I can already tell they are pushing to get over that 90%,” Dr. Battle said.
Atlanta Public Schools, in partnership with Verizon and The Heart of America Foundation, is making sure APS students are prepared to use the tools of the future with the opening of two more Verizon Innovative Learning Labs at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (CSK) and Price Middle School.
“We’re very excited to be here in partnership with APS. One of our corporate social responsibility initiatives is to bridge the digital divide, so we focus on digital inclusion, and this is what this is doing today,” Verizon’s director of government affairs and community engagement Michelle Arrington said. “The Verizon Innovative Learning Labs are focused on giving access to young students in regard to science, tech, education, arts and mathematics. We’re really focused on building up the next generation of STEM leaders and letting them know what’s possible, what they can do and what they can create.”
The Verizon Innovative Learning Labs are equipped with 3D printers, virtual reality headsets and augmented reality. CSK sixth grader Giselle Walker was excited to use the new technology now at her fingertips.
“My first reaction was like, ‘Wow! OMG! How does technology do this?’ and I just really think it’s very cool,” Walker said. “I’m excited about VR because putting on a pair of glasses and seeing a whole new dimension, to me, is very cool. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s a life experience just with glasses on, and you can experience so many different moments from the one you’re in now.”
There are only four Verizon Innovative Learning Labs in the state of Georgia, and all of them are in APS schools. Earlier this year, two labs debuted at Long Middle School and Herman J. Russell West End Academy.
“The access to these tools for the students is invaluable in the sense of we’re here because we are a leadership academy, and we are preparing the leaders of the future,” CSK Verizon Innovative Learning Lab coach Edjohnier Phillips said. “I’m really looking forward to watching the students allow their creativity to bloom using these tools.”
After cutting the ribbon to officially open the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab, the students were able to use their new devices and demonstrated how to use the various digital tools.
“This is a stepping stone to new exposures and experiences that they need to embrace in order to be prepared for the next level of learning in technology,” CSK principal Eulonda Washington said. “The fact that our young ladies of color are underrepresented (in the tech industry) makes it that much more valuable to us because women of color make up 2-3% of the workforce for technology.”
“Being afforded this opportunity is truly a blessing, and it is setting a precedence for letting our girls know the sky is the limit and they have access to the tools to make sure the sky is the limit,” she added. “The students are truly grateful, and they embrace active learning.”
Atlanta Public Schools elementary students were the best fans in the stands at McCamish Pavilion for the Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball home opener against Coastal Carolina.
More than 3,000 APS elementary students cheered and waved their gold pom poms all game long to support the Lady Yellow Jackets, who have partnered with APS for at least eight years to promote independent, free-choice reading.
“This was a celebration of literacy,” APS director of library services Jennifer Saunders said. “We want our students to begin to recognize the power of reading and to celebrate them and have a fun time celebrating reading.”
APS students participated in the Georgia Tech Buzzer Readers Reading Challenge from September 5 through October 5. Students used Beanstack, a digital reading log application, to track their progress. After the competition ended, Georgia Tech invited APS students to the first home game of the season to root for the Yellow Jackets and celebrate the top young readers across the district.
At halftime, Georgia Tech invited the top reader from each grade level and the top overall reader onto the court and awarded them with a reading certificate. Georgia Tech also recognized the top classroom for each grade level.
After the awards were given out, they invited a large group of students, interim superintendent Dr. Danielle Battle, and a few teachers for a game of Simon Sez with halftime entertainer Steve Max.
“The students were absolutely excited when they first arrived at the stadium,” Saunders said. “Every time Georgia Tech scored a basket, there was a roar of cheers from the crowd. The kids absolutely loved the experience.”
This year, Georgia Tech partnered exclusively with APS for the Buzzer Readers Reading Challenge. Unlike other reading challenges, Buzzer Readers isn’t about who can read the best or the fastest. It simply rewards students for taking time to read on their own.
“We want our students to begin to recognize the power of reading and to celebrate them and have a fun time celebrating reading,” Saunders said. “The idea is that our kids are building healthy reading habits. Just like we celebrate our athletes and our musicians, we also celebrate our readers because that is just as important. We are showing them that reading is important in their lives and we acknowledge that.”
The students had a great time at the game and got the full Division I basketball game experience, complete with the pep band, cheerleaders, and dance team keeping the energy going throughout the game.
“For a lot of our students, spending time on a college campus is not something that happens in their lives regularly or at all,” Saunders said. “The fact that they were able to go to downtown Atlanta and know that this university is there and it’s available and acceptable to them is exciting. We’re sowing seeds for the future in our youngest students.”
Atlanta Public Schools school psychologists work with students, educators, and families to support the academic achievement, positive behavior, and mental wellness of all students, especially those who struggle with barriers to learning.
Every year, in recognition of National School Psychologist Week, APS’ Psychological Services department presents the School Psychologist of the Year award. Last year, the award went to lead school psychologist Jaceta Fevrier.
As she prepared to pass the torch to this year’s Psychologist of the Year winner Mia Hunt, Fevrier shared her insights into the vital role school psychologists play in APS schools.
Q: What do school psychologists provide for students?
A: We offer a variety of services to support students in their learning and development. We offer behavioral consultations to teachers and families. We offer counseling and behavior support to students. We also offer consultations when it comes to academics. But our main role in the district would be to conduct evaluations for special education services. If a student is struggling academically or behaviorally, we are trained to use specific tools to identify what those struggles are and see if those students would meet the criteria for special education services. More specifically, students who may be on the autism spectrum disorder can get evaluated by us and receive services. Students who may have ADHD or learning disabilities like dyslexia could potentially get services. We are one of the main team members who conduct these evaluations, and we also give recommendations for the plans to help the students excel in their education.
Q: How does access to a school psychologist impact a student’s experience?
A: School is a place where kids come to learn. If there are learning problems, that can make school a very difficult place to be for six hours a day. Having a team of people that can work with students to identify what those issues are, help resolve them so that school can be more enjoyable, and remove the barriers to their learning helps a lot.
On the mental health side, one of the reasons I became a school psychologist is because kids have to go to school. That’s almost immediate access. I don’t have to worry about insurance companies having to pay or access. I can go and pick them up from their classroom. Thankfully, as a school psychologist, I’m not the only member of a team that supports a student’s mental health. We have school social workers. We have school counselors. We have other support team members who work with behaviors more specifically. But as a team, we have the privilege to work with students where they are for the majority of their day in school.
Q: What was a memorable moment you’ve had in APS?
A: Last year, I was working with a student at Brandon Elementary. I was doing his evaluation, and when I finished it was time for me to give his feedback session. I drew a little picture of a brain, and gave little diagrams about the things that he’s good at and I told him the things that he would need help with. I gave him a pop quiz and said ‘OK. This is what you need to tell your teacher.’ I ended up talking to his mom later that day and she told me that he 100% remembered everything that I said to him. He was maybe like 8 or 9 and he was able to tell his mother his strengths, weaknesses, the things he needed help with, and how he can ask for help. He was really excited about that. The fact that I got the opportunity to empower such a young person who was having some troubles but not focused on the trouble. The focus was on his strengths, and he felt empowered that he could do something about it. That was one of the many rewarding experiences that I’ve had.
Q: What are some misconceptions about school psychologists?
A: A lot of times when people hear school psychologists, they immediately think of therapy and mental health support. And while we do those things, a lot of those things are done by our school social workers and counselors, which we would not be able to survive without them. Our major heavy lift is when we are looking at children with developmental learning and behavioral challenges. That’s where most of our time goes. It’s still a very important role, but it’s a little bit different. We still support the mental and behavioral health of our students, but so much of our job is identifying those students who may have challenges and working to remove those barriers so that they can be successful in their educational journeys.
Q: What has APS done to help manage the case load for school psychologists?
A: Some of the ways that we try to mitigate that are through things such as case load equalization. Being able to level the playing field a little bit so some of our more tapped out school psychologists can have some relief and also free them up to do other things that they may like to do such as support the mental and behavioral health of students. Another thing that we’ve been doing is working hard at recruitment. Currently, there’s 37 of us and we support almost 90 schools. Ideally, we’d like to have a ratio of 1:500. I think right now we’re at 1:1,500, which is down.
APS has done a really amazing job at supporting our recruitment efforts. When I first came here in 2018, I think we had maybe 25 school psychologists. So just within a few years, we’ve been able to add more to that. Again, because we work with teams of people being able to be consultants to most teams when it comes to supporting the emotional, mental and behavioral health of students, being able to work with social workers and counselors and teachers who are usually on the front lines, of course if we had more of us then we’d be able to provide more comprehensive services and really spend more time in these things, which is needed as well, but because we’re spread so thin, us identifying learning disabilities and other challenges that’s a requirement by law nobody else can do. We’re the only people that can do that. We have other members who can help with the other part, but we’ve been to national conferences to recruit. We have a lot of interns. We work with Georgia State to get interns to help fulfill our shortages, we have practicum students, and we try to be as visible in the community as possible because addressing the shortage is going to help a lot overall with the behavioral, mental and academic health of students. Especially those who are struggling with things that maybe a little beyond their control.
Atlanta Public Schools is all over the GHSA football state playoff brackets with a district record eight teams reaching the postseason.
North Atlanta (9-1), Therrell (9-1) and Mays (6-4) all finished second in their respective regions and earned the right to host their opening round playoff matchups.
North Atlanta continues to build on their historic program run. They not only posted their best regular season record, again, this year, but it will also be the first time the Warriors have ever finished second in the region and hosted a playoff game.
Therrell, South Atlanta (5-5), and Washington (3-7) all clinched a playoff spot from AA-Region 6.
The Douglass Astros (6-4) finished in third place in AAA-Region 5, which was two spots ahead of Carver (2-7).
Last, but not least, Jackson (5-5) finished in fourth place in AAAAA-Region 5, two spots behind Mays.
Here’s the schedule for this weekend’s APS playoff matchups:
Friday, Nov. 10
Mays vs. Loganville, 7:30 p.m. at Lakewood Stadium
North Atlanta vs. Houston County, 7:30 p.m at Henderson Stadium
Carver vs. Stephens County, 7:30 p.m at Stephens County HS
Douglass vs. Oconee County, 7:30 p.m at Oconee County HS
Maynard Jackson vs. Jefferson, 7:30 p.m at Jefferson HS
Saturday, Nov. 11
Therrell vs. Model, 1 p.m. at Lakewood Stadium
South Atlanta vs. North Murray, TBA at North Murray HS
Washington vs. Rockmart, TBA at Rockmart HS
For the full GHSA state football playoff brackets, click here.
The Atlanta Public Schools second annual Picture Book Bowl brought together students from kindergarten through third grade who were excited to showcase their reading skills.
Twenty-two APS schools participated in the virtual team competition over Zoom. Back in March, the Georgia Book Award Committee outlined 20 award-winning picture books for participants to read before the competition.
“This is a competition that celebrates the joy of reading and the love of reading that’s being developed in our youngest readers,” APS director of library media services Jennifer Saunders said. “The students are able to shine. They are able to show that they are readers, that they enjoy reading and are reading for the love of reading.”
Each participating school had a team of 10 students that went head-to-head against another school using an app called Buzz In Live.
The students were excited to answer the questions about the books they read and earn points for their team. They cheered when they got a question right and encouraged their classmates if they got a question wrong.
“The volunteers really liked the excitement from the students,” Saunders said. “They were also impressed by how the students encouraged each other. They said, ‘Way to go! You can do this! Keep going!’ So students were also learning sportsmanship, how to lose, how to win, and how to celebrate each other and encourage each other.”
“The volunteers were very impressed with the confidence that was displayed in the students,” she added. “This was a confidence-building activity as well as risk-taking. We think of the IB characteristics, and being a risk-taker is one of those. This gives students the opportunity to do something they may not otherwise have done before.”
By the end of the competition, it was Usher-Collier Elementary School that finished with a game-high 430 points to win the APS Picture Bowl. M. Agnes Jones Elementary School was a close second place with 420 points, and both Kimberly Elementary and Harper Archer Elementary School tied for third place with 330 points.
“This appeals to students who thrive in competition, and it motivates them and encourages them to want to do more and do better and to hone their reading skills,” Saunders said. “Oftentimes, our readers can be the more quiet students, and they don’t always get recognized. But this is an opportunity for them to really stand out and be among peers that have similar interests.”
High school basketball season tips off this week, and the APS boys and girls basketball teams are ready for another exciting season.
Before hitting the court, APS coaches and players introduced themselves and set their goals and expectations for the 2023-2024 season at the APS Basketball Media Day at Therrell High School.
“We want to give the young ladies and young men the opportunity to show what they predict about the season,” APS director of athletics Corrie Collier said. “We want our young people to represent themselves to the fullest. If they feel good about representing themselves, they’re going to represent their program, their school, and the district well. Anytime they can do well for themselves and their schools, we’re proud.”
Sylvester “Sly the Sports Guy” Williams and Joel Hillsman hosted an entertaining discussion with the teams to get a glimpse of what fans can expect to see this season.
Last season, 12 APS teams advanced to the Georgia High Schools Association state playoffs – seven boys and five girls squads. Some highlights were:
- Maynard Jackson girls finished with a record of 26-2, won the Class 5A-Region 5 championship, and advanced to the state semifinals.
- Midtown girls were 22-9, placed second to Maynard Jackson in the region, and advanced to the state quarterfinals.
- Frederick Douglass boys advanced to the state semifinals after finishing second in Class 3A-Region 5.
- Benjamin E. Mays boys finished 21-9, finished second in Class 5A-Region 5, and advanced to the state quarterfinals.
- South Atlanta boys went 23-9, won the Class 2A-Region 6 title, and advanced to the state quarterfinals.
The players are excited to get the season started, and some didn’t balk at calling out which teams they couldn’t wait to play this season. The South Atlanta Hornets boys basketball team was called out by a couple of teams eager to match up against them, and the Booker T. Washington Bulldogs girls’ team has an early season matchup with the Mays Raiders that they’re looking forward to.
It’s gearing up to be an exciting year for APS basketball.
“I’m looking forward to watching these young ladies and young men just get out here and showcase what they’ve worked hard for and reap the benefits of it,” Collier said. “We have an interim superintendent, Dr. Battle, who loves athletics. I know she and her team will be right there rooting all of them on the entire way.”