SPARK’s multi-talented 10-year-old, fifth grader and future herpetologist
Tucked away in the courtyard of M. Agnes Jones Elementary School (MAJ) is a quaint, student-run garden that has taken two years to cultivate and has finally made its formal debut through a special ribbon cutting ceremony.
MAJ principal, Robert Williams, spoke to a lively audience of proud faculty, parents, sponsors and students
, and shared how the garden beautification project reinforces the school’s commitment to promoting critical thinking and problem-based learning.
“We want our scholars to not only embrace the community, but we want them to be thinking about finding solutions,” Williams said. “We want [learning] to be applicable to their lives, and this space has enabled them to do that.”
While the garden has been operational for nine years, the COVID-19 pandemic contributed greatly to its deterioration. However, hard work, dedication and community partnerships revitalized the project and STEAM educators, Lisa Colbert and Mikaela Zimmerman, spearhead its curriculum.
“It is a living classroom where we connect what we’re doing socially and emotionally. What we’re doing [surrounding] community. What we’re doing [surrounding] curriculum. And it comes together in just this unique, beautiful way that the students find their passion for what’s next and for what’s to come,” Zimmerman said.
The MAJ Garden successfully produces a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as houses pollinator-friendly plants, a composting station, a chicken coup, and a turtle habitat.
Fifth grader A’Journi Walker said the chickens were her favorite part of the garden experience and that she’s learned a lot.
“This garden has helped me learn how nature can develop and change over a timespan of as little as two years,” Walker said. “It is a great space for people to learn and grow and is a community for chickens, plants, kids and adults.”
Additionally, the garden sits amid a vibrant, eye-catching mural that encompasses inspirational words and phrases depicting the school’s academic distinction as a science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) certified school.
In fact, MAJ is certified as a Georgia Department of Education (GADOE) STEM school, a GADOE STEAM school and a COGNIA STEM school— the only school in the state of Georgia holding all three certifications.
This distinction was earned, in part, with the support of the Georgia-Pacific Foundation, who adopted the school over two decades ago to further their mission of supporting programs designed to promote education, environment, community enrichment, and entrepreneurship.
“Georgia-Pacific set out over 27 years ago to make a difference, to create value, and to add value to what was [existing at MAJ].” Georgia-Pacific Foundation senior director of community affairs Beverly Ferguson said.
With Georgia-Pacific’s support and the hard work of the faculty throughout the years, the IOWA test scores at MAJ have improved and their focus as a STEAM institution has expanded their academic offerings, with the garden being another added value and learning experience for the students.
Local non-profit Learning in Color designed the garden’s unique murals using color theory and custom art, with the assistance of resources supplied by Northside Tool Rental and volunteers coordinated by Georgia Power.
Morehouse College also signed on to assist with the garden beautification project as well as other organizations including Truly Living Well, West End Neighborhood Development, Rotary Club of Atlanta West End, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated and Spelman College’s Bonner Scholarship Program.
With the MAJ garden running at full capacity, future plans to expand its offerings are in development.
“We have a project coming up where we will be installing a greenhouse outdoors in this space to be able to further our outdoor learning and efforts in sustainability,” Colbert said. Krista Verdelotti, MAJ parent and GO Team member, also revealed that a partnership with Trees Atlanta to plant 50 trees was also in the works.
The students at Crawford W. Long Middle School and H.J. Russell West End Academy will be the first in the state of Georgia to have access to the Verizon Innovative Learning Labs, which opened on their respective campuses last Thursday.
Verizon and The Heart of America Foundation partnered with Atlanta Public Schools to help foster digital inclusion through a transformative education initiative called Verizon Innovative Learning.
“Technology and connectivity are incredible enablers for learning, and at Verizon we are committed to digital inclusion and ensuring that students have access to emerging technology and powerful learning opportunities in the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab,” Verizon’s director of community engagement and government affairs said. “This will be an exciting learning experience that will help ignite interest in STEM and an opportunity for everyone to become lifelong learners, creators and problem solvers. We expect this lab will offer opportunities for educators to leverage and integrate emerging technology in the classroom.
What used to be a standard classroom with rows of desks and limited equipment has been completely redesigned and repurposed to introduce the students to a variety of emerging technologies.
“This was about a year and a half transformation process, and this gives our scholars the opportunity to have hands-on engagement lessons and engage with technologies that are beyond the scope of the regular classroom,” Long middle school principal Carla McCall-McCou said.
The students now have access to Ultimates 3D printers, virtual reality (VR) headsets, augmented reality (AR), Spike prime robotics, Sphero RVR dynamic robotic rovers and more in the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab.
“The purpose of this lab is to offer our students real experience with the different resources and technologies that are available,” Long middle school Verizon Innovative Learning instructor Taquoya Portee said. “The new skills, in the STEM world, will allow them to go into different fields and be better equipped and exposed to different areas.”
Evan Flanigan, an eighth-grade student at Long middle school, had little interest in STEM learning until he walked into the Verizon Innovative Learning Lab at his school for the first time. When the class VR headsets put him face-to-face with a great white shark, the initial shock turned into a fun, immersive learning experience.
“Now, when I come to school and I have STEM, I’m happy to come here,” Flanigan said. “The activities are fun. The experience is fun. What we do is really intriguing and I learn a lot in the process.”
The students at H.J. Russell West End Academy were just as excited to show off their Verizon Innovative Learning Lab. School has been open less than a month and the students were already proficient in coding robots through mazes, setting up virtual reality museum tours and creating designs on their 3D printers.
Ni-khole Goulding and her brother Nikoh Goulding, eighth-grade students at H.J. Russell West End Academy, were excited to use the technology they have only had limited experience with.
“I was excited about the VR headsets because last year we were introduced to them, but we didn’t really use them much,” Nikoh said. “Seeing the whole lab and how the technology came together was pretty cool to see how much stuff we were open to.”
Having the Verizon Innovative Learning Labs in Atlanta, at APS, and on campus allows students at Crawford W. Long Middle School and H.J. Russell West End Academy to be prepared for a future with jobs and skills that have yet to be imagined.
“Because of great partners like Verizon Innovative Learning and the Heart of America Foundation, our scholars will be equipped to make a better tomorrow, to build a better tomorrow with tools that they may be touching for the very first time,” Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring said.
The Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (CSKYWLA) caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Education as it was selected to be one of eight schools the Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten chose to visit on her cross-country “Raise the Bar: Lead the World,” tour.
The CSKYWLA Eagles cheerleaders gave the Deputy Secretary a spirited welcome as she was escorted to the school’s entrance by Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring and greeted at the front door by CSKYWLA Principal Eulonda Washington.
“I feel blessed and honored that we have been selected for this visit. It’s a testament to the work that our scholars and staff members are doing.” Washington said. “It is our purpose to pour into our scholars. If we’re going to make sure our ladies can compete with children that don’t necessarily look like them, we have to be about the work. That work includes a lot of research, forward movement and forward thinking.”
The “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” tour is an effort by the Department of Education to discover how schools are using STEM education to accelerate learning and deliver comprehensive and rigorous education. The goal is to learn from the examples set by successful programs and find ways their positive results can be replicated in more schools.
“We’re going around the country looking for examples of how districts like this one (APS) here are raising the bar giving students access and opportunity with great programming like we’re seeing here at this school (CSKYWLA),” Marten said. “We’re connecting communities across the country to learn from one another. A lot of people are going to learn from Atlanta around what’s happening here at this school and say “Wow! How can we do this? This is replicable.’”
Marten visited classrooms and interacted with students engaged in a variety of projects during her tour of the school. Students shared their progress on a group project in a social studies class, took the Deputy Secretary’s blood pressure in public health class and even demonstrated a hand-made, miniature catapult built in math class.
Each stop along the tour demonstrated CSKYWLA’s emphasis on STEM education, and how its courses provide academic pathways for its students.
“(Academic pathways) allow us to learn more before we go into college and a career,” Naija Dubose, a student and aspiring OBGYN, said after explaining a project-based learning project display to the Deputy Secretary.
The school prides itself on its academic rigor, pathways, 100 percent graduation rate and the third-highest seamless post-secondary enrollment in APS.
“Our purpose for being here today is to highlight the work that’s happening here at Coretta Scott King Young Leadership Academy with our young ladies,” Dr. Herring said. “The presence today of the U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary is extraordinarily important because it’s an opportunity to spotlight our young women who are also raising the bar and leading the world in this work.”
Marten and Dr. Herring held a private meeting with students, parents and teachers in a roundtable discussion after the tour of the school.
“We are excited as a school district to have the Department of Education present,” Dr. Herring said. “Whenever there’s an opportunity to showcase the greatness of school leadership, scholar achievement and the work that we’re doing in our community for the world to see, we are going to shout. APS is ready to stand together to continue to raise the bar, lead the world.”
Former President Barack Obama once famously said, “Don’t just play on your phone, program it.”
Scores of student throughout Atlanta Public Schools took those words to heart on Monday, as the district began its participation in an annual global movement to demystify coding and show that anybody can learn to code. The “Hour of Code,” held each year during the first week of December as part of Computer Science Education Week, is designed to introduce students to the basics of computer science and coding, giving them an even stronger foundation for success in today’s technology-driven society.
Bunche Middle School is one of several schools participating. On Sunday, two Bunche students – Amani Bedwa and Enam Amevo – were interviewed by Monica Kaufman Pearson on her radio show on KISS 104FM. Amani and Enam talked about the importance of education, specifically in terms of computer technology.
Then on Monday, ADP associates from metro Atlanta gave Bunche Middle School students early exposure to coding in a fun, hands-on way, using a 12-level activity in Minecraft called “Hero’s Journey,” a game designed to improve critical thinking and literacy skills.
Here are various “Hour of Code” activities that will take place in other district schools this week:
— Monday, Dec. 4: Third graders at Humphries Elementary School used conduct coding activities using Minecraft, from 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
— Monday, Dec. 4: Third graders at Sarah Smith Intermediate performed activities with the LightBot computer program, beginning at 11:30 a.m.
— Monday, Dec. 4: Spanish classes at Mays High School conducted coding exercises throughout the day.
— Tuesday, Dec. 5: Students at King Middle School participate in grade-level coding sessions throughout the day.
— Tuesday, Dec. 5: Students at North Atlanta High School conduct coding activities at rotating stations in all grades throughout the day.
— Tuesday, Dec. 5: Fifth-grade students at Heritage Academy teach second graders how to do simple coding activities, beginning at 1 p.m.
— Tuesday, Dec. 5: Several Hollis Innovation Academy students attend coding sessions on the campus of Georgia Tech.
— Wednesday, Dec. 6: Students in all grade levels at Brown Middle School conduct coding activities throughout the day.
— Wednesday, Dec. 6: Students at Sarah Smith Primary School participate in a coding exercise, beginning at 10:30 a.m.
— Wednesday, Dec. 6: Students at Sylvan Hills Middle School conduct coding activities in French throughout the day.
— Thursday, Dec. 7: Students at Inman Middle School participate in coding session in science classes throughout the day.
Agnes Jones Elementary School was “lit” on Friday afternoon … literally!
Thanks to community partner Georgia-Pacific, all 547 students at the school received a personalized “lit kit” during its monthly honors assembly, held on the last Friday of each month. Each kit includes several books, based on the student’s interests, flash cards and various school supplies. The kits, created by members of the sales team at Georgia-Pacific, were placed in white shopping bags and decorated for each individual student.
The “lit kit” distribution marked the official kickoff of M. Agnes Jones’ drive to improve the reading proficiency rates of its students, said Principal Dr. Margul Woolfolk.
“We want to help foster a love of reading in our students, so that they will want to read more,” Dr. Woolfolk said. “The more they read, the more their comprehension and proficiency will increase. We’re so grateful to Georgia-Pacific for their support in helping us reach our goals.”
After five years of hard work, it was party time at M. Agnes Jones Elementary School on Tuesday as the school celebrated becoming the first Atlanta Public School to earn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) certification.
The school held a pep rally featuring Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria J. Carstarphen and State Schools Superintendent Richard Woods. Prior to the rally, Dr. Carstarphen and Woods were taken on a tour of the school’s urban farm where students are growing lettuce, spinach, carrots, collards and basil. Students are also caring for the farm’s two chickens – Coco Puff and Valentine.
M.A. Jones Principal Margul Woolfolk said the five-year journey to become a certified STEM school was well worth it. Instead of teaching science, technology, engineering and math in isolation, the STEM schools feature an integrated curriculum driven by problem solving, discovery, exploratory project/problem-based learning and student-centered development of ideas and solutions. It helps prepare students for success in the 21st century workforce.
“I wanted this to be sustainable for the long term, and so it took some time for all of our teachers to be certified in STEM. Also, being a charter system gave us autonomy with our funds so that we could adequately support STEM,” Woolfolk said. “It’s having an impact on our students and the community.”
Chevron Corporation hopes to grow the next generation of scientist, engineers and chemists by cultivating a love for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in today’s youth. Thanks to the company’s “Fuel Your School” initiative, they may have found several at West Manor Elementary School.
Three teachers at West Manor received awards from Chevron Corporation last week, after they submitted ideas to Donors.Choose.org, an online organization that helps teachers get small projects funded through community donations. Chevron’s “Fuel Your School” program is collaborating with Donors.Choose.org, and has helped raise more than $300 million for STEM-based projects and initiatives worldwide since 2013.
West Manor’s Carla Anderson (gifted), who serves as the coordinator of the school’s award-winning robotics team, received four Lego Robotics Kits, worth about $1,300. Additionally, she received equipment and materials, such as tape measures and litmus paper, to use in STEM-related classroom projects such as kitchen science and forensic science experiments.
“We’re always looking for more resources to be able to do projects that get our kids excited and motivated about STEM,” Anderson said, “so when you don’t have those materials it’s disappointing. Our P.T.A. (Parent Teacher Association) has been really good about supporting us, but this assistance from Chevron is great.”
Jeff Swindell, manager of Chevron’s Policy, Government and Public Affairs, said his company’s dedication to education is a winning proposition for all involved – Chevron, the schools and the nation.
“STEM is the foundation for the future of our country,” he said. “We need our kids to have an interest in it and a passion for it, so that we can produce that next generation of professionals working with computers and in medicine and chemistry. We hope that our schools and our country will benefit in the long run, and maybe someday one of these talented students will want to work for Chevron.”
While the gift to Anderson was planned, Swindell made surprise presentations to Dietrice Bennett (fifth grade) and Mariel Lawrence (third grade). Bennett received a three-dimensional printer while Lawrence received 18 tablets for her class.
“It was absolutely a total shock,” said Lawrence, who will use the tablets to set up some distance-learning projects for her students. “I’m so excited about all the possibilities this will produce for our students.”
By: Donovan M. Harris
Atlanta Public Schools celebrated the official unveiling of the Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy on Thursday, October 6 in the former Kennedy Middle School building. The school serves students from the former Bethune Elementary School in the revitalizing west side of Atlanta. The school features both an EL curriculum and innovative STEM-focused curriculum in partnership with the Georgia Tech Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC).
The energy and excitement surrounding this momentous occasion was prevalent in the room throughout the event. Dr. Diamond Jack, Hollis principal, gave a rousing speech about the history and vision of the Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy. Julius Hollis, brother of Michael R. Hollis, provided inspirational remarks for all of the students and encouraged them to believe nothing is “impossible” but to rather exclaim, “I’m possible.” In typical fashion, Dr. Meria Carstarphen further enlivened the ribbon cutting ceremony with a Hollis chant and pledge from the students.
Michael R. Hollis was a 1971 graduate of Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta Public Schools. Dozens of his classmates supported the event with their attendance and presented the principal with a framed collage of Hollis’s photos to display in the school.
Everyone is excited about the what the future holds for the Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy. Both faculty and students strive to embody the six “Habits of Hollis” which are collaboration, empathy, communication, self-discipline, creativity and perseverance.
By Seth Coleman
South Atlanta High School is quickly becoming a hub for innovative measures that will improve the lives of its students.
First came the establishment of the school’s Automotive Basic Maintenance and Light Repair Lab, courtesy of $150,000-worth of equipment from Kaufman Tires. Now South Atlanta is about to become the first Atlanta Public School high school with a ZSpace Technology Lab.
ZSpace is a state-of-the-art learning tool that allows teachers and students to use virtual reality and three-dimensional imagery in the classroom. The technology can be used across the curriculum, from science and art to language arts and math. Currently, Cleveland Avenue and M.A. Jones Elementary Schools, along with Brown Middle School, have ZSpace labs.
Teachers at South Atlanta were able to sample the technology when the ZSpace Technology Mobile Computer Lab visited the campus recently.
“This is where job training is going in the future. In fact, it’s already here,” said Joe Parlier, a sales associate for Vizitech USA, one of the companies that sells ZSpace labs. He pointed out that the Georgia Department of Transportation uses ZSpace virtual reality computer labs to train its employees. “This is how many organizations and companies are training their employees, and so this is how we should be preparing our students to be successful.”
One of the thousands of ZSpace educational programs allows a user to don a pair of virtual reality goggles, highlight a human heart and examine a three-dimensional image of the heart, inside and out.
South Atlanta Principal Dr. Patricia Ford plans to have a full ZSpace computer lab, with 12-15 stations, up and running in the school before the end of this school year. She believes using ZSpace Technology aligns perfectly with the school’s long term curriculum plan of focusing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
“Our students and our teachers are really excited about this,” Ford said. “I think it will increase our students’ love of learning. ZSpace Technology provides a means for learning through exploring, and it will increase our students’ skill sets in science and STEM. When you put on those goggles you can be transported anywhere in the universe and pick up and examine almost any object. It will be a fantastic learning tool for our students.”