DeKalb County schools will use a $750,000 grant to connect students with community resources that can address their individual academic needs.
The school district is one of six systems awarded a grant from the Center on Reinventing Public Education and TNTP — formerly The New Teacher Project — to launch learning hubs, a personalized approach to supporting students facing inequities.
DeKalb will use the grant to partner with Atlanta-based nonprofit organization Disruptive Partners to help identify the needs of students enrolled in DeKalb Alternative and Elizabeth Andrews High schools, said Melissa Harris, deputy superintendent of community empowerment, innovation and partnerships.
Harris said many students at these schools are unable to keep up with their classes because they are juggling work and other family responsibilities.
“That causes them to fall behind,” she said. “We need to come up with a more innovative approach to reach those students.”
Harris said the school district will interview students to determine what barriers they face and the kind of support they need to stay on track to graduate.
For example, if remote-learning students are not logging on for class consistently, district partners can interview those students to determine why they are missing lessons. If the problem is related to technology literacy, the district and the organization can establish a learning hub for affected students and their parents.
Disruptive Partners addresses inequities in public schools by arming parents and stakeholders with information to challenge those systemic issues, according to its website. Along with helping the district find resources to address student needs, Disruptive Partners educates parents about the school system so they can better advocate for their children, said founder Anashay Wright.
“My job is to build bridges and new tables,” said Wright, who attended DeKalb County schools and has children enrolled in the district. “Our role is to help the district create a coalition of powerful parents and families.”
About 500 students are enrolled at DeKalb Alternative School and Elizabeth Andrews High School and if the initiative is successful, Harris said the district could identify additional community partners to expand it to other middle and high schools.
Harris said establishing learning hubs will allow the district to enact change from a student-driven perspective.
“A lot of times families feel more comfortable (talking) with community organizations and partners than people within the classroom and we honor that,” she said.
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When schools shut down in March, Anashay Wright immediately helped organize a pod near her home in Decatur, Georgia, ultimately enrolling her two children in Afrocentric homeschooling programs to supplement the distance learning their current schools were scrambling to implement.
One, the Kibolebole, has offered virtual classes for 16 years. “My kids did not miss a beat,” says Wright, the founder of a nonprofit called Disruptive Partners. “In complete transparency, they were actually receiving a more rigorous and culturally affirming learning experience.”
Wright’s grant will underwrite a three-pronged plan, starting with building an online hub where families can find co-ops, pods, the resources to start their own pods and a place to exchange strategies. She will give leadership training to parents who then coach others on creating a pod or tapping community resources. Members of a “Disruptive Leadership Cohort” will work to influence K-12 policy.
Anashay Wright’s daughter Karis attends Kilombo Academic and Cultural Institute. (Anashay Wright)
“The power is not in creating the pod; the power is in teaching you to create change,” she says. “How do you leverage your community relationships to support your efforts?”
In addition to $500 stipends for 20 parents in her first training cohort, Wright’s $25,000 grant includes $8,500 for five months of project management, $5,000 for web management during the same time frame and $1,500 for software that will enable her to turn content into online courses.