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Sandy Springs Education Force Hosts Annual VIP Breakfast

SSEF celebrated a successful year by honoring community and business supporters at our annual “VIP Breakfast.” Dr. Nathalie Henderson, Area Superintendent, Fulton County Schools, and Sandy Springs Mayor, Rusty Paul, made introductory remarks regarding the importance of SSEF in the community and the organization’s positive impact on the schools.

Presentations highlighted two of SSEF’s STEAM Legacy Grant programs. These programs, which are unique to each school, offer opportunities for students to engage in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics and to practice these skills in ways that are connected to real-world applications.

Rachel Rolader, a language arts teacher at Sandy Springs Charter Middle School (SSCMS), and head of the “Drones for Good” club that SSEF sponsors, noted how meaningful the club was for the school. She explained, “This program is vital to the culture of SSCMS because we are a Title 1 school with a very diverse student body…The vast majority of the students in our club had never seen a drone in person, let alone been able to build or fly one before joining this club. To watch these students learn and grow not only their knowledge but their love of school has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as an educator.” She introduced two members of the team: Elana Berghoff and Jake Skiba. They spoke about how the club helped them envision new career possibilities for the future and provided opportunities to collaborate with team members and solve real-world problems as they planned and built sturdy, precise, efficient drones.

Owen Goard, a teacher at Lake Forest Elementary School, reflected on many years of successful, exciting programs for students in the SSEF sponsored STEM Club, including building robots from Lego blocks, creating volcanoes and designing model homes with electricity. He introduced two student participants in their club, Elanur Yavuncu and Eduardo Velazquez. They described how valuable STEM Club has been, as it helped instill science skills, as well as abilities in cooperation and independent thinking. Eduardo explained that the club inspires him to think he can do anything he wants and that he now knows his dreams can come true as long as he works hard.

Vanessa Lovinsky was recognized as a member of SSEF’s first class of After-School All-Stars (ASAS). A senior at North Springs Charter High School, Vanessa joined the ASAS program as a 6th grader at Sandy Springs Charter Middle School. Even after she finished middle school, Vanessa returned many afternoons to ASAS to help mentor the younger students. Vanessa is the recipient of the Donna Adams Mahaffey Scholarship Grant and will be attending Gwinnett Tech in the fall.

SSEF also presented special awards in honor of community partnerships: 

The winners of the STEAM Showcase attendance award, Spalding Elementary School, represented by Principal Lynn Johnson and Woodland Elementary School, represented by Principal Tara McGee, were each presented $1000 grants to use for STEAM related programs or equipment.

Wells Fargo Foundation received the “Sponsor of the Year.” Represented by Kristina Christy, VicePresident of Atlanta Community Affairs for Wells Fargo Corporate Responsibility and Community Relations Group, SSEF recognized the Wells Fargo Foundation for financially supporting the After-School All-Stars program for five years.

Christine Young received the “Carolyn Axt Volunteer of the Year Award” recognizing her tremendous job in chairing the SSEF Road Race. Christine, a former Sandy Springs teacher, vice principal and principal, has been the guiding light for the race since its inception four years ago.

Jabian Consulting, represented by Jeff Hancock, received the Business Supporter of the Year Award. Jeff and his team of consultants have been tirelessly helping the SSEF board create a new strategic plan. Their expertise and management will ensure our next years are as effective as the previous nine years have been.

Mary Schmidt received the School Program Champion of the Year award for her many roles, including organizing Riverwood International Charter School’s Link with a Leader program, bringing the Mini Libraries program to Riverwood and working on STEAM grant programs at the high school.


Honorees and all in attendance enjoyed breakfast that was catered by student chefs at the Culinary Arts Program at Riverwood International Charter School, under the direction of Chef Elissa Oliver.

To end the meaningful program, SSEF Executive Director Irene Schweiger thanked everyone for their generous support, “As you can tell by listening to the students themselves, you are making a big difference in students’ lives. Thank you for your continuing support and commitment to SSEF.”


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