For many Sandy Springs students, the path to a better education begins with the Sandy Springs Education Force (SSEF), an organization dedicated to aiding local schools, teachers and underserved students.
Although Sandy Springs is one of the 10 most affluent cities in Georgia, more than half of the city’s students are economically disadvantaged. Students who face the challenge of childhood poverty are less likely to graduate on time, and many do not have access to books or educational support.
To combat learning inequality, SSEF partners with corporate sponsors like Comcast, individual donors and community leaders to contribute supplemental educational and enrichment programs to enhance the existing school curriculum.
One such initiative reinforces primary literacy in elementary school children by delivering free books to those who otherwise may not have reading materials at home.
Other projects include mentoring and afterschool clubs with a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM).
Tiffany Waller, the Sandy Springs STEAM coach explained the program’s goals: “The purpose is to provide activities for students who would otherwise never get to sign up for those types of clubs.”
She went on to explain that engineering and robotics clubs often exclude students who cannot afford the fees. A grant supplied by SSEF allows the Sandy Springs schools to host the clubs free of charge.
According to Waller, an unexpected but exciting benefit of the program is the increased interest from girls in STEM-related subjects. We recently reported how the gender gap in technology fields can be attributed, in part, to a lack of early exposure to science and technology. When the schools encouraged underserved students, the girls embraced the opportunity.
“My girls are on fire for STEM,” said Waller. “They love it. They want to code, they want to program and they want to go out there and get those jobs.”
Elyse, a 5th grader in the after school coding class shared with us why learning to code is important.
“You can use it for a lot of jobs like video games or coding for companies,” she said. “It’s important because so many things need code to work. I’m not talking about accountants, but computer jobs and website jobs need coding so the computers will know what to do.”
Preparation is SSEF’s primary objective for Sandy Springs’ high school students. The organization implements several projects to help students on the path to success.
Executive Director Irene Schweiger explained how SSEF provides inclusive support to students struggling with what to do after graduation or who are at risk of not graduating at all. The organization also guides future graduates toward career options that offer growth and opportunity.
“There’s a big skills gap in Georgia in the STEAM fields,” she said. “If we can inspire our students to be interested in and excited about those fields, they have a better chance of succeeding in the workforce.”
SSEF has demonstrated measurable progress helping students in the Sandy Springs school district achieve academic success. Grades and test scores trend upward for students enrolled in its after school learning programs, and graduation rates have increased as well.
Funding for SSEF is generated by community efforts like the upcoming Footprints for the Future Road Race. The race is scheduled for Saturday, November 12. It is a certified chip-timed 5K run and an official qualifier for the 2017 Atlanta Peachtree Road Race.
Regardless of the outcome of the race, when schools, businesses and the communities work together for education, everyone wins.