In August of 2019, a new school opened in Atlanta. That school, Harper-Archer Elementary, is in the city’s Collier Heights neighborhood, in a building renovated to the tune of $11.6 million.
It might sound like an upscale charter school, but it is not. Harper-Archer is a public elementary school that opened with a vision to become a high-achieving, supportive, thriving and equitable community of college and career ready scholars, expert educators, and engaged parents and partners. In 2017, Atlanta Public School officials approved the decision to close Fain ES and Towns ES - two turnaround schools - and open Harper-Archer Elementary School. As turnaround denotes, the school has been identified as a school in deep need of help and based on the merger in 2019 has been identified as a Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) by the Georgia Department of Education.
The need is there: The median household income in Harper-Archer neighborhoods is estimated at $27,175 a year, compared with $159,001 at Jackson Elementary, located in one of the city’s more affluent areas, according to research cited in a 2020 Atlanta Constitution-Journal story on Harper-Archer. As the story notes, the Harper-Archer school zone has fewer college graduates than the city and the state averages.
At Deloitte, we are committed to building pathways for education and opportunities for systemically marginalized communities. We believe that lives transform via education, whether it’s college and graduate school, a vocational school, or a shot at entrepreneurship, and education is an integral component to economic mobility.
Elementary school sets the stage for this transformation. Research indicates that early education, particularly reading proficiency, is crucial for a successful foundation for cognitive as well as emotional well-being. And given that performance and attendance at school is impacted by many factors outside the classroom, we also recognize the importance of collaborating with the whole family.
That’s why, for the past two years, Deloitte has helped at Harper-Archer with volunteer work and in-school programming designed to assist Harper-Archer students in reaching their full potential. We teamed up with Communities in Schools to fund a dedicated school coordinator whose role is to assist select students and their families to drive student attendance, and to date, 60 Deloitte volunteers have contributed over 6,000 volunteer hours to the school.
The volunteers have been focused on promoting collaboration and critical thinking amongst third and fourth graders (two of education’s “Four Cs,” along with creativity and communication). Key focus areas include introducing students to digital technology and innovation in the classroom; exposing students to professionals in a broad spectrum of careers and sharing immersive experiences; engaging students throughout the summer via fun and stimulating experiences; and promoting digital and financial literacy learning that can help prepare them for the 21st-century workforce.
For instance, during the “Digital Days of Summer” program, Deloitte volunteers teach third- and fourth-graders basic computer skills and understanding of computer programs and digital tools. Similarly, to foster financial literacy, students are exposed to financial fundamentals — earning, spending, saving, investing, borrowing, and protecting – as well as education on entrepreneurship. Parents, too, have been engaged in programs to drive deeper engagement in the school, exposed to frequent financial tips via the school’s weekly online announcements, as well as supported to build a deeper understanding of personal finance, crucial education as almost one-fifth (19.2%) of Atlanta residents live below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census data. This past semester, we also partnered with the school’s Family Engagement Team in hopes to help accelerate family engagement and empowerment efforts by starting an authentic conversation with families and other APS personnel not only about the barriers for family engagement, but also identifying some solutions to ensure better family engagement and increased empowerment.
Deloitte began this journey two years ago focusing on third graders, expanded to third and fourth grades this year, and in the 2022-2023 school year, will add fifth grade. This means next year’s fifth graders will have spent three years with Deloitte volunteers, and we believe this immersion, at an early age, can set even a stronger foundation for academic success.
We invite the Atlanta business community to join in this work. The Atlanta Public School website offers more information on assisting with the schools. It’s enriching, engaging work can contribute towards creating a stronger Atlanta, and a stronger Georgia.