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Thought Leader Uncategorized Philanthropy

The S.A.F.E. Center helps students inside and outside the classroom

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Caption: Milton J. Little, Jr., president and CEO at United Way of Greater Atlanta is joined by Duke Bradley, principal at Banneker High School. Banneker High School was awarded the Partnership Champion Award at State of the Children: Progress through Partnerships.


None of us ever enjoyed getting ready for a long day of school. Some of us were fortunate enough, however, to have a parent that was willing to do anything humanly possible to “turn our frowns upside down.” As embarrassing as it might have been for our troubled teenage psyches, there appears to have been a method to that madness.

Research from Harvard University indicates that “the environment of relationships young children experience with adult caregivers, as well as early nutrition and the physical, chemical, and built environments, all get ‘under the skin’ and influence lifelong learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health – for better or for worse.”

Those “worse” outcomes are typically reflective of the individuals who don’t have that parent to cheer them up. Households where families are dealing with unemployment and toxic stress and, despite their best efforts, are struggling to make ends meet.

In order to improve the outcomes of these children, their families and the communities that surround them, United Way introduced the Child Well-Being Movement in 2017.

The nonprofit’s goal is to provide all children with the opportunities and resources they need to reach their full human potential. United Way relies heavily on data from the Child Well-Being Index, which uses an established set of metrics to assess the opportunities and resources available for children in any given zip code of the Greater Atlanta Region.

The Index has revealed that almost 500,000 children are living in areas without the opportunities and resources they need to thrive. To return some of these communities to a promising trajectory, United Way has relied on the use of a school-based hub model.

A school-based hub is a centralized location in a middle school or high school that coordinates services, builds social networks, and works to improve communities.

One institution that has begun using this form of service delivery is Benjamin E. Banneker High School, located in College Park. Their school-based hub is referred to as the Student and Family Engagement Center (SAFE Center).

Banneker exists in a particularly low area of Child Well-Being, where almost 50% of households are cost-burdened and nearly a third of adult residents do not have health insurance.

Dr. Duke Bradley, principal of Banneker High School, states that when he took the job, he was charged with improving another issue plaguing the community: low high school graduation rates.

“The problem was, many students weren’t graduating, but it wasn’t because of academic deficiencies,” says Dr. Bradley. “They were choosing between life priorities and school.”

To address these life priorities, Dr. Bradley collaborates extensively with Igola Richardson – the Director of Wrap-Around Services for the SAFE Center. She believes that an effective learning experience begins by accounting for the factors of a student’s life that exist outside of the classroom.

“Some students are beginning their days by walking out of trauma and into the classroom,” Richardson states. “It’s not a matter of determining ‘what did you do,’ but rather ‘what happened to you?’”

That’s why the SAFE Center has ushered in nearly 60 community partners to accommodate for the obstacles some of these students face. The partners provide a myriad of resources, including: counseling services, a food pantry, a clothing closet, alternative discipline practices, GED programming, and employment coordination assistance.

Regardless of background, the school is prepared and willing to assist students and their families in any way that they can.

Initial implementation of these integrated service delivery programs has resulted in promising improvements. In the past, Banneker was listed as a Failing School in Georgia. Now, it boasts a 75.9% graduation rate – a substantial improvement from its 68.3% rate in 2016. And, it appears that that graduation rate will continue to improve as well.

According to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, the academic growth of Banneker’s students is higher than 64% of all other schools in the state. The SAFE Center’s unique ability to assist students with the development of their social-emotional skills has translated into decreased rates of absenteeism and disciplinary actions, which prepares more students for a meaningful learning experience.

With students and their families being provided the resources that they need to thrive, academic, social, and emotional outcomes can all continue to improve.

And with enough communities receiving these services through school-based hubs, United Way moves demonstrably closer to improving the well-being of 250,000 children by 2027.


Paul Jennings is a Content Manager at United Way of Greater Atlanta.

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