Kayla, a North Springs grad who participated in the Senior Push Program, said “The resources and information offered through the SSEF Senior Push program have completely changed the trajectory of my life as a first-generation college student. I was able to earn 7 scholarships with their help and I am continuing to earn them. I have been able to pursue my education debt free so far! I am very grateful for the Senior Push program.” (SSEF)

The Sandy Springs Education Force (SSEF) wants more volunteers for its programs that educate, inspire, and prepare students in 11 public schools to thrive in a competitive world.

Executive Director Irene Schweiger said the mission of SSEF is “specifically to create targeted programs that educate, inspire, and prepare public school students in Sandy Springs in a competitive world.”

SSEF discusses with principals at the two high schools, two middle schools and seven elementary schools in the city to learn what they feel best serves their students, particularly those students that if they didn’t get help, probably would not graduate.

The other piece is to bring the community together so everyone can do something to assist the students so that they can succeed. (Volunteers can sign up online at the SSEF website.

Schweiger said some people may want to work with high school students and others only with elementary school students.

“Some businesses may be focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, those areas and those careers,” she said.

SSEF tries to match them with the initiatives for each school. Some businesses might want to work with school supply drives to bring their employees together.

“That has a big impact because many of our students in our schools are economically disadvantaged, over half of them are and so they need extra support,” Schweiger said.

The organization has its roots back to 1993 when the nonprofit was called Greater North Fulton Education and was part of the North Fulton Chamber.

“And at that time, Gov. Zell Miller had a call to action saying communities need to get involved in the schools if our kids are to succeed. And that’s basically the premise of what we do,” she said.

School board members and some businesspeople started an after-school program, but for a number of reasons the organization went dormant in 2003, she said. Schweiger was hired in 2009 for the return of what was now known as the Sandy Springs Education Force.

SSEF programs include Reading Buddies, where a community member will come in and read with a student during their lunch hour every week, forming a relationship with that student.

Approximately 40 students are involved in this program. Volunteers from groups like Rotary or church congregations have been volunteers.

Mentoring and tutoring programs offered by SSEF include the Senior Push program at North Springs High School has Senior Push and SAIL at Riverwood International Charter School for economically disadvantaged students who are on target to graduate but do not have any post-secondary plans. 

Approximately 70 students are in the program this year. An orientation is held for community members or businesspeople who volunteered to explain the process of college applications, financial aid packages and other opportunities. Those opportunities include certificate programs and programs offered by companies right after high school graduation.

SSEF started recruiting volunteers at the end of November, but Schweiger said she really needs volunteers now. By April 80% of the students will have post-secondary plans with this assistance, she said.

Many of these students would end up working in something like a fast-food restaurant, she said.

“Now you might say to me, ‘Why aren’t the schools doing that?’ Well, because there’s one counselor to 400 students in the schools right now. And they’re focused on getting these students to graduate high school,” she said.

The community nonprofit pays for applications for students who are economically disadvantaged and for testing that might be required, she said.

Jonathan had planned to go to college to study engineering since he was in Elementary School,”  Beppie Lever, an SSEF volunteer and program director, said. “After a rough semester of pre-calculus in virtual school, he didn’t think he would be able to go to college and so didn’t apply.  After several sessions of us working together and getting his applications submitted, I captured this picture of him with his mom when he received his first college admission notification.” (SSEF)

SSEF presents STEAM showcase in March

SSEF will hold its 13th STEAM showcase at North Springs on March 15 with approximately 30 vendors from health science to automotive technology. A STEAM-focused exhibit is presented to about 2000 middle and high school students during the day and is opened to the greater community at night. The purpose is to interest kids in STEAM careers.

Presenters will include Cox, Mercedes and Emory St. Joe’s, which will bring its DaVinci Robot surgical robot DaVinci Robot where kids can play with it and see how remote surgery is done.

Reading Buddies help students improve their reading levels and develop relationships. (SSEF)
This student wrote a thank you letter to his Reading Buddy who helped him learn to read, something he couldn’t do before they met. (SSEF)

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.