Graduation Generation-Atlanta aims to increase the academic success rates of middle school students, with the larger aim of increasing the rates at which students successfully transition to and complete high school.
Students need more than a high school diploma. They also need the skills and knowledge necessary for college or career, and life. This cross-sector, multifaceted initiative focuses on what happens in school as well as in the community, because factors such as housing quality and affordability, safety and crime, availability of affordable and nutritious food, environmental toxins and access to health care, and participation in physical activities, all affect a child's well-being and academic achievement.
Launched in July 2010 with a $1 million gift from Emory alumnus and trustee Rick Rieder 83B, Graduation Generation involves more than a dozen community organizations, government agencies and philanthropic entities in collaboration with Emory, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) and Communities in Schools of Atlanta (CIS). Together they are developing a comprehensive set of linked programs and activities to address issues and opportunities for excellence in Sammye E. Coan Middle School and the neighborhoods it serves: Edgewood, Reynoldstown, Kirkwood, and East Lake.
With funding from Learn and Serve Georgia, Emory University partnered with Coan Middle School to create service-learning opportunities for Coan students. Together we have implemented an interdisciplinary garden-based elective course entitled 'From Seed to Plate,' much of which takes place in Coan's Edible Schoolyard. Math, science and economics are integrated into a garden-based curriculum. Service activities for students include helping seniors in their community to start their own garden, building gardens for neighborhood residents, teaching soil and science lessons to elementary school students, and providing meals to seniors in the community.
Additionally, Emory interns in the Chinese Language Program and the Confucius Institute have helped educate Coan students about Chinese gardens, agriculture, food and nutrition. Students will be building a Chinese garden at Coan Middle School to provide a public community space and education about Chinese culture and language to the Edgewood community.
Three Emory graduate students are working with Coan Middle School teachers to transform classrooms into student-centered, inquiry-based environments that connect students to real-world issues and introduce lifelong learning skills. With support and training from Emory's Center for Science Education, three graduate students work 5-10 hours per week to help three teachers implement problem-based learning (PBL) in Coan's science and math courses. A Grad-Gen fellow also co-teaches with language arts and social studies teachers to develop and implement interactive lessons. All attend a two-week workshop to identify the best practices and challenges of implementing PBL, discover sources of PBL units to use in their classrooms, and create novel PBL lessons that integrates the Coan Edible Schoolyard into the core curriculum.
Eighth grade students from Coan Middle School spend a day at Emory experiencing different career fields such as marketing, athletics, teaching, science, and editorial work. Organized by Graduation-Generation and the Center for Women at Emory, Coan students discovered the benefits and opportunities of various career paths in higher education.
Mr. Reginald Sanders, a Coan after-school teacher, is working on a vocal project with Emory professor Dr. Adam Klein and the Atlanta Opera. Coan tudents performed "Lift Every Voice and Sing" to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Atlanta Music Festival along with 500+ metro-Atlanta elementary and middle school students. This project also include a performance of the song at the Atlanta Opera. Additionally, a vocal health workshop is available for Coan staff to participate in.
Chrissy Bracewell, the Coan Edible Schoolyard teacher, is collaborating on a coursed desiged to explore the Graduation Generation Program with Dr. Charles Downey, an Emory professor of educational studies. The students are conducting research that will inform our understanding of factors that might lead to dropping out of school, as well as factors that contribute to remaining in school.
Ms. Cherrish Foger, the 6th grade math teacher at Coan, and Dr. Mei-Lin Chang, an Emory professor of educational studies, are working together to assist students with their math skills. Dr. Chang is teaching a university course that applies theories of the Psychology of Learning. Her students tutor the middle-schoolers once a week, applying the techniques they are learning to help the Coan students improve their comprehension and retention of mathematics.
Emory Graduate student Nadia Behizedah is working with Dr. Rashida Davis, the 8th grade social studies teacher, and Ms. Erin Morgan, the 8th grade language arts teacher to design and co-teach lessons for Coan students. The Coan teachers and Nadia develop and implement lessons focused on student inquiry using a problem-based learning pedagogical approach. This method of instruction challenges students to use critical thinking skills to discover solutions to complex problems.
Emory students enrolled in Professor Diane Kempler's Ceramics 2 class are partnering with Coan Middle School art students and their teacher, Ms. Lisa Whittington, to help make the Coan Edible Schoolyard a place of beauty and a community space for neighborhood residents. With Emory students as mentors, Coan students are exploring questions of creativity and public space, various art forms and sculpture, and building teamwork, decision-making and project implementation skills.
A group of students from Coan attend Camp Carlos at the Michael C. Carlos Museum over the summer. Sixteen students spend a week working with Atlanta artist Pam Beagle-Daresta exploring the art of handmade paper. They create paper pulp from recycled materials, including shredded money from the Atlanta Federal Reserve. The pulp is fashioned into sheets and embedded with leaves, flower petals, the colorful wings of insects, and tiny seeds. Students then build armatures from bamboo, twigs, and small limbs collected around campus. The handmade paper is wrapped around the armatures to create three-dimensional paper sculptures. The sculptures are intended to be left outside in the elements, where the paper and armature will eventually collapse and decompose, and the embedded seeds will sprout and grow.
Students from Coan's band and their director, Mr. Hopkins, attended a Jazz Improvisation Class with the Gary Motley Trio at Emory's Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Through the lecture and demonstration, students learned about the rich history of American Jazz, and gained insight into the creative musical process.
Coan students joined 500 students from Atlanta to perform "Lift Every Voice and Sing" in the 2011 Atlanta Music Festival: Songs of Aspiration, Hope, and Progress. The Atlanta Music Festival (AMF) has significant historical roots as part of an effort by First Congregational Church a century ago to unite all Atlantans through music with what was then known as the “Atlanta Colored Music Festival.” The 2011 AMF, in official collaboration with Emory for the first time, will resume the national platform of the original music festivals begun in the wake of the 1906 Atlanta race riots.
As part of Graduation Generation, every child attending Coan Middle School in the past year was offered the opportunity to participate in a summer camp, with Graduation Generation paying the enrollment fees. One hundred and three Coan students attended academic, artistic, or athletic camps run by Emory University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, and local nonprofits.