While working in Orlando public schools, Scott Hanson became familiar with Student and Family Engagement Centers. “I knew the benefit and the impact they had on schools in the community,” he said.
Under the S.A.F.E. program, students, their families and a school’s general community have access to a variety of services around food, clothing, counseling and mental health support. The Fulton County school district currently has two such programs, and when a third was suggested for North Springs High, where Hanson is in his seventh year as principal, he jumped at the chance.
“I was on board the minute they offered,” he said. “The pandemic has harmed kids in multiple ways, with families working multiple jobs and having a hard time providing basic resources. This center provides options for kids and families to get those resources.”
The program debuted a few weeks ago with a fully stocked pantry, supplied by a partnership with Goodr, that goes well beyond basic canned goods and features personal care items, meat, chicken, milk and more.
“Having that food means families can feed themselves over the weekend, and kids can come to school without having to worry about being hungry,” Hanson said. “We know if they’re hungry, they’re not thinking about what they’re learning in class.”
Hanson has also seen many in the 1,300-student school dealing with mental health issues and struggling to interact with family and classmates.
“Five classrooms on the school’s lower level were transformed into a calming oasis where students can decompress when they’re having a tough day or meet in small groups to handle conflicts,” Hanson said. “It’s also a place where we can bring in experts to help them.”
The Sandy Springs school is an ideal location for such a program, said Diahann Fulwider, the district’s S.A.F.E. coordinator.
“It was selected based on the needs of the community, and data showed there was a need for additional food pantries in that area,” she said. “And as a magnet school, North Springs draws kids from across the county, so it’s a melting pot with a need for these resources.”
School officials are working to get the word out about those resources that Hanson said are so far being well received.
“One thing the pandemic has changed is allowing people to understand it’s OK to ask for help,” he said. “We’ve had parents reach out and say, ‘We’re struggling, and I’m not too proud to ask how you can help me.’ Our social workers and teachers know which kids need help, and sometimes it’s as simple as getting food to take home for the weekend - something the kids jump at that.”
Information about North Springs High is online at fultonschools.org/northspringshs.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com