LEAP fair gets middle schoolers thinking about the future

Veteran teacher Michelle Roberts realized years ago that preparing students for life beyond the classroom can’t wait until high school.

“A lot of them realize what their interests are in sixth grade,” she said “We start talking then about what they want to do. Letting students in seventh or eighth grade work on their passions is more beneficial so they can not only narrow down what they want but also focus on getting the best grades, the best test scores and the scholarships that will benefit them.”

As the career connections teacher at Lindley Middle in Mableton, Roberts put together a small career fair to introduce students to options. Three years ago, that modest project turned into a major event when Lana Wachniak, a former Kennesaw State University dean, and her husband, William Wallace Jr., retired associate vice chancellor for the University System of Georgia, created LEAP: Learning about Employment and Academic Possibilities.

“When Lana and Bill reached out, I welcomed the support,” said Roberts. “They have been such a great help, getting contacts, especially from the colleges and universities, that I couldn’t.”

Wachniak founded LEAP and connected to Lindley while serving on the United Way board. She assembled a team of six former educators to put the plan into action.

“We looked for a school where this would enhance educational opportunities,” she said. “Lindley is a not only a Title I school, but it also has a 35% annual transition rate. That was one of the reasons I wanted to go there, and they were open to the idea.”

This year marked LEAP’s third at Lindley and proved to be the most successful so far. More than 50 businesses and colleges turned out to meet about 1,200 seventh and eighth graders during the four-hour event that filled the school’s two gym areas. Parents were also invited, and a number spoke with representatives from the Census Bureau about part-time job opportunities.

“The students loved the [J.W.] Huber company’s science experiments and meeting the universities,” said Wachniak. “A men’s group from KSU Career Services taught boys how to tie ties, and the Cobb County police talked about what it’s like being a police officer.”

Eighth grader Kadin Russell enjoyed speaking with advisers from Chattahoochee Tech and KSU. “I’ve been thinking about doing research on schools, and this fair helped me,” she said. “It gave me a longer list of pros and cons around whatever I decide to do. And that will help me decide what to focus on in high school.”

This year’s fair was particularly special for Russell and four fellow students who were the first to receive scholarships to a week-long arts camp at KSU this summer. The funding was provided by the Huber company.

“When you can touch this many young people, I’m happy to be there,” said Wachniak. “High school is too late to start thinking about college and career.”

Information about Lindley Middle is online at cobbk12.org/Lindley.


Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.