NOTE: There was a ton of activity throughout the district to close out the school year. We shine a light on a number of those events, initiatives and accomplishments in a series of Talk Ups titled “Finishing APStrong.”
Out of the hundreds of Atlanta Public Schools graduates who walked across the stage at the Georgia World Congress Center last week, two mattered the most to Forrest Hill Academy Principal Dr. Zawadaski Robinson.
It was the two students who, after long stints at Forrest Hill, got back on track academically and behaviorally in time to “walk” with their classmates at their respective home schools.
“That is our goal, that is our target,” said Robinson, who just completed his first year as principal after two years as the assistant principal at Forrest Hill, a non-traditional school for students in grades six through 12. Most of its approximately 300 students were sent there due to discipline infractions at their home schools.
“While they are here, we want to work with them to get them back on track,” Robinson said. “We want to help them make better decisions, so that when they return to their home school they can be successful.”
Robinson said this past school year was a very successful one due to the implementation of two key initiatives: Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Restorative Practices.
SEL, which has been adopted by the district as a conflict resolution strategy, is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Restorative Practices is a disciplinary measure that is less punitive, and focuses on having the child examine ways in which he or she may in the future avoid situations that caused them to be assigned to Forrest Hill.
“We have to get away from the punitive mindset and move toward the restorative,” Robinson said. “It is hard work, because it is a complete culture shift not only for the students, but for parents, teachers and administrators.
“We have to get to the point where we believe that there is no such thing as a bad child, just a child who makes poor choices,” Robinson said. “To do that we have to engage the students, reinforce positivity, get them to feel good about who they are.”
As such, Robinson and his staff have put in place a number of activities designed to bolster student morale and help them make better decisions. For example, students who have shown progress in their classwork and behavior are allowed to visit nearby Hutchinson Elementary School to assist with reinforcing academic skills, reading stories to students, and speaking to the students about the importance of having good character. This gives the Forrest Hill students an opportunity to serve as leaders while making a positive impact on the community.
Additionally this year, Robinson and his staff:
- Arranged for local barbers to come to the school twice a month to give free haircuts to students who need them
- Hosted monthly awards ceremonies for students who displayed good behavior, academic progress and near perfect attendance
- Organized a career fair, which attracted participation from more than 15 businesses and organizations, including Chick-fil-A and Publix, which hired a combined 30 students, Primerica, Next Step Staffing, Atlanta Metropolitan State College and Atlanta Technical College
- Worked with the Georgia House of Representatives to provide students who showed exemplary growth with official certificates of achievement
- Established a relationship with officials at Arkansas Baptist College to help worthy students gain admission
These programs, coupled with hard work from the 55 staff members at Forrest Hill, helped the school have a very successful year, Robinson said.
“Our discipline problems plummeted and student morale is way up,” Robinson said. “We want to build on this success next year. We want to stay focused on our goal of presenting these students with viable, positive options in order to make a difference in their lives.”