In North Fulton, there is plenty of evidence to show that we are among the best in the state at taking care of our best and brightest. In US News’ annual Best High Schools list, 7 of the top 10 public high schools in Georgia are in North Futon. What is less talked about are the efforts to help those on the other end of the spectrum.

There are plenty of great efforts in North Fulton, including North Fulton Community Charities, The United Way, the YMCA, The Drake House, Star House, all the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, and many, many others. I am fortunate to be part of another group trying to make a difference called the Mimosa Collective Impact Project.

The idea of the group is to bring together all of the groups already helping Mimosa Elementary School and affect positive changes in the community, with the idea of improving the students’ success in that school. Each initiative has to be aimed to improve a certain metric. The group has been forming for three years and we have just launched our first initiative: to raise third grade reading levels by thwarting the effects of summer learning-loss.

Some of you may not know that more than 90 percent of students at Mimosa Elementary School in Roswell come from families whose income qualifies those students for free-and-reduced lunches. There are unique challenges at Mimosa that make it hard for the students to perform at levels seen in other North Fulton schools. That’s why we decided to start this project there.

The school has a dedicated and outstanding principal in Ariane Holcomb and a staff of teachers who take the challenges at that school head on. Through their leadership and hard work, the school saw a 9.2 percent increase in the College and Career Ready Performance Index last year. That’s a dramatic increase, especially for a school where more than 90 percent of the students use English as a second language.

In working with our group, Holcomb suggested our first initiative be to improve the reading levels of the school’s third graders. This was news to me, but third grade reading levels are the biggest predictor of a student’s chances of graduating high school.

The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement posted data that shows that those third grade students who exceed a third grade reading level have greater than a 10 percent chance of graduating than those who only meet that level. And they have more than a 28 percent chance at graduation over those who fall below that level.

That is compelling data. So the next question was, what can we do?

The answer was to start a summer reading program for all rising second graders. I was enlightened to another issue called summer learning loss, where students come back from summer having forgotten some of what they learned the prior school year.

At Mimosa, 90 percent of graduating second graders were at a second grade reading level last year. When they returned the next fall, only 67 percent were.

Summer learning loss happens in every school. But at Mimosa, there is very little structure over the summer because most of the students’ parents are not home and cannot afford daycare. So the loss is much greater there.

So we put in place a month-long summer reading program that will be administered by certified teachers. It will go from breakfast to lunch, to ensure those students get two good meals a day. The program also is aiming for 100 percent participation. To do this, we decided to pay for Fulton County School buses to run their normal routes. This was about half of our $42,500 budget, but we found it necessary.

We are excited about the program and will be excited to see the data afterwards. We are still funding the project, but were fortunate to earn second place in the United Way’s Spark Award, which is a Shark-Tank like competition between start-up nonprofits. They gave us $10,000. Others have stepped up, but we could still use more. If you can, go to our Facebook page at MimosaCollectiveImpact and click the ‘Donate’ button. While $355 will pay for one student to go through the program, we are seeking donations of any size.

Thanks and let’s keep up the good work!


Geoff Smith is a mortgage banker with Assurance Financial focusing on residential home loans for refinances and home purchases. *The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of Assurance Financial Group.

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