Atlanta’s Centers for Hope Graduating Seniors Offer Advice To Younger Students

By Shelby Lin Erdman 3-29-16

Video produced by Gary Lieberman

“Stay in class, no skipping, and make sure you’re on point with your teachers, your grades, and your GPA is up because I’m telling you now, it will catch up with you your senior year. Trust me. I know.”

Those wise words of advice are from Mikela Cullins. She’s a graduating senior this year and a participant at the Center of Hope at Thomasville.

Atlanta’s Centers for Hope are the brainchild of Mayor Kasim Reed and part of a pledge he made when he was running for mayor in 2009 to reopen all 33 of the city’s shuttered community recreation centers.

Just hang around the crowd you’d normally be hanging around so you won’t get distracted by other people that you don’t necessarily associate with, so they won’t try and keep you back.

Ten of the recreational centers were identified as so-called Centers of Hope, where Atlanta students, especially the disadvantaged and most at-risk young people, could go for additional education programs. The centers provide a wide variety of learning opportunities, from STEMS programs to sports, and even classes like gardening.

There are five requirements that form the basis of each center: academic enrichment, character leadership, health and fitness, technology, and community.

This year’s graduating high school seniors, who participated in Centers for Hope programs, discussed why they first got involved in a Center for Hope and how they learned to be good students with Public Broadcasting Atlanta’s American Graduate project.

Maynard Jackson High School senior Phillip Ingram attended the Center for Hope at East Atlanta Kids Club at Brownwood Park. “I remember me and my friends, we ended up skipping school during one of the major tests and come two weeks later they were like I can’t go on to the tenth grade because I did not meet their standards as a ninth grader,” he told PBA.

“I got more focused and was like, okay, if I’m going to have fun, I’ll make sure all my work is done first,” Ingram said.

Senior Terkela Owens attended the Center of Hope at Thomasville after she failed ninth grade math. “It took away my whole summer because I spent the whole summer at summer school.”

“I learned it’s good for you to come home [and] do your homework,” she explained.

And she learned something more from the Center of Hope at Thomasville that helped her make it through high school after a rocky start in ninth grade.

“Get your act together in high school and know the importance of studying and the importance of going to class and the importance of taking class seriously, getting good grades, so, therefore you can get into the school of your choice and have a better chance at having a good career in life,” Owens added.

Senior Devante Holliday, who attended the Center for Hope at James Orange, had trouble in ninth grade, too. “I was not really conscious of what I was doing because I had that eighth grade mentality of, you know, oh I got this,” he said.

Holliday said he learned how to take his time and study. He also says he discovered exercise, like playing his favorite sport of basketball, helped relieve stress and clear his mind.

For Maynard Jackson High School senior Amya Cobb, it was her attitude that caused her trouble when she first started high school.

“I regret being so nonchalant. I mean I knew that I could pass high school like this, but I should have gotten into more AP classes, things that challenged me,” she remembered.

She has a few kernels of advice for younger students. For one, keep your Grade Point Average, or GPA, up. “So you can get scholarships when you graduate.”

And Cobb says she discovered a few very important habits that make for good learning. “You have to exercise, eat correctly, and make sure your body is always healthy.”

Booker T. Washington senior Jameshia Fair, who attended the Center of Hope at James Orange, said getting the right amount of sleep every night was very important for her and so was exercising.

“Jog, run, in the summertime, go swimming,” she advised.

All the graduating seniors said it’s important to choose friends wisely.

“Just hang around the crowd you’d normally be hanging around so you won’t get distracted by other people that you don’t necessarily associate with, so they won’t try and keep you back,” offered Savannah Lee of the Center for Hope at Collier Park.

And another thing she said, “Don’t give up because once you make it, you’ll be happy that you did because when you get through the twelfth grade year, you’re going to get out and go to college.”

Jameshia Owens added, “Stay focused. Pay attention. Don’t let your friends get in your way. Do your work. Go to class and learn.”

“Never give up and always shoot for your goal no matter what it is,” Devante Holliday advised. “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something because you’re the one that stays positive about yourself.”

The Thomasville Center of Hope, which operates in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta, is part of a pledge and an initiative by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed that started when he was running for mayor in 2009. Then-candidate Reed pledged to reopen all of the city’s 33 community recreational centers, which had been closed down due to a lack of funding. Of those 33 recreational centers, 10 were identified as so-called “Centers of Hope” and Thomasville was one of them.

Mayor Reed’s Centers of Hope program for children included five requirements that form the basis of each center: academic enrichment, character leadership, health and fitness, technology, and community.

The first order of business when the kids arrive at Thomasville is 30 to 40 minutes of homework, according to director Reed.

amgrad_logo.jpg “From there the kids are participating in various programs, from educational programs to health and PE programs. We have a garden program and we have a STEMS program. We have a ton of things, a ton of enrichment programs that these kids are participating in.”

“A Center of Hope is a high-performing recreation center with enhanced youth development programming,” according to the City of Atlanta.

Thomasville was one of the first two centers to open under the mayor’s initiative to reopen the city’s rec centers and it was designated as a Center of Hope.