September 17th Virtual Transform Westside Summit: Advancing Education during COVID with the Booker T. Washington Cluster Principals

Westside Future Fund’s September 17th Virtual Transform Westside Summit featured the principals of Atlanta Public Schools’ prolific Booker T. Washington Cluster. Anchoring the featured panel discussion was WFF President & CEO, John Ahmann, and the guest lineup included: Dr. Diamond Ford, Michael R. Hollis Innovation AcademyYolanda Weems, Tuskegee Airmen Global AcademyRobert Williams, M. Agnes Jones Elementary SchoolTiauna Crooms, Herman J. Russell West End Academy; and Dr. Angela Coaxum-Young, Booker T. Washington High School.

Summit attendees enjoyed a warm welcome and important community updates by summit co-hosts Ebony Ford and Benjamin Earley before hearing from each principal on how their school is helping students thrive academically while maintaining a health-conscious environment as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.

Dr. Diamond Ford, Principal, Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy

A seasoned educator of over 20 years and Hollis Innovation Academy Principal, Dr. Ford helped start the discussion by sharing how her school has managed in pivoting between virtual and in-person learning as conditions continue to evolve. “STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” said Ford when asked about academic areas of focus. “At Hollis, we’re focused on STEM in our K-5 space, but in the middle school space we are working very collectively with the HJ Russell West End Academy, and also Booker T. Washington High School around agricultural STEM.”

Yolanda Weems, Principal, Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy

Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy (TAG) Principal, Yolanda Weems added that STEM is being integrated into every level of education for her students. With the help of a dedicated staff in finding innovative solutions to the new challenges brought on by COVID-19, TAG is teaching students how to take STEM from theory to practice. Speaking to how practical the school’s curriculum is, Weems boasted,

They’re actually building me a house. They’re using the design process to build me a house and make it real life.”

Robert Williams, Principal, M. Agnes Jones Elementary School

Representing M. Agnes Jones Elementary School, Robert Williams had this to say as he spoke on the increased communication between the Cluster Principals during the pandemic:

We realize that together everyone achieves more.”

Williams added that being intentional in addressing students’ needs is part of what pushed M. Agnes Jones Elementary to become the first STEM-certified school in the district. Fostering real-world problem solving through learning in partnership with Georgia Tech, Williams said the school-wide initiative is, “We Are the World: Conquering Hunger through Sustainability and Creativity.”

Tiauna Crooms, Principal, Herman J. Russell West End Academy

Bringing them back into the building, it was like therapy,” said Herman J. Russell West End Academy Principal, Tiauna Crooms of welcoming students back for in-person learning.

“It wasn’t just therapy for the students…but it was for the adults too,” she continued before going on to highlight the importance of incorporating Social Emotional Learning in the school’s curriculum. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.

Crooms expressed the necessity of meeting students where they are emotionally to create an environment conducive to learning for those students who have “dealt with trauma during the pandemic.” Speaking to the preparedness in relevant fields which Herman J. Russell West End Academy students can look forward to, Crooms concluded, “every student when they leave the eighth grade will have an opportunity to receive a high school credit in computer science coding.”   

Dr. Angela Coaxum-Young, Principal, Booker T. Washington High School

Rounding out the panel was Dr. Angela Coaxum-Young of the historic Booker T. Washington High School, alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. Coaxum-Young spoke about the school’s Rise program, which helps students who may have fallen behind due to the pandemic catch up on their studies through after-school/night school programs. With STEM certification and a focus on Agricultural STEM, BTW offers real-world, hands-on, and practical science through indoor gardening and food sustainability on a community level.  

The Booker T. Washington Cluster is working to become Georgia’s first fully STEM cirtified cluster.