“Being a student is the only full time career we all have til death do we part!” Dr. Paulette Fleming
The greatest partnership schools have is with students who move on to become alumni. Successful students come back as Alumni to help continue the progression of the school. Coming from a family of educators, being connected to your grade school, high school and college were simply a way of life. Living in what I’d call the Golden Years of APS (Atlanta Public Schools), in the 90’s, brought about a fresh excitement about graduation, high school culture and transition which were a major part of my classmates and my experience coming through the public school system. The title of “Alumni” from a school in Atlanta carries a prestige like no other. In fact, I would put on the table that alumni engagement has been the downfall and survival of our public schools. Downfall because over the last few years, school culture in public schools has changed drastically in turn changing the way Alumni and stakeholders are engaged. Many traditions, history and legacy, have almost become extinct in schools with mascots, colors even the school name changing. Alumni have helped their schools survive through scholarship, mentoring and school beautification programs as well as advocating for the success of the students. As there’s such a great need and call for reform in education, Alumni will play a critical role in how school Districts are able to effectively connect with and engage parents, families and communities.
I was able to ask fellow Frederick Douglass High School alumni, Chris Brown, his thoughts on the importance of alumni engagement.
During the trying times of civil rights, desegregation and integration of schools, Douglass High School became a universal community school encompassing students from surrounding over filled schools. The Founding Principal and former Superintendent Dr. Lester Butts empowered a great man by the name of Dr. Samuel Hill, Sr. Dr. Hill, an 8th grade teacher who became principal after Butts accepted his new role as superintendent.
Douglass High School, like many schools across the Nation found on the Westside, enrolled students from many walks of life to include some of Atlanta’s black established neighborhoods to some of the Atlanta’s worse housing project communities. Dr. Hill, much like Dr. Butts empowered students and teachers to be all that they could be no matter your situation, hardships, or economic status. This created a culture of success and model of engagement for years to come.
Since 2001 and the retiring of Dr. Hill, this tradition has encountered a culture shock with a decline in engagement due to a decrease in population, school choice alternatives, and various other factors. The Alumni Association has made great stride to bridge the gap between senior alumni and younger millennials to help rebuild and shape our communities. I lend my success and future success to this culture. Like those before me, I strive to support and encourage alumni engagement. We need students to become active and stay involved for the future success of our students, schools, and communities.
In what ways can Alumni engagement support school turn around strategies?
Alumni engagement can support school turn around strategies by getting involved with school mentoring initiatives, tutoring and assuring that life coaching programs for both parents and students exist; helping establish and maintain a strong school/business partnerships, raising funds to include scholarships and other direct benefits to promote engagement; coordinating community-building activities such as job fairs, health fairs, etc. It’s also critically important for the Alumni to partner with the school to support family engagement and family success.
How can Alumni be more engaged in schools?
If supported in the right manner, Alumni groups are great partners in coalition building by using alumni professionals, business owners, and strategic partnerships of alumni members to support community and school needs to better serve the children. Supporting Career Day and Week initiatives, literacy programs (ELA, financial, business, entrepreneurship, etc.), helping with scholarships, school beautification days and most importantly, college & career readiness programs and helping every student find a pathway to success.
Is alumni engagement still taught and supported by schools?
Alumni engagement is taught but level of engagement varies on a school-by-school basis. Continued efforts should be made to increase direct support of alumni engagement as some school lack resources and staff support to interface effectively with Alumni groups that are traditionally acknowledged by schools. Support varies based on school culture and length of the school existence. Schools may have great initiatives but sometimes lack the needed parental and staff support which could decreases student buy-in. Alumni who are already involved should extend welcome, empower involvement, and support through student leaders. Using social media, direct mail and professional organizations, schools can directly interface, support, and increase alumni engagement.
What’s a success story from alumni engagement you can recall?
A success story I recall from alumni engagement is probably one that is close and has been a motivating factor of my own active role in alumni and community engagement. It’s the story of students growing up not really having much of a direction or having much to look up to during some of the most trying times for African Americans in the south. The “Douglass High School Experience” in Atlanta, GA encompassed a high level of Alumni Engagement.
There were many great active Alumni teachers that sponsored and participated in extracurricular sports, activities, and student lives. This level of engagement promoted and inspired many to excel one way or another. To see their fellow class mates and other alumni come through the hall and to help support students and teachers built a culture of success, honor, and pride.
Alumni interaction with students encourages accountability. When students know that people are expecting them to succeed and eventually give back, they want to do better and more. Alumni engagement provides role models for student success. As an active member of the alumni association, I personally interact and engage with students, teachers, staff and other alumni and community members. My experiences lead me to believe that students get a greater sense of hope and potential when they see the success of people who came from the same or similar communities as their own. Alumni engagement has inspired me to become a leader in my community, reach back and pay it forward. I am a benefactor of teachers, leaders and community members, many of whom were a part of the alumni, who regularly came to the school to remind us about the lessons that led to their successes. As a fifth-generation Atlanta native and proud graduate of Atlanta Public Schools, I attended the historic Frederick Douglass High School and believe that Alumni help to build the academic achievement of all students.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.