Fulton County Schools opens new SAFE center at Tri-Cities High School

Fulton County Schools employees cut the ribbon at the new SAFE center at Tri-Cities High School, called “The Unidos Center." (Courtesy of Fulton County Schools)

Students at Fulton County’s Tri Cities High School will now have access to free food, clothes, counseling services, and more. The district opened a new Student and Family Engagement (SAFE) center at the school this week. A similar center at Banneker High School opened in 2018. Another planned for North Springs High is expected to open next month.

“It was a consolidation of all types of support services that would eliminate any type of academic barriers for students,” says Fulton’s Deputy Chief Academic Officer Dr. Giymah Whitaker of Banneker’s program. “It included mentorship groups…a clothing closet, a food pantry. If families had any type of mental health support needs, they could get that. Job placement, all sorts of things were happening there.”

In 2018, the Georgia Department of Education provided districts with some funding to create these wrap-around services for schools.

“Our job, and our responsibility to students, doesn’t end when the school bell rings,” State Schools Superintendent Richard Woods said at the time. “These wraparound centers will provide the support kids need to be ready to learn. They’ll begin to address the barriers to learning that are in place for so many of our students.”

Whitaker says Fulton County Schools decided to use some funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to redesign the center at Banneker and develop two more. For example, Banneker had a food pantry which has now been replaced with a grocery store through a partnership with Goodr. Each center will also be staffed with a social worker and a coordinator that helps organize everything from therapeutic small groups to the clothes closet.

“It was really to eliminate those academic barriers, as well as the emotional barriers, to learning,” Whitaker says.

Whitaker says the district has built the centers on four pillars: integrated student support; community problem solving; developing a neighborhood hub; and leadership where the school and families share responsibility for the care of the community. She emphasizes that the centers will live up to their names by serving students and their families.

“At our Tri-Cities hub, we will offer English as a Second Language (ESL) courses for adults,” Whitaker says. “We will have potentially financial literacy courses for adults. So, it’s a way for the school to be really that hub, that community school.”

Fulton County Schools teamed up with the Georgia Department of Education, the metro Atlanta Regional Education Service Agency (RESA), and other partners to develop the centers.

“We were very intentional and very thoughtful about the communities in which we put this SAFE center,” Whitaker says. “We looked at data from all across our school system and data such as the United Way Child Well Being Index, to really see which communities would benefit from that.”