Deputy Director Michael Lucas discusses what’s taking AVLF from one school to seven.
Atlanta-area children headed back to school last week. This time of year can be a moment of excitement and trepidation, of opportunity and real challenges. With two young daughters at home who are heading into pre-K and 1st grade, I understand this dynamic well. It is my role as a father that weighs heavily on my mind as I head to work each day. I am all too aware of the intersection of Atlanta Volunteer Lawyer Foundation’s housing work and children’s ability to go back to school ready to learn.
The contrast between my daughters’ reality as they wake up to get ready for school and that of far too many low-income children in Atlanta is stark. As we buy school supplies and plan schedules, I feel the disparity like a gut punch. I constantly imagine how different my choices might be. What if the walls of my apartment, riddled with mold, were literally making my children sick? What if I was too afraid to complain to the landlord, fearing that if I did everything I own might be thrown onto the curb? What would happen then? A disruption of my kids’ schooling, a move to a friend’s home, or maybe even homelessness would follow.
I think about what those conditions would do to my daughters’ readiness to learn in the classroom. I can’t imagine what it would do to me as a parent. But this is the reality for far too many parents in Atlanta, and it is not okay.
AVLF’s Standing with Our Neighbors program aims to do something about this. With a laser-sharp focus on the intersections between housing, education, and health, SWON places a staff attorney and community advocate in neighborhoods – and in schools – that are fighting for stability. We launched the program in September 2016 at Thomasville Heights Elementary, in partnership with Purpose Built Schools Atlanta. Throughout the past year, our team has been forming deep connections to the Thomasville Heights community, working to build housing stability, but also to build trust.
We are thrilled with our progress so far. Seventy-five students saw increased housing stability due to AVLF’s advocacy. A critical, and connected, decrease in school turnover followed. Initial reports reveal that, according to initial internal calculations, AVLF’s work contributed to a 36 percent drop in student transiency at Thomasville Heights.1 But as proud of these results as we are, more must be done.
As we enter our second school year, AVLF is expanding from one school to seven. Continuing our partnership with Purpose Built Schools, we will be expanding to Slater Elementary School and Price Middle School. Additionally, with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a team is deploying into the neighborhoods of Mechanicsville, Pittsburgh, Adair Park, Summerhill, Capitol View, and Peoplestown, an area collectively known as NPU-V. AVLF staff will be embedded in Dunbar Elementary, The Barack and Michelle Obama Academy (formerly D.H. Stanton Elementary), and, in partnership with The Kindezi Schools, Gideons Elementary. What’s more? Two staff members will be in Hollis Innovation Academy, thanks to support from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
The need for housing stability in these communities is great. D.H. Stanton saw 145 eviction filings in its attendance zone in 2015. Dunbar had 360 eviction filings. And Gideons? Are you sitting down? Gideons had 550 eviction filings in one single year. With these numbers, it is unsurprising enrollment turnover is a major issue at these schools. Gideons Elementary recently experienced a 49% enrollment turnover rate.
This program has transformed the way AVLF delivers much of its services. More importantly, it is helping kids breathe. It is helping kids learn. And it is helping ensure that kids get to learn in the same school, with the same teachers, from year to year. As a result, it is helping kids thrive.
AVLF’s embedded teams leverage the full power of dozens of volunteer attorneys from Atlanta’s leading law firms. Through the service of our volunteers, we will continue to provide the families in these communities the best legal representation money can’t buy – taking on every case of potential displacement and harmful living conditions.
Your support of AVLF helps us stand with our neighbors who are struggling day-to-day, fighting for stability – fighting for their children. When the children at our schools are able to thrive, the entire school and the surrounding community can begin to thrive as well. This is the vision of Standing With Our Neighbors. That same fight for stability also drives the amazing growth and innovation in our domestic violence work, where we literally help save lives.
All of these exciting changes at AVLF speak directly to our commitment to supporting safe and stable homes and families by inspiring volunteers to fight for justice. Thank you for taking the time to learn more about our work, and please consider supporting us if you can.
1 These numbers are based on initial internal calculations of 2017 transiency rates against the 2012-2016 five-year average.
This letter was updated on May 2, 2018 to reflect changes made to the program last fall.