Category Archives: Local News

Update on the ATL Promise Center


SireeshRamesh, Editor-in-Chief

   The Promise Center opened in late August with the hope of reversing Atlanta’s recidivism and drug problem. With over a million dollars invested in the project, the Promise Center became the source of a fair amount of praise and criticism. Was a million dollars invested in a building and a couple of programs really worth it? Couldn’t a grant for schools in Atlanta or already established non-profits in the area have been a better use of the money? Though only time would be able to tell whether the Promise Center was an effective use of the money, the investment became a case study for the Atlanta government to see if use of public funds outside of the regular programs and grants could effect change in the community.

      The Promise Center was built with a three-pronged approach in mind: diversion, intervention and prevention. The diversion aspect of the program stems from the recreation section of the center where students can participate in team sports and clubs or contribute to the center’s youth-run radio station. Intervention is provided in the opposite section of the Promise Center. The center provides character and leadership development training, healthy lifestyle programs and group counseling, all in an effort to intervene in youth’s problems before the ramifications become too serious.  The final step of the program, prevention, is carried out through the extensive education programs the center provides.

In addition to these three goals, the Promise Center hopes to heal the broken relations between police and the community. These better relations fostered between students and government could help increase school attendance and produce healthier, productive outlets for youth.

          A year after the investment, the creation of the Promise Center seems to be paying off. The center has held dozens of events, each focusing on increasing youth engagement in the area. It highlights how government can go beyond distant economic or educational policies to improve the lives of its students. Creative programs like the Atlanta promise center seem to be doing much more than any stipend or loan could have. If government focuses on spending funds outside of the standard loans and grants, it could have a much broader and more positive net effect on the community.


New Prospect Shoots for the Stars

EthanBenn, Staff Reporter

Local students at New Prospect Elementary had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on Oct. 23 to ask questions of some of the crewmembers aboard the International Space Station.

To find out more about how the event was organized and how it went, I interviewed Ms. Kathleen Searcy, a TAG teacher at New Prospect who helped organize the event. Our conversation, conducted over email, has been lightly edited below:

Benn: How was New Prospect Elementary selected for this program – via request or random chance, for example? Does NASA offer schools around the country the opportunity to question its astronauts regularly, or only for certain occasions or during certain time periods?

Searcy: Schools around the country can apply.  I did a similar event thirteen years ago at a previous school, and I sought out the opportunity for New Prospect.  I submitted a lengthy application last spring.  Typically, three to four schools are selected to talk with the crew of each ISS Expedition Crew.  No random chance here – it’s a very competitive process!
B: What went into choosing the questions, and did the students who would ask those same questions need to prepare at all? How did they prepare to ask their questions?

S: I created a website for students to learn about the astronauts, the ISS, etc. After learning, they were invited to submit a question by filling out a google form on the website. We counted 184 students who submitted nearly 400 questions. Twenty students were selected to ask their questions, and the selections were based on their questions’ uniqueness, the appropriateness of their questions, the variety of their grade levels, and each student’s ability to speak clearly.

B: Knowing that they were talking to people thousands of miles away, what were some of the students thinking and feeling? Did they want to ask more questions?

S: Actually, the astronauts are not thousands of miles away, but are rather in low-Earth orbit, approximately 240 miles up.  I’m sure the students would have loved more time with them.  There was a sense of awe and fascination during the entire event.

B: In your opinion, would more question and answer sessions between schoolchildren and professionals, regardless of the medium (i.e. in person or via the internet), be beneficial to their learning? How?

S: Talking with real-world professionals is always better than reading about it in a book or learning second-hand.  We should do it more often.

Ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade, the students asked a variety of questions of Randy Bresnik, Joe Abaca and Mark Vande Hei, all Americans living and working aboard the International Space Station (ISS). These questions ranged from lighthearted requests of “could you do a flip right now?” – the astronauts obliged, of course – to the more scientific question of “do you have internet in space?” and a more personal question of “how do your friends and family feel about you being in space?” Bresnik, Abaca and Hei took turns answering each question, but were still constrained to a time limit of around half an hour. The astronauts also demonstrated how they ate and drank in a zero-gravity environment.

The opportunity the students at New Prospect had was certainly unique, and hopefully, as said by Ms. Searcy, “[the students] were also inspired. They are our next generation of explorers!”



















Atlanta’s Million Dollar Investment to Help Its Youth

SireeshRamesh, Editor-in-Chief

For young people in Georgia, Atlanta can be a tough place to grow up. With sprawling gangs and high recidivism rates, the state capitol has been a cesspool for violence and drug-use among young people.

   The Promise Center is hoping to reverse that trend. Formally called the At-Promise Youth and Community Center, the Promise Center opened  last month with the hope that it would provide a new, positive setting and set of resources for young people in metro-Atlanta.

      The Promise Center’s website highlights a three-pronged approach: “diversion, intervention and prevention.”

The diversion aspect of the program stems from the recreation section of the center where students can participate in team sports and clubs or contribute to the center’s youth-run radio station.

Intervention is provided in the opposite section of the Promise Center. Families have the opportunity to opt-in to clinical assessments for their children as well as therapeutic sessions that could potentially curb or even halt destructive habits systemic to teens in the area. The center also provides character and leadership development training, healthy lifestyle programs and group counseling, all in an effort to intervene in youth’s problems before the ramifications become too serious.

      The final step of the program, prevention, is carried out through the extensive education programs the center provides. They range from GED preparation to STEM programs and credit recovery for students currently enrolled, but struggling, in their schools.

What is expected from this multi-million-dollar investment made by the City of Atlanta? First and foremost, the city hopes to decrease youth arrests and overall recidivism by 10%. Yet, beyond statistics, the hope is that The Promise Center can foster a new culture and spirit among Atlanta Youth. Better relations among police officers and students, increases in school attendance and healthier and more productive outlets are all goals that the Atlanta Police Department sets for their community. The Promise Center, many hope, will help them get there.

Johns Creek Mayoral Debate

EthanBenn, Staff Reporter

Of all the issues ranging from autonomous vehicles, traffic, high-density development and natural disaster preparedness to building density, zoning and land development, questions about taxes truly dominated the Johns Creek Mayoral Debate.

The debate, put on by the student-run Johns Creek Leadership Council and hosted at Chattahoochee High School, included the Mayoral candidates and City-Council candidates
running for both election and reelection on Nov. 7  this year.

Leonard “Lenny” Zaprowski and Issure C. Yang are both running for City-Council Post 1, with Zaprowski attempting to maintain his incumbent status. Vick Horton, John Bradberry and Mark Venco are all trying out for City-Council Post 3, after the previous councilwoman Cori Davenport decided against running. Stephanie Endres, the incumbent, and Chris Jackson, who was unable to attend the debate, are competing for City-Council Post 5. Mike Bodker, the incumbent,  and Alex Marchetti, who was also unable to attend, faced off for the office of the Mayor.

While they may not have mattered to the few high school students in attendance, the audience paid close attention to the candidates’ responses to questions about taxes, even leaning in and praising the candidates’ responses at times.

The crowd applauded Endres while she discussed T-SPLOST funding –  the sales taxes, technically a special-purpose local-option sales tax, meant to fund infrastructure projects and school improvements. Endres articulated that she unwillingly voted for the T-SPLOST referendum so that Johns Creek could still benefit from the resulting change. Regardless of whether or not Johns Creek had agreed, she said, local residents would have had to pay the extra sales tax.

Common among the candidates running for Post 3 was a unilateral unappreciation for raising taxes. Candidates Venco and Bradberry debated over a question about funding for a new multimillion-dollar fire station in the city’s north end, and Venco suggested looking at how fire trucks and other resources could be reused or sent to other smaller departments instead of raising taxes.

Vicki Horton promised to cut the city’s operating costs by putting an end to private contracts and deals which put private entities in charge of city services. This contracting, according to Horton, was acceptable when Johns Creek was a developing town, not a city. Horton, it seemed, was intent on using her experience as an economic development consultant to her advantage.  Candidate Venco agreed with Horton when given the opportunity to make a rebuttal.

Balancing taxes between private businesses and residents, a question of which group should make up the majority of the city’s revenue, divided candidates Yang and Zaprowski. Yang, a business owner herself, argued against “double taxing” private business owners through payroll and income taxes. Zaprowski questioned her logic, asking, “so business owners shouldn’t pay taxes?”

Generally, fiscal conservatism was a principle to which all candidates in the conservative area of Johns Creek could agree to, matching the opinions and voting preferences of
many residents who turned out for both President Donald Trump and Representative Karen Handel.

Hope for the Democrats

MaddieYashinsky, Sports Editor

Jon Ossoff, who is currently running a firm specializing in anti-corruption investigations, was one of five Democrats running in a special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district. On Jan. 5, 2017, Ossoff announced his candidacy for the special election after previous seat holder, Tom Price announced that he had been named Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary. Ossoff quickly became the most desirable democratic candidate in the race. He was endorsed by prominent figures such as congressman Hank Johnson and John Lewis as well as state House Democratic leader Stacey Abrams. Ossoff has raised over $8.3 million by early April of 2017.

Ossoff fell just short of capturing a House seat in a longtime conservative area of Georgia. Ossoff received 48.1% of the vote. He needed to get 50% in order to win outright. He and Republican candidate Karen Handel, who received 19.8% will now face off in a runoff election in June.

It wasn’t the election results however that made this special election such a popular topic of discussion. Rather, It was the statistics leading up to it that impacted the Republicans living in the area. The election is seen by many as an early test of how the first few months of Donald Trump’s presidency may have shifted the opinions or voter enthusiasm of educated suburban voters who live in swing districts. Trump under-performed in districts with demographics similar to the 6th during the 2016 election, having won the 6th District by only 1 percentage point. Fulton county Georgia has always been primarily Republican. In 2012 Mitt Romney won by 23 points in this district, and Republican Rep. Tom Price was re-elected with nearly 62% of the vote in 2016 here before being named Trump’s health and human services secretary.

“There is no doubt that this is already a victory for the ages,” Ossoff told supporters the night of the election. “That no matter what the outcome is tonight- whether we take it all or whether we fight on — we have survived the odds. We have shattered expectations. We are changing the world. Your voices are going to ring out across this state and across this country.” Many supporters of Ossoff and what the campaign stood for coined the phrase “Flip the 6th” as the election was being held.

Helping Refugees at Home

Sireesh Ramesh, Staff Reporter

The Syrian refugee crisis has grown into one of the biggest political questions of the decade. Politicians and citizens alike have become strangled in vicious political debate over what to do with the millions wanting refuge. While many are questioning how to handle the Syrians seeking asylum abroad, organizations like the City Hope Community have begun with the refugees already in America. Founded in 2006, the charity began as a tutoring center for the minority of refugees living in Georgia. As the Syrian civil war worsened, the organization started getting more and more families from the war-torn nation. I met with Ellen Kim, one of the organization’s leaders, who told me about the focus of the program.  


“A lot of refugees come here not knowing any English.  One of our most important programs is helping the kids learn English as fast as possible,” Ellen emphasized. But tutoring families is not the only thing City Hope has done to help incoming refugees. After three months, government assistance for refugees cuts off, and then the burden of providing for the family falls on the parents’ shoulders. This becomes especially hard when most parents, still trying to learn English, are unable to find a job. City Hope helps these families by applying for food stamps and providing money after the three-month window ends. One of the refugee families gave me insight on how the organization impacted their lives.


The Qhadij family lives in a 200-square-foot apartment. The space can only manage to fit a closet-sized kitchen, bathroom, and couch covered in stains from the antics of five young children . A haphazard mix of paper is scattered across the carpet floor, its drawings matching those etched in dark crayon on the walls. “It’s been a hard transition,” the mother explains in her newly learned English doused in phonemes of Arabic. “[The City Hope Community] has really helped make everything a little bit easier,” she says, staring admiringly at Ellen. The family fled from Syria when their village was bombed by incoming ISIS militants. They escaped to the deserts of Jordan, moving aimlessly from camp to camp, before finally gaining refugee status in America three years later. The oldest of the five kids, Abdul, chimes in. Despite his lack of fluency in English, Abdul paints his words with color, creating vibrant expressions with each sentence, “I see on the news that many people don’t want me, us, Syrians here, but [City Hope] makes me feel like I belong.”


A Poetry Slam for Maya Angelou

Sireesh Ramesh, Staff Reporter

Maya Angelou defined the voice of an entire generation. Among the movement working hard to tear down the systemic barriers of race, Maya Angelou came forward as its loudest voice. Her poem, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, would gain national acclaim, its fiery language boldly expressing the sentiments of many African Americans at the time. Many of today’s most influential people – including the Clintons and Oprah Winfrey – credit that poem with instilling a greater understanding of barriers in America. Although Angelou passed away in 2014, her legacy is still palpable. Youth across America have found their voice in the lyrical poetry of Angelou. Because of her ability to connect to the younger generation, GPB partnered with youth organizations that helped impoverished children in Atlanta to host its first poetry slam in the memory of Maya Angelou. Named “And Still I Rise” to reference both Angelou’s most powerful poem and her undeterred determination, the program attracted teens from all over Atlanta.

The event was planned to start in a workshop at five in the morning in a small, black GPB studio dotted with rusty filing cabinets and precarious stacks of paper. At around 4:30, teens began to drizzle into the classroom, their eyes bouncing around the room under dark pouches from a nervous night’s sleep. Once the hum of a clock quieted the talkative crowd, the world–renowned poet Natasha Trethewey walked to the front of the class. Her steely eyes held an intimidating presence in the room that she kept for a few seconds before melting it with a warm smile and a light–hearted introduction. “Poetry was everything to me. Like a lot of you guys, I didn’t have much growing up. I know how important this is to you, and today we’ll work hard to make sure you’ll leave with something more.” As Trethewey’s introduction bled into a lecture on poetry, students sifted through their packed bags for their uniquely designed poetry journals. Some were leather bound and small, others were large and worn to a yellow tinge. Yet, what they all had in common were pages and pages saturated in ink from burgeoning ideas, thoughts and poems.

After the four hour workshop, twelve teens were chosen to present their work in front of an audience at the Georgia Broadcasting Center. The works at the slam ranged from heartfelt pieces on domestic abuse to more whimsical poetry on the quirks of life. But, what became evident after every performance was that each poet had an undeterred need for their voice to be heard. No presenter retreated to the mundane recitations many have become accustomed to hearing in a classroom. These performers used sudden crescendos, expressive hand gestures and even some improvised dancing to show the emotive qualities of their poetry in their own way.
Among the twelve contestants, Jhoanna Anderson came out on top. A senior in Cartersville High School, Anderson–like many youth in Atlanta – found poetry through the works of Maya Angelou. Anderson’s lips unconsciously curled into a smile as she recalled the days when she would “sneak Maya’s poetry books into her room and read them through the night.” Her lyrical piece ,‘Fatherless,’ was partly inspired by Angelou’s own poems on her struggles with the inner city life. “What really touched me about Maya was that she grew up in the same conditions as me and still managed to be so successful.” Looking down at her first place prize, a pocket-sized certificate that grants her a meeting with a publishing agent, Anderson remarks, “Maybe I too will be as successful as her one day.”