Sowing the Seeds of Justice in Columbus
As many Georgia Appleseed supporters know, a key to the success of our work over the past four years in Columbus, Georgia, was our ability to have an employee in the community “24/7.”
That employee was Georgia Appleseed’s Director of Community Engagement, Teddy Reese. With a bittersweet farewell, Teddy concluded his tenure with Georgia Appleseed on June 30, 2017, to embark on a new and exciting chapter in his life: the practice of law in his adopted hometown of Columbus, Georgia. He will continue to serve with GA Appleseed as a member of the Board of Advisors.
Looking back, it is important to note that the Columbus office was a new experience for GA Appleseed, and, indeed, for the Appleseed Network. No other Appleseed Center had a second office and they looked to Georgia Appleseed for advice and guidance on implementing this strategy for getting “policy” closer to “community” in their own states.
What we always told our sister centers was this: for a second location to work, you must find a community that has local leadership willing to work collaboratively towards greater justice for its most vulnerable citizens.
We found that desire in the many leaders, volunteers and advocates with whom we worked in Columbus.
One of the most significant outcomes of our past four years, in collaboration with the Muscogee County School District (MCSD), was the full-scale implementation of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), now the foundation of many schools in the district and on target to be the foundation of every school in the near term. PBIS is an evidence-based strategy, with decades of supporting research establishing it as among the most effective and systemic strategies to transform the so-called “school to prison pipeline” into the “school to opportunity pipeline." In other words, the long term outcome of the implementation of PBIS “with fidelity” is that more kids will stay in class and out of juvenile court, and more kids will achieve academic success that will translate into bright futures, all of which will contribute to greater public safety for the entire community. For more information on PBIS in the state and around the country, go to Georgia's Department of Education PBIS or PBIS.org.
Georgia Appleseed is proud of the role it played in helping the MCSD move ahead with its own plans to pursue PBIS: Georgia Appleseed (1) invested new money in the community through a $18,000 donation to support the first cohort of PBIS training, (2) recommended that its project partners at GA Department of Education include MCSD in the Project AWARE grant, resulting in new federal grant funding to MCSD in the amount of $2.5 Million over five years to support behavioral health services in PBIS schools; and (3) arranged for support from the Georgia Education Climate Coalition (GECC) to present, later this summer (2017), the “ALL IN” Campaign encouraging everyone to be “all in” – to do whatever it takes – to improve academic and behavioral outcomes for every MCSD student. The campaign will air on 11 major cable networks through December 2017.
Georgia Appleseed also secured pro bono legal talent to help the MCSD meet its annual statutory obligation to review, and revise as needed, its Student Code of Conduct. This was especially important given the changes in the state’s juvenile code (the laws that govern the kinds of cases, including cases filed by the schools, that are handled in juvenile court) and the changes in how discipline is administered in PBIS school settings.
In addition, Georgia Appleseed has worked with the Muscogee County Juvenile Court. A highlight was Georgia Appleseed’s technical assistance to the Court in its successful efforts in the first round of the Juvenile Court Incentive Grant Program to secure $400,000 in funding for diversion programming – a way to divert nonviolent youth from expensive juvenile detention to more effective, research-supported, community-based programming that changes negative behaviors and reduces recidivism. Georgia Appleseed has also been working with the Court in support of its new mediation programming, which will enhance the Court’s response to Children in Need of Services (CHINS) cases and other low-level delinquency matters in a cost-effective manner.
Plus, Georgia Appleseed, through Teddy’s on-the-ground community engagement, has impacted the lives of young people throughout the community through educational outreach, exposure to opportunity, and role-modeling.
Perhaps even more important is the insight that Georgia Appleseed gained from its on-the-ground work in Columbus that it will use in new communities that need the inspiration that the Columbus experience has to offer.
Columbus will remain important to Georgia Appleseed. Through Georgia Appleseed’s ongoing projects at the state and local levels to dismantle the school to prison pipeline, to improve public safety, to increase justice for people in the margins of society and to promote community revitalization, Georgia Appleseed will continue its work to increase justice, in Columbus and in communities across the state. The work will continue under the leadership of Director of Projects Allison Rutland Soulen (email@example.com).
Our gratitude also extends to The Wright Legal Group and to Pope McGlamry, two local law firms that generously provided local office space.
Other supporters over the past four years include the following: 100 Black Men of Columbus
Chattahoochee Valley Community Foundation (Knight Fund)
Columbus Office of Crime Prevention
Georgia Power Foundation
Greater Columbus Georgia Young Professionals (of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce)
The Wright Legal Group
We are also thankful for our individual supporters, who have been recognized in our annual reports.