A Cut Above: B.E.S.T. Academy Students Receive Free Haircuts, Mentoring at School-Based Barbershop

When students at B.E.S.T. Academy walk into Room C201 every other Tuesday and Wednesday, they’re not just entering into a regular classroom.

Instead, the young men are headed to their school-based barbershop – a room complete with barber chairs, mirrors, and plenty of real talk and positive conversation.

Known simply as A Cut Above, the program – the first of its kind at Atlanta Public Schools – provides students free haircuts, as well as mentoring and grooming advice from positive male role models who are more like uncles and father figures than barbers.

Established at B.E.S.T. Academy in March 2019 by Atlanta natives Keith Lewis Jr. and Jermaine “Towd” Clarke, the A Cut Above program is part of Lewis and Clarke’s nonprofit organization, I’m A Father F1rst, which aims to provide positive male mentorship and resources to young men who need it the most. A Cut Above is also held in partnership with After School All Stars.

As part of the program, barbers like Cornell Carter and others from across metro Atlanta donate their time and expertise to help cut hair for about two hours every other week. On average, about 40 boys’ hair is cut each week.

“This program has become a passion, and now we’re cutting hair,” said Lewis, program co-founder and a father of three. “B.E.S.T. was one of the first schools to implement the program. We cut about 1,000 heads since we started the program , and we now have barbers who come out and cut anywhere from 25 to 40 heads every other Tuesday and sometimes Wednesday, free of charge.”

According to Clarke, he and Lewis founded the program after discovering that many boys they encountered lacked positive male role models.

“Throughout the day, I would see kids who needed haircuts and shoes, and me and my partner, being the people we are, we stepped in and we put our resources and networks together and called some of our friends,” said Clarke, a father and former elementary school paraprofessional. “We wanted to step in and fill that gap for the kid that didn’t have that father role in the house.”

So far, the program has made a lasting impression on students and staff alike.

“I know that if I’m in need of a haircut, I know I’m going to be straight going to the barbershop,” said Giovanni Morgan, a senior at B.E.S.T. Academy. “The barbers are trusted and they’re great at their jobs. A Father F1rst has been exactly what the organization is – it’s been a father that I’ve never had in my life.”

Ke’Andre Lewis said he’s proud of the work his dad is doing at B.E.S.T.

“Seeing my father help kids who don’t have dads in their lives feels amazing,” said Ke’Andre, an eighth-grade student at B.E.S.T. Academy. “I have friends that don’t have fathers, and I know the importance that having a dad in your life has on a kid.”

Meanwhile, Spanish teacher Celina Flores praised the program for providing students with strong, positive influences.

“I’m A Father F1rst is probably one of the most influential and best programs I’ve ever seen a group of young men be part of,” said Flores, whose classroom is located directly across from the classroom where the barbershop is housed. “It helps them become better men and better boys. And, it helps with their overall confidence and livelihood.”

To learn more about I’m A Father F1rst, or to volunteer your time and resources, please visit: www.imafatherf1rst.com.

3 Elementary Students Leading #APSRace2Read 10 Million Minutes Challenge

Atlanta Public Schools is making strides in our district-wide reading campaign, APS Race2Read! This year, we’re challenging students, teachers, staff, parents and community to read 20 minutes daily and collectively reach 10 million minutes of reading by the end of the 2019-2020 academic year. In our second month of the challenge, APS students have already read and logged more than 2.5 million minutes and counting!

Check out our highlights below (data calculated Oct. 1- Dec. 3)!

School Leaders in Logging: These are our 10 top-performing schools in terms of total minutes logged)!

1. North Atlanta High School555,051
2. Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy554,252
3. Crawford Long Middle School 245,283
4. Garden Hills Elementary School196,279
5. Deerwood Academy123,684
6. Mary Lin Elementary School100,587
7. Sarah Smith Elementary School92,725
8. Hope Hill Elementary School84,799
9. Finch Elementary School82,423
10. Bolton Academy75,765

Student Leaders in Logging: These are our top 10 student readers in the District!

Student – SchoolMinutes
1. Ny’zhan Russell – Deerwood Academy11,584
2. Frederick Bazan – TAG Academy11,438
3. Khe’jon Hill – Benteen Elementary10,918
4. Mohamed Diallo – Deerwood Academy10,475
5. Betcy Eliseo – North Atlanta High 9,450
6. Dominique Kendall – Sylvan Hills Middle9,062
7. Jaiden Bruemmer – TAG Academy9,019
8. Braylen Clinkscales – TAG Academy 8,631
9. Marisa Harper – Sarah Smith Elementary 8,425
10. Ella Sipe – Sutton Middle 8,404

Student Leaders in Progress: These are the top students with the most minutes logged in November!

1. Braylen Clinkscales – TAG Academy8,120
2. Jaiden Bruemmer – TAG Academy7,695
3. DeAnthony Cade – Parkside Elementary7,656
4. Mohamed Diallo – Deerwood Academy7,565
5. Marisa Harper – Sarah Smith Elementary7,165
6. Vernell Smith – TAG Academy7,151
7. Daniela Restrepo – Grady High6,600
8. Jose Marin Gonzalez – Garden Hills Elementary5,825
9. Montrel’ Clerk – Dobbs Elementary5,774
10. Makenzie Hall – TAG Academy5,532

Join the Winter Reading Challenge (Dec. 21- Jan. 21) for our chance to win $50,000 in books, prizes and author visits!

APS needs the community to help us reach our 10 million minutes goal. Register for the race and designate your minutes towards your favorite school! Minutes logged between De. 21 and Jan. 21 will count toward the Third Annual Beanstack Winter Reading Challenge, sponsored by the Penguin Random House U.S. Children’s Divisions. APS joins over 1,500 schools and libraries in this nationwide winter reading challenge as we compete for $50,000 in prizes, including author visits and new books!

Remember, #APSRace2Read is about free-choice reading. Read books, magazines, articles, scholarly papers, etc. Read, read, read — and log your minutes at www.beanstack.com/race2read to count toward our 10 million minutes goal!

We Are APS: Miles Elementary Educator Nominated for LifeChanger of the Year Award

L.P. Miles Elementary School paraprofessional and parent liaison Khalea Moore has been nominated for the 2019-2020 national LifeChanger of the Year award.

“Educating students gives me the most joy,” said Moore, who was also a Students First Award finalist in the recent APyeS! Awards. “I truly believe that I am walking in God’s purpose each and every  day I greet my students. Education to me is our biggest weapon of defense.”

Moore was nominated by Deborah Lewis, the grandparent of a student, for the support and guidance she provides for students.

“Her charisma, words of encouragement, and dedication to the young people she serves are impeccable,” said Lewis. “She is truly somebody who not only say she cares but shows it in her actions. Ms. Moore has given countless hours before and after school to help tutor my granddaughter, who struggles in reading. Last school year, she was able to help her move one grade level up toward reading at her grade level.”

Khalea Moore was a 2019 finalist for the districtwide Schools First APyeS! Award.

In her role as part-time parent liaison, Moore coordinates and facilitates innovative programs to engage Miles parents and families. Lewis says her charismatic personality enables Moore to communicate effectively with Title I parents and non-profit organizations.

Sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation, LifeChanger of the Year recognizes and rewards the very best K-12 educators and school district employees across the United States who are making a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership.

Winners are announced via surprise award ceremonies held at their schools. The grand prize finalists will also be honored at a national awards ceremony in April 2020 in Florida, where the grand-prize winner will be revealed.

To view Ms. Moore’s LifeChanger of the Year nominee profile, or to nominate someone from your school community, go to www.LifeChangeroftheYear.com.

We Are APS highlights APS visionaries (parents, students, teachers, principals, support staff, community members, partners, etc.), who exemplify our vision of a high-performing school district where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage, and the community trusts the system. To recommend an APS visionary for a We Are APS feature, contact your communications liaison or email apscommunicationsoffice@gmail.com.

Apply Now: Atlanta College and Career Academy

Are you a high school sophomore or junior interested in earning credentials aligned with the economic and workforce needs of Atlanta and across Georgia? If so, consider applying to the Atlanta College and Career Academy (ACCA) – a new program offered by Atlanta Public Schools.

Beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, ACCA will serve up to 1000 students and offer 14 career pathways at its newly renovated 1090 Windsor Street location:

  1. Aviation Maintenance
  2. Carpentry
  3. Criminal Investigation
  4. Culinary Arts
  5. Cybersecurity
  6. Dental Science
  7. Early Childhood Care and Education
  8. Emergency Medical Responder
  9. General Automotive Technology
  10. Graphic Design
  11. Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism
  12. HVAC and Refrigeration
  13. Patient Care
  14. Programming

“This will be a game changer for many students,” said ACCA Principal Dr. Tasharah Wilson. “We are excited to offer students credentials that are aligned to high-demand careers in Atlanta.  We highly encourage all students to make an informed decision and take the YouScience Career Assessment (located in myBackpack) before completing the online application.”

If you have questions regarding the application process or YouScience, please see your school counselor. Don’t delay! Open enrollment begins Dec. 9, 2019 and ends Jan. 2, 2020.

Learn more and apply today at www.atlantapublicschools.us/acca

District-Wide Visitor Management System Enhances Safety and Security in Schools

A new, districtwide check-in process now allows students and staff at Atlanta Public Schools to feel safer and more secure when visitors enter our schools.

Thanks to a $7.5 million Comprehensive Safety and Security Initative grant in partnership with West Ed and the Department of Justice, APS has deployed a consistent check-in process with ScholarChip’s visitor management systems for all school and administrative buildings.

Visitors will be required to show a picture identification card (i.e. state identification card, driver’s license or other certified pictured identification, which can include a foreign government issued ID) prior to completing the visitor’s sign-in process. 

The visitor management system, in turn, keeps track of people entering APS buildings. It checks all visitors against the national sex offender database and against school-defined alerts that could include parents/guardians with restraining orders or visitors that have been deemed a threat to students and staff.

After the system scans a visitor’s first and last name and date of birth, a picture is taken, and a name badge provided upon entering the main office. Individuals will then be given specific visitiation directions and instructions for a successful visit.

The entire process takes about three minutes to complete.

All visitors to any APS building will go through the check-in process each time and verify their reason for visiting and will receive a visitor badge.

“The system provides an extra layer of security for our B.E.S.T. family,” said Alexandria Robinson, a parent and school clerk at B.E.S.T. Academy. “It is simple to use and helps us to manage our daily traffic flow.”

APS Chief of Police Ronald Applin said the visitor management system is a key addition to APS.

“This allows the District to see who is in our schools, whether they’re permitted in our buildings and deters people who are intent on doing harm to students,” Applin said.

B.ES.T. Academy Principal Dr. Timothy Jones welcomes the new system.

“The need to feel safe at schools and in the workplace is significantly important to both our students and staff members,” Dr Jones said. “There is a subtle and sometimes delicate balance between a school being as safe as possible and maintaining a warm and welcoming climate.

“The visitor management system is a phenomenal way to ensure that our welcoming culture stays intact while taking positive steps to make schools as safe as possible,” he added. “It provides an extra layer of security that better equips our school to enhance safety and alleviate frustration, fear and anxiety.”

We Are APS: South Atlanta Student Gives Voice to STEM in the Nation’s Capital

As a Georgia Chief Science Officer (CSO), Anthony Mitchell Jr. aims to elevate the student voice and ignite new opportunities in STEM and innovation.

“The responsibilities of being a CSO are to learn through other students, teachers and STEM professionals, then take what you’ve learned back into your school and classroom and advocate for your peers by teaching them,” Anthony explained.

This past summer, the South Atlanta High School 10th grader was one of three scholars (and the only APS sudent) chosen to represent Georgia at the International CSO Summit in Washington, D.C.

The summit brought CSOs from several states and countries to work together as an international cabinet and to impact national leaders. CSOs also had the opportunity to visit national sites and meet national leaders. Anthony’s favorite part of the trip was visiting the Defense Intelligence Agency. `

“Visiting the Defense Intelligence Agency was my favorite because it was a very exclusive and rare place to attend,” Anthony said. “Meeting all these amazing people who worked together to protect this country, invent, and innovate made me very interested. I would consider working there one day. The trip really changed what I saw myself doing in the future.”

Anthony’s dream school is Georgia Tech, where he hopes to foster a career in natural science, engineering or zoology. In the meantime, the South Atlanta Hornet is making strides to achieve his goals. He is a member of the CSO Georgia Leadership Council, South Atlanta High School STEM Council, football team (No. 9), and is ranked in the top 10 percent of his class.


Georgia Chief Science Officers (CSO) is a STEM leadership development program for middle and high school students across the state, enhancing students’ leadership, communication, and advocacy skills. Students are elected to become their school’s CSOs and are empowered to lead STEM/STEAM initiatives at their schools and in their communities. CSOs meet with legislators, school board members, and policymakers to lend their voices to conversations about STEM education and workforce development in our state. CSOs build relationships with STEM industry mentors and connect with companies and careers in their region.

The program is part of the International CSO consortium, launched in 2015 in Arizona. Georgia CSOs are joining more than 800 other CSOs in Arizona, Oregon, Michigan, New York, Delaware, Florida, Mexico, Kuwait, Kenya, and Colombia.

We Are APS highlights APS visionaries (parents, students, teachers, principals, support staff, community members, partners, etc.), who exemplify our vision of a high-performing school district where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage, and the community trusts the system. To recommend an APS visionary for a We Are APS feature, contact your communications liaison or email apscommunicationsoffice@gmail.com.

We Are APS: Parkside Second Grader Publishes a Book

Parkside Elementary School had an “Arrrgh Mighty Day” on Nov. 19, as they celebrated the book release of Penelope the Pirate Princess: The Search for the Magical Moon Pearl. Second grader Selah Thompson, 7, co-wrote the book with her father.

“I hope my book inspires others to find a love for reading and helps them learn something new,” said Selah.

It’s the first in a series that will follow heroine Penelope and her comrades on a quest to protect the Arrrgh Mighty Kingdom from the evil Madam Boujetto.

“Think Magic School Bus with a fantasy twist,” said Khalil Thompson, Selah’s dad and co-author who hopes his daughter’s book will not only offer young readers a comedic, educational adventure, but permission to pursue their dreams. “We want to show our kids and our communities what can happen when children are empowered to dream – and dream beyond their circumstances and statistics.”

As summarized by the Get Georgia Reading campaign, “the end of third grade marks the critical time when children shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Children who can’t read proficiently by the end of third grade are more likely to experience poor health, have discipline problems, become teen parents, and drop out of high school. As adults, they’re more likely to spend time in prison, struggle with unemployment, and face shorter life expectancies. ”

At just 5 years old, Selah joined her parents in a fight for literacy, founding Empowered Readers Literacy Project, a nonprofit organization that tackles illiteracy by helping families build strong reading rituals and getting kids excited about books. Selah officially launched Empowered Readers during MLK weekend in 2019 at the Children’s March for Literacy when she led hundreds of children (and enthusiastic adults) through the streets of Atlanta to advocate for kids to have greater opportunities to learn to read.

In honor of Selah’s book release, the city of Atlanta officially deemed Nov. 19 “Arrrgh Mighty Day.” Community volunteers read her book to K-2 classes at Parkside Elementary, and Councilwoman Natalyn Mosby Archibong presented Selah with a proclamation that recognizes the day as an opportunity to show support for the practices and programs that combat the epidemic of illiteracy.

Ten percent of all Penelope the Pirate Princess: The Search for the Magical Moon Pearl sales will benefit Empowered Readers. For more information on the series or to order the book, visit www.theauthenticprincess.com. For more information on Empowered Readers Literacy Project, visit www.empoweredreaders.org.

We Are APS highlights APS visionaries (parents, students, teachers, principals, support staff, community members, partners, etc.), who exemplify our vision of a high-performing school district where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage, and the community trusts the system. To recommend an APS visionary for a We Are APS feature, contact your communications liaison or email apscommunicationsoffice@gmail.com.