George Cleveland

George Cleveland, vice president of Channel Operations for Cricket Wireless, which is a subsidiary of AT&T. (Photo Courtesy: Cricket Wireless)

Every school year, scholars, parents, media and politicians debate the best way to educate our youth and prepare them for success in a growing global economy. The debate is often centered on whether public, private or charter schools offer the best opportunities for kids to succeed. Each institution has its own supporters and detractors, successes and failures. One point everyone agrees on is that every student deserves access to a quality education despite their economic situation.

Unfortunately, public schools face multiple challenges that impact our teachers’ ability to effectively educate their students, and the challenges are compounded in economically distressed areas. As a kid growing up in Macon, GA, I attended both a school located in a lower economic community and one in a more affluent area. These varied experiences helped me understand the important role financial and socio-economic differences play on education.

Hard work and dedication helped bring my vision to life. I serve as vice president of channel operations at Cricket Wireless, a subsidiary of AT&T, where I’m responsible for customer care, training and communications, digital experience and sales operations. I’m proud to represent both AT&T and Cricket. Our employees donate countless dollars and volunteer hours to support organizations like Junior Achievement (JA). JA is redesigning the student learning experience in Georgia, which we hope will serve as a model for schools across the country.

“There is a direct correlation between education and economic development,” said Jack Harris, president & CEO, Junior Achievement of GA. “Through strategic partnerships between JA, school systems and the business community, this model [JA Academy] has the potential to transform education to meet the needs of today’s students. Together we can bring innovation to education in order to create more pipelines to economic opportunities for all students.”

The JA Academy is a full immersion “school-within-a-school” model that acts as a joint venture between JA, the local school system, and the business community. It’s designed to provide rigorous standards-based education infused with career readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. This model ensures that learning is relevant, experiential and authentically connected to the complexities that exist beyond the classroom walls.

This model is working and JA recently announced that the program will launch in Atlanta Public Schools at the start of the 2017 school year. It’s currently operating in two school systems in Metro Atlanta – Fulton County Schools and Gwinnett County Public Schools – and, the first-year results are really encouraging:

• Attendance: Chronic absenteeism decreased by 75% in the second semester compared to non-JA Academy students, and overall JA Academy students are present much more frequently than their non-JA Academy counterparts.

• Reading & Math Levels: JA Academy students advanced an average of nearly 3 grade levels in Reading and Math from the beginning of the year, starting from an average level of 6th grade.

• Discipline: Discipline incidents occurred 90% less compared to non-JA Academy 9th grade students, and fell 49% from fall to spring semester amongst JA Academy students.

• Assessments: JA Academy students outperformed their peers in every state milestone assessment for 9th grade – Science, Math, and English Language Arts – while at the same time, the scores for the overall 9th grade students increased from the year before.

The above results are truly impressive. My hope is that the JA Academy will be adopted by more school systems in Georgia and throughout the country. This will take time, patience and commitment. It’s imperative that every child have the opportunity to reach their potential. Until then, I ask that you join me in giving your time and sharing your experience with our youth by serving as a mentor, or volunteering with organizations like JA.

Let’s help them locate the keys to unlock their potential and passion to be successful leaders in a growing global economy. We all can make and be a part of history!