by Michelle Wirth
On Saturday, May 20, an inaugural class of seniors graduated from Atlanta’s first public charter school. The Charles R. Drew Charter School graduation ceremony marks the completion of a dream that has been in the making for decades: the fulfillment of the long-envisioned cradle-to-college pipeline in the East Lake community.
Drew’s Legacy Class of 2017 has left a mark not only on the school’s teachers, students and parents but an entire community. The impressive group of more than 80 seniors boasts a 100 percent college acceptance rate and has earned approximately $5 million in scholarships.
“This is just a great culmination of what we’re really about, our mission, cradle-to-college,” said Drew Head of School Don Doran. “Now, we get to see all the wonderful fruits of our labor. What’s exciting is to see is the post-secondary opportunities every child at Drew is going to have.”
The accomplishments are particularly striking considering what the East Lake neighborhood was like prior to community revitalization efforts and the opening of Drew Charter School in 2001. More than twenty years ago, after decades of deterioration, less than 30 percent of those who lived in the East Lake community graduated from high school and the crime rate was 18 times the national average.
Soon after, the East Lake Foundation and its community partners worked to transform the East Lake Community into an area where all residents can thrive.
“Because they stay dedicated, I know that they’re definitely all going to college, but we also know that they’re all going to commit to great careers and lives and make their mark on this world, and the world will be a better place for it,” said Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen
Pictured Left to Right: Drew Board Chair Cynthia Kuhlman, APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and Senior Academy Principal Peter McKnight
Today, Drew Charter School serves as a national model and Purpose Built Communities and Purpose Built Schools are engaging in similar efforts in cities across the United States.
Senior Alvin Winston is thankful for the unique high school experience he received at Drew Charter School. He said with the help of Drew teachers and administrators, he was able to charter his own course through academics and extracurricular activities.
“I’ve been able to find who I am at Drew and become my best self.”
Winston said Drew’s academic rigor in the classroom and the low counselor-to-student counselor ratio made a huge difference to him (pictured on the left).
Winston was accepted into Yale University and plans to major in Political Science and African American Studies. He hopes to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
While at Drew, Winston served as Student Body President and Vice President, Beta Club President and was inducted into the National Honor Society. Winston received the Georgia Youth Leadership Award, which celebrates the top 20 Georgians under 20. He was also selected as one of two Georgia Delegates United States Senate Youth Program.
“My favorite part of being part of this community is playing a big role in shaping the culture and legacy that will be left behind,” said Senior Delshanee Martin. “…I’ve been lucky enough to see my growth while also seeing Drew’s growth simultaneously.”
Martin started her own cosmetic business, LÁBIO COUTURE, which seeks to inform consumers of the benefit of using all natural products. In the fall, Martin will attend Pitzer College where she plans to study business and chemistry. Martin hopes to become a cosmetic chemist.
During her high school years at Drew, Martin was involved in student government. She also served as president and founder of the school’s DIY Club. Martin also participated in competitive chearleading.
Martin is proud to be a “legacy senior.” According to Martin, Drew’s strong academic focus, low teacher-student ratio and caring teachers are some of the factors behind the charter school’s enormous success. She also said the community support is unparalleled.