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Peach Bowl Inc. having positive impact on Atlanta students 

The Peach Bowl’s support of Atlanta Public Schools is improving literacy rates,

grades and graduation rates, and helping to pay for college

Peach Bowl, Inc. programs supporting Atlanta Public School students have dramatically improved early childhood literacy rates, high school GPAs and graduation rates and have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in college scholarships.

“We are deeply committed to the long-term success of our students and we want to give them every advantage we can along their journey,” said Gary Stokan, Peach Bowl, Inc. CEO and president. “Our bowl game was created to give. And through this giving, we have already seen a tremendous positive impact on elementary and high schools students and for the amount of scholarships we are able to generate.”

Driven by a mission to support its community, Peach Bowl, Inc. has invested in the future of Atlanta’s students by providing critical programs to meet students’ needs at all levels through its creation of a childhood literacy initiative, along with its academic mentoring and endowed scholarship programs.

“Our long-standing partnership with the Peach Bowl has truly been a game changer for our students,” said Dr. Meria Carstarphen, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. “The Bowl has enhanced the educational experience of thousands of Atlanta students over the years. We’re extremely grateful for their commitment to impacting these student’s lives all the way from their early years through the time they graduate and attend college.”

In response to a literacy crisis in Atlanta Public Schools – where in 2016, only 30 percent of third graders were reading on grade level – the Peach Bowl, in partnership with the Chick-fil-A Foundation, the College Football Playoff Foundation and the Atlanta Football Host Committee, invested $2 million to create a three-year literacy training initiative designed to equip teachers with the necessary skills to ensure Atlanta’s children can learn to read proficiently.

Research has shown that students who do not read proficiently by the end of the third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma. That is why improving childhood literacy has become a key initiative in the APS transformation plan.

The training focuses on the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) approach to literacy. The O-G technique is scientifically proven to enhance reading proficiency for all learners using instruction in sight, hearing, touch and movement to help students connect language with letters and words. The goal of the training is to ensure all teachers feel comfortable teaching foundational early learning literacy skills to students including phonemic awareness, vocabulary, phonics and fluency.

In its first two years, the literacy initiative has already delivered significant results. Before the launch of the training, only 14 percent of APS students were categorized as proficient readers. Following the 2018-19 school year, 73 percent of those students are now considered proficient. After year two of the training, the number of students in the lowest reading level had been reduced from 29 percent to only 3 percent.

“The O-G training has provided a structure that was desperately needed to meet the needs of our students,” said Benteen Elementary teacher Kelsey McCorckle.

“The O-G approach is a game changer,” said Beecher Hills Elementary School teacher Rosalind B. Carbo. “I was suddenly given the tools needed to be able to effectively teach some of the most struggling readers to become fluent readers.”

To date, 1,200 teachers have been trained in the Orton-Gillingham approach to reading instruction with the goal of 1,500 APS teachers being trained through the end of next year. By 2020, more than 25,000 APS elementary students will have been impacted by the initiative.

Academic Mentoring Program

In 2007, Peach Bowl, Inc. instituted an academic mentoring program to help give APS students the tools they need to graduate and attend college.

The mentoring program focuses on student-athletes at every Atlanta Public High School, and provides them an “academic coach” who maximizes each student’s personal potential by helping them improve study habits, prepare for SAT and ACT testing, become active in their communities, and apply and transition to college.

During the past academic year, the 607 students involved in the program achieved a grade-point average that was 12.5 percent higher than that of their classmates. Seniors in the program had a graduation rate of 99 percent compared to 78 percent for APS students as a whole.

“I have seen first-hand how the program has changed the lives of our student-athletes,” said academic coach Matthew Hazel. “The additional resources it provides is often the difference in a student graduating from high school and preparing them for the rest of their lives.”

To date, Peach Bowl, Inc. has donated more than $2 million to the program and is the only organization in the nation to fully fund a program like this for an entire school district.

Endowed Scholarship Program

Peach Bowl, Inc. has also made a strong commitment to helping Atlanta students further their secondary education through its Endowed Scholarship Program. The program currently operates scholarships that carry the Peach Bowl name at 32 universities with invested assets totaling more than $6.9 million.  In 2018-19, the Endowed Scholarship Program distributed $141,019 in scholarship money to 17 students who graduated from Atlanta Public High Schools, an average of more than $8,000 per student.

Recent LSU graduate Chloe Tillis was born in New Orleans and always dreamed of attending LSU, but when her family relocated to Atlanta, the oldest child in a single-parent home needed assistance financing an out-of-state education.

“This scholarship has given me the ability to offset some of my educational expenses,” Tillis said. “Without this scholarship it would have been difficult to find some of the necessary money needed to finance my education, especially coming from a single-parent home.”

In the last seven years, APS students have received more than $637,000 in scholarship dollars from the Peach Bowl’s endowed scholarship program. Since the program’s inception $1.1 million in scholarship has been distributed to students from the metro Atlanta area.

These three programs for APS, along with several other philanthropic initiatives in the community, have helped Peach, Bowl Inc. become college football’s most charitable bowl organization.  In the last 17 years, the Peach Bowl has donated $53.8 million to organizations in need.

“Of all that we do, these initiatives are the things of which we are most proud,” Stokan said. “This is how we measure our success.”

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©2019 Atlanta Tribune: The Magazine

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