Forest Park High School counselor
After nearly two decades working with Forest Park schools, high school counselor Kashera Guy-Robinson has witnessed the various changes the community has endured and the impact those changes have had on education efforts. While teachers were encouraged to implement new practices to engage students virtually in 2020, Guy-Robinson says her biggest concern during the 2021-2022 school year is addressing the grief and trauma students have encountered since the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person learning last March.
Kashera Guy-Robinson, Forest Park High School, school counselor
I’ve worked for every school in Forest Park. I got hired in March 2004, in the middle of the school year because somebody quit. At that time, there was a lot of transition in the community. It was going from predominantly Caucasian and switching over to more minorities. I remember a lot of stuff with gangs and fire alarms being pulled. Shortly thereafter, we had a lot of stuff going on in the school district with us losing our accreditation.
Mr. [Derrick] Manning, our current principal, has been here for over 10 years. Our mascot is the panther, and Mr. Manning calls himself “panther one” because it starts with him. The teachers feel safe and supported, but the kids also feel safe. We don’t have major discipline issues. He doesn’t play, but the kids know he loves them. He’ll get on the announcements and say, “You may not have heard it today, but I want you to know I love you, I care about you, and I want you to have a good day.”
We had someone from United Way come in and do a presentation with us before the pandemic. Out of the 13-county region that makes up metropolitan Atlanta, Clayton County was the most impoverished, based on the Child Well-Being Index. We are a community of haves and have-nots.
We have a lot of students that live in hotels and motels in the community. One year, I had a student and her sister who were both enrolled at Forest Park, and they were having some issues with running away. They were a family of seven children and two adults who were living in one of those extended-stay rooms. She said, “Mrs. Robinson, I just can’t get my work done. I have to go to the bathroom to have peace and quiet to do my homework.” The people at the extended stay were getting complaints because a lot of the kids were hanging outside. They didn’t have anywhere to play.
We have a lot of immigrant families that live in our community. The Hispanic population is our largest ethnic group right now at Forest Park High School. During the Trump administration, a lot of our kids had parents that were getting deported. Our attendance secretary is from the Latin American community, and she knows a lot of the families. What she has told me is that quite a few of our kids, because of COVID-19, have gone back to their or their parents’ home countries.
Being a social worker, you just have to be quick on your feet. Even this summer, Dr. Angela Horrison-Collier [director of student services for Forest Park schools] assembled a group of us to go out knocking on doors looking for kids. We have kids that we haven’t seen since March 13, 2020, our last day in the building before COVID. One mom had multiple children in the house who were all trying to use the internet at the same time. She had a hot spot that the school system gave her, but it just wasn’t enough tech for all of those kids to be trying to be logged on at one time. Another child dropped out to enroll in an online program because she had a kindergarten-aged sibling who had to have someone to help her get online. Her mom was at work. A lot of our kids weren’t logging on because they’re working. That’s not just happening here, it’s a national problem.
— As told to Jewel Wicker
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(Disclosure: United Way of Greater Atlanta is a philanthropic supporter of Canopy Atlanta.)