ATLANTA — When the world shut down during the pandemic, Nicole Gray, an ESOL teacher at Lake Forest Elementary, started raising money for students and their families struggling during the time. The initiative was called Lion Pride, and community members, teachers, and other staffers at the school all pitched in to help provide families with essentials.
Fast forward to 2023, and Nicole, known as Ms. Gray to her students, is keeping Lion Pride going with the help of the community and volunteers. Now, she’s fundraising for her students to go to summer camp.
As an ESOL teacher, Ms. Gray works with students like 4th grader Christie Pierre-Louis and 3rd Grader Ada Martinez Pazos, who are learning English as their second language.
“I really want to be a designer who likes to give everybody free stuff,” said Ada, who will be going to art camp this summer.
Another student, Christine, who attended a gymnastics camp in 2022, and looking to go again, said, “when I grow up, I want to be a professional gymnastics teacher.”
Volunteers with Lion Pride are helping to fundraise to send students like Christine and Ada to week-long specialized summer camps during the summer.
The organization partners with several local businesses, including Family Martial Arts, Peach Pit Gymnastics, La Dee Art Studio, Young Chef Academy, and Sandy Springs Theatre at City Springs. The students can pick one of the camps within walking distance from the school, making it accessible for families who might not have transportation.
In addition to summer camps, Ms. Gray tells 11Alive Lion Pride has continued providing essentials to some families and has also started having extracurricular activities for the students after school, like tennis lessons. Ms. Gray said her students are not only having fun but also continuing to learn.
“When our students go home over the summer, they speak in their native language which makes total sense, but they haven’t spoken English in 2-3 months.. so this allows them to practice their English…and learn new words,” said Ms. Gray.
Students must apply to be considered for summer camp, but Ms. Gray said she accepts photo essays and written essays so students can show off their strengths.
The program piqued a lot of interest from families. Ms. Gray said over 100 students applied for the camps in the first year. Funding at the time only allowed them to send 35 students. Last year, they sent over 130 students to camp; this year, they hope to send even more students.
Ms. Gray said the effort is helping create memorable experiences and giving families who couldn’t send their children to camp something to look forward to.