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Non-profit working to help close opportunity gap during COVID-19 pandemic

Educators say the transition to digital learning through the pandemic is widening the gap. This group is working to close it and address racial inequity in education

ATLANTA — Support is valuable and vital. But too many students in Atlanta need more to reach their potential

“It’s really encouraging just to have someone in your corner,” said Rachel.

She's a senior at Banneker High School in College Park who has felt more strain than usual as she finishes her high school career.

“It’s been so much harder learning in this environment,” she said.

The transition to digital learning due to the pandemic is widening the opportunity gap that exists in Atlanta. Underserved students need more support now than ever.

Next Generation Men & Women executive director Phil Olaleye said at least 20,000 of Atlanta's youth face that gap. The non-profit is working to be a foundation to lean on as the pandemic presses on. 

“To arm them, and equip them with knowledge and prepare them for their future,” said Olaleye.

“The odds are so stacked up against our young people,” he said. “In order to reverse those odds we have to provide them with opportunities and support.”

Next Gen is a nonprofit in Atlanta working to address racial equity in education. It pairs teachers as well as college and corporate mentors with high school students of color in Atlanta. That provides exposure and support, so students graduate prepared for college and career.

The organization is serving 300 students at eight different high schools - students like Rachel.

“I can always come to anybody at Next Gen,” Rachel said. “It’s a place to talk about anything I need to talk about and they always help me find solutions.”

“This gap is widening because of Covid.” Jacques Etienne said. “I have kids who don’t have a web camera or don’t want to show where they live.”

Etienne is an educator at Carver STEAM Academy.

He said the students need to know, even during a pandemic, that their future is still vibrant. 

“They need to know that their future and success is important to us,” he said.

“We really need to tap into the greatest value that our city has: our young people,” Olaleye said.

And support makes all the difference. 

“We aren’t going to leave them behind,” Etienne said.

Next Gen has a 98 percent high school graduation rate for its students and 100 percent post-secondary attainment. It hopes to expand and is always looking for more mentors and partners to get involved.

Learn more on the organization's website.