Get to know Reach for Excellence, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that serves middle school children through educational enrichment.
Founded in 2001, the mission of Reach for Excellence is to empower determined leaders and expand their possibilities in the classroom, in the community and in life. Reach for Excellence is a tuition-free academic and leadership enrichment program that offers students of limited income a mix of academic, cultural and community-based experiences that prepare them for the challenges of college preparatory programs and high schools.
Director of Development Matt McGee shares: “While there are many worthwhile educational enrichment programs in the Atlanta area, Reach for Excellence is one of the few that focuses on middle school children. Research from ACT found that the academic achievement students attain by eighth grade significantly impacts college and career readiness. Therefore, it is critical for this age group to gain exposure to the academic and leadership skills necessary to succeed in high school, college and beyond.”
Reach for Excellence keeps students focused on learning by engaging young scholars in academic and leadership enrichment classes over six weeks during the summer. The program continues throughout the school year with 16 Saturday sessions.
Two hot meals are provided each day in the summer, and a hot lunch is provided on Saturdays, ensuring that students are well-fed and ready to learn. Reach for Excellence also provides transportation assistance.
“The program requires hard work, commitment and discipline, but the rewards can last a lifetime,” says McGee. He shared the story of Jocelyn Calvillo, a Reach for Excellence student who later became an attorney.
“Jocelyn was eager to join Reach, but her parents were concerned about maintaining a commitment to attend classes on Saturdays and during the summer. She had three siblings, and both parents worked demanding schedules. Transportation to the program would be an issue. Her parents recognized the importance of education and worked with Reach and other families to negotiate Jocelyn’s transportation,” McGee shared.
But once she was able to attend, “It was comfortable to be in an environment with kids from similar backgrounds, and she never felt like she was less than her peers. She recalls that there were always books available and visited Reach’s library often. She loved reading and was good at math, a big part of the Reach curriculum,” said McGee.
Calvillo ultimately attended high school at Atlanta’s Marist School in Atlanta, majored in political science and Spanish at Agnes Scott College and was later admitted to the Mercer University School of Law. She now helps her community as an immigration attorney with Catholic Charities Atlanta, an organization that helps families to overcome barriers and achieve self-sufficiency.
“Jocelyn believes that Reach for Excellence opens doors and helps students succeed despite all the barriers they face. Seeing all that her fellow Reach classmates have accomplished, she believes Reach students will change the world,” said McGee.
In 2022 and 2023, Reach for Excellence is working to offset the impact of the pandemic on students’ academic growth. The pandemic has taken a particular toll on the education of children in low-income families.
Research from Georgia State University recently found that many students in the Metro-Atlanta area experienced reductions in academic growth over the last two years. The math and reading achievement reductions were more significant among students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, students of color and English language learners. All Reach for Excellence students match these demographics and experienced more significant reductions in academic growth than their peers.
“Additionally, Reach for Excellence will expand our enrollment by recruiting new students to our Hispanic Initiative,” shared McGee. “Our new Hispanic Initiative seeks to strengthen college enrollment and completion among Latinx students by providing academic enrichment and college access support. Our first cohort of Hispanic Initiative students joined Reach for Excellence in the Fall of 2021 as part of a three-year pilot program. All of these students will be first-generation high school and college graduates.”
Impact of Yardi funds
Funding from Yardi covered the costs of participation for three scholars participating in the program this year. This includes meals, transportation, books and instruction from professional educators.
“Reach for Excellence is 100% tuition free. Families pay no fees of any kind. Our program is dependent on the philanthropic support of individuals, foundations and corporations like Yardi to continue to provide a quality educational experience that is free and accessible to all families who qualify,” McGee said.
He also singled out the support of program alum Wollinsky Mendez, who works for Yardi as a consultant on the Atlanta consulting practices team.
“Mr. Mendez continues to be a source of encouragement to our students and parents. He has joined our Board of Directors and will continue to provide wisdom and guidance from the perspective of a Reach graduate,” McGee said.
Opportunities to volunteer
Reach for Excellence invites Atlanta-based Yardi employees to join its upcoming Mentoring Lunches. They also welcome Yardi employees to speak to students about their educational experience and career path, which can help students envision themselves in careers they may not have otherwise known about.
Please get in touch with Matt McGee at [email protected] for more information about Reach.