Preparing for a job interview is often stressful, even for seasoned professionals. Imagine the stress for a high school student applying for a work-based learning program at a nationally ranked company with 25,000 employees. Imagine the student looking for a potential job to help support his family and shape his future, a job opportunity he never dreamed would be available to him. Imagine if he had a life and career coach by his side during the nail-biting interview, someone who helped prep him in advance of the interview. Imagine the person he had learned to trust and count on is the reason why he even had the job interview.
For students at Osborne High School, that scenario plays out inside the school’s community center and support program known fondly as The Nest. Tinesha Dunlap is the educator and life coach waiting to welcome students to The Nest and guide them through life-changing opportunities like job interviews.
Osborne’s Nest, which serves as a hub of support services, resources, and a set of partnerships between the school and community, provides a well-rounded educational experience for students and families. The Nest is available for all Osborne students to receive comprehensive wraparound services that meet the needs and desires of each student. It was designed with student and family voices, needs, and assets in mind.
“I like to say that the Nest was actually designed by students for students and families. We really did a deep level of engagement with our students, our families, our staff members, and community members on what it is that we can do as a school community to really enhance the educational experience of our students,” Ms. Dunlap explained.
Osborne is one of the first high schools in the Atlanta metro to incorporate the Georgia Department of Education wraparound initiative. The program is a response to the growing need to address non-academic barriers to student learning and a body of research that shows students are better able to learn and achieve when those barriers are removed.
Planning for The Nest began in 2017. Two years later, Osborne welcomed Ms. Dunlap as the Wraparound Services Coordinator to help build out The Nest. The whole child-focused program first began serving students in spring 2021. Now that students are back face-to-face, the program has welcomed more than double the number of students from the first year.
“To see the sheer numbers of students that come into the hub every single day shows that it is impactful,” Ms. Dunlap explained. “Students are even sharing it with their friends and their peers, and they're saying, ‘Hey, have you heard about The Nest and some of those services that are offered?’”
Ms. Dunlap works with other educators and mentors who support The Nest, help Osborne students develop life skills. From a girls’ empowerment group to a partnership with the 100 Black Men of North Metro Atlanta Inc., The Nest speaks to students’ individual needs. With a teen anxiety support group and onsite mental health therapist available to students, The Nest serves as a space where students can talk about anxiety and other mental health concerns.
“We have a mentorship program where there are adults that mentor our students, someone that they can walk with along this high school journey, someone that they can lean on that’s directly in the building,” Ms. Dunlap added.
The Nest organizer aims at creating a space that focuses on the non-academic side of life because those issues directly impact students in the classroom. She reaches the students where they are at, supporting their individual needs by building relationships and expanding The Nest’s mentorship program.
The Nest mentors sometimes get together with their mentees outside of school. They go to their games or sports matches. They expose the students to different learning opportunities that otherwise would not be available to the Osborne students.
“[The students] have to be able to trust that we that we have their best interests at heart, that we really want to see them thrive, that we love them,” Ms. Dunlap revealed. “Based upon the feedback of the staff members and the students, the mentorships have been meaningful. We have students who identify staff in the building who they know they can go to, who they know without a doubt, [they] can count on this person.”
The mentors connect with the students. They are there when the students need them. That connection extends to the students’ parents and teachers, creating a community of support.
The Nest intentionally uses the whole child approach to enhance and support students’ educational success through four pillars:
• Academic Support Services and Expanded Learning Opportunities
• Integrated Support Services
• Active Family and Community Engagement
• Collaborative Leadership
Through community collaboration, The Nest program removes real-life stressors that prevent students from succeeding academically. In turn, the program increases educational opportunities and resources and equips students for life beyond high school.
Sometimes The Nest directly impacts school families.
“There have been so many families we’ve been able to touch and serve and furnish homes and help with family financial emergency assistance and everything,” Osborne’s Wraparound Services Coordinator explained.
Students work together on the Nest Advisory Council to help determine the supports that are offered through The Nest. In addition to students, Ms. Dunlap would like to engage more parents who can provide students the expertise in different career fields.
Although The Nest is unique to Osborne High School—no other school in Cobb has launched the same type of collaborative program—the goal is for the program to catch on at other schools.
Ms. Dunlap’s goal is to expand the program to Osborne’s feeder schools.
“I want to share my experience with other top schools, and I really want to show the impact of a community school and just the work that we’ve been able to achieve at Osborne,” she continued.
Watching what students have accomplished through The Nest’s work-based learning program reminds Ms. Dunlap of why she loves her job.
At Osborne, many students carry the burden of thinking about how they can help support their families. That burden may even keep some students from attending classes—a sacrifice Ms. Dunlap desperately wants to help students avoid.
Through The Nest, Osborne staff members identify students who would benefit from the opportunity to earn school credit for going to work while also attending and succeeding in other school classes.
For example, six Osborne students recently signed on to work with Osborne’s newest partner, Wellstar Cobb Hospital.
After one of the work-based learning interviews, an Osborne student went to Ms. Dunlap and hugged her, expressing gratitude for all that she had done to prepare him, for all that she did to help him before and during the process, and for what it meant to him and his family.
“Thank you,” he told her.
Those two simple words unleashed her tears. The Nest’s impact was real, as real as her tears.