W.S. Hornsby 4-8 Middle School sits just off Sand Bar Ferry Road on the east side of Augusta, also known as “The Bottom.”
“It’s a part of the community that the health system would like to build stronger relationships with, to create a greater degree of trust and help those in what is called ‘The Bottom’ rise to the top,” said Rev. Brennan Francois, Chief Diversity Officer for AU Health.
Those relationships would be beneficial to both sides. The health system hopes to increase patient volumes by easing some of the mistrust of the medical community residents may have. In addition, the students will be exposed to careers in the healthcare industry they may not otherwise gain exposure to, both within and outside of the clinical setting. This will hopefully help fill roles in areas where the health system experiences employment shortages.
The students, on the other hand, receive support in an area where parental participation is low for a variety of reasons, including economic. They develop relationships with health care workers that will help them feel comfortable when they need to visit a doctor. They also gain exposure to career paths that they otherwise may not have known were available to them.
“We want more people to know that AU Health is a viable option for employment,” Francois said. “We’re touting to the high schools, too, the benefits of working at AU Health, and one of those benefits is tuition reimbursement. If a person is limited in terms of going to college because of finances, if they worked for us, they could qualify for tuition reimbursement. Then they could realize their goal of finishing college because they were employed by an organization that had that particular benefit.”
Throughout the 2022-2023 school year, led by the DEI Power Collaborative, members of the DEI Council and AU Health staff have supported Hornsby’s athletic teams by attending games and providing snacks. Francois said he believes their support helped motivate the girls’ basketball team to go all the way to the championship and place first in the Richmond County Middle School reading competition.
The DEI Power Collaborative Committee talked with school officials about some of the greatest needs they see among their students. They learned some of student’s greatest needs are outside of the classroom, which impacts their ability to learn.
The neighborhood surrounding the school faces several challenges. For starters, it’s a food desert – residents must travel several miles to find access to healthy, nutritious food.
“That became apparent to us when we were providing snacks (to the athletic teams). We had to drive a great way to pick up snacks to bring to the school. There was nothing nearby to stop and pick up to supply the school with snacks,” Francois said.
According to school administrators, there are also mental health challenges, and a need for wrap-around services that can assist students with developing conflict resolution skills and managing the impact of exposure to violence and crime.
“Sadly, this school year one of Hornsby’s students was a victim of gun violence. Someone posing as a food delivery person shot and killed the 13-year-old in his home. This devastated students, staff and the community,” Francois said.
Living with these issues affects a child’s mental well-being.
Next year, the DEI Power Collaborative plans to become more involved by addressing some of those needs, such as addressing mental health through behavioral health at Children’s Hospital of Georgia, tutoring and mentoring.
“We want to be more involved academically next year with some tutoring, where we have a meaningful dialogue and roundtable sessions with young people about the kinds of things they deal with and face on a daily basis growing up in East Augusta,” Francois said.
While the DEI Council has other partnerships and initiatives throughout the community on behalf of AU Health, this is currently the only school that has been “adopted.” Francois said adopting a school requires a consistent and viable link and the DEI Council wants to make sure enough time and resources are available to continue developing a meaningful relationship with Hornsby. Francois said they call it the WEB, Where Everyone Belongs.
“We want those students to know us and recognize us,” he said.