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What are Georgia Lighthouse Schools TO WATCH?

Georgia Lighthouse Schools to Watch is a state-level partnership that seeks to identify high-performing middle grades schools in our state. Georgia is one of 18 states that have qualified to be part of this prestigious National Forum Schools to Watch® program ( This program annually identifies schools across the country that are committed to a journey of excellence centered around the four program domains of academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity, and organizational structures and processes.

Georgia presently has identified 16 schools that meet the criteria of this program. These schools serve as mentors and models for other schools in the state while at the same time continuing their own journey of excellence. Once identified as a School to Watch, each site must apply for re-designation every 3 years in order to remain in the program.


Common Characteristics of Lighthouse Schools to Watch

  • Dynamic, visionary leadership
  • Challenging curriculum for all students
  • Active learning environment
  • Data-driven decision-making resulting in increased academic achievement
  • School data on an upward trajectory
  • Student-centered approach to instruction
  • Equal opportunities for all students
  • Positive, happy, involved students
  • Small learning communities
  • Teams of teachers and students
  • A culture of advocacy in which all students are known and valued
  • High level of faculty commitment
  • Attention to the non-cognitive goals of education
  • Extensive family and community involvement
  • Active business partnerships

Featured GALSTW: Webb Bridge Middle School

Service-Learning Empowers Students to be the Change They Wish to See

By Rebecca Williams, Principal, Webb Bridge Middle School, a GALSTW

Webb Bridge Middle School in Alpharetta has always set a high standard as a strong community service school. Like many other schools, we have many schoolwide programs, as well as faculty-sponsored clubs, that focus on giving back to our local and global communities. These opportunities to give to others are meaningful and teach us to be grateful for what we have and generous with others. However, in 2018 we began focusing more on service learning, which is different than community service. Service learning is a teaching and learning approach, which promotes civic responsibility and allows students, teachers, and staff to turn classroom learning into meaningful service to others.

We began with The Daffodil Project led by our Jewish Club, which involved all sixth-grade students. The Daffodil Project aims to build a Living Holocaust Memorial by planting 1.5 million daffodils around the world to remember and represent the one and a half million children who died in Nazi-occupied Europe. The mission is to spread awareness to those currently suffering human rights crises throughout the world. WBMS has planted over 5,500 bulbs in the last 6 years in memorial gardens around our campus. After our 6th graders study the Holocaust and discuss the continued conflicts around our world, each student plants a bulb. Each spring the flowers serve as a reminder to our schoolwide population of 1200 students that we can learn from past acts and change behavior. Each year when the flowers are in bloom every student at WBMS learns more about genocide and individually reflects. Each year the schoolwide learning and reflection is different. For example, one year, each student and faculty member created a butterfly with a positive message. These colorful butterflies were displayed throughout our hallways to promote discussion related to our power to change the world through knowledge, kindness, and inclusivity.

As a school we wanted a more systemic and large-scale approach to service learning, and to begin, the entire 7th grade took a giant leap into service learning in the 2021-2022 school year after reading the novel, A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park. After discussing the text and learning about the challenges the lack of clean water cause in parts of our world, our 7th graders voted to raise $15,000 to build a well in South Sudan using the nonprofit organization Water for South Sudan. They learned about the problems people in Africa have with access to a clean and consistent water sources through the social studies water inquiry unit and a video conference with a former nurse who worked in South Sudan. We also connected our school values to the book and classroom learning, so students recognize our values in action and transfer this knowledge to their own actions through service-learning. Additionally, we invited our parents to join a book club, and they were provided with their own "table talk" questions they could use to ask their children about the novel at home. Two teachers led the charge, and a Character Council of highly motivated students led their peers. We emphasized grassroots efforts, and our students wrote letters to business partners. We joined the Iron Giraffe Challenge (for schools raising money in Salva’s nonprofit Water for South Sudan) and created a fundraising page. Students began to go into their neighborhoods and reach out to their parents' friends and businesses for support. Our students then decided they wanted to organize a 5K Walk for Water with a 7th grade village market. Their vision was to invite the entire Webb Bridge community to the event to support our fundraiser. They held a t-shirt design contest, created a video for the morning announcements, and formed small committees to work on different aspects of their mission. The students really wanted to spread awareness to the community about the purpose of building a well. Therefore, the council divided Salva’s journey in the novel into 6 parts and created 6 "Learning Boards" that walkers would pass on the 5K course. Each board focused on a different issue related to the novel, which connected to all we had learned about the impacts of access to clean water. A Flip-grid link was included on each learning board connecting the walkers to videos the students created about their boards. The council also wanted the people on the 5K to simulate what it is like to walk far distances carrying water. Our front office staff connected us with Publix, one of our business partners, and we had 250 water jugs donated for this simulation. Every walker was asked to carry a water jug for the entire 5K walk. The Village Market was opened to all 7th grade students to practice their entrepreneurial spirit and host their own "booth." Proceeds were donated to the cause. Several students and teachers volunteered their food, drinks, fun games, a cake walk, and even the local girl scout troop in the area participated in the village market as well. The weather was cold and rainy, yet hundreds of people attended. We raised over $3,000 between the walk and the market. It was a true community-building event, and our students were a big part of leading the actual event.  They educated the community at each learning board station and wrote thank you letters to all the people who helped and created a "video of thanks" to all our on-line donors.  In the end, our students reached their goal of $15,000 and built a well in South Sudan!  Every 7th grade student completed a reflection form, and using this form, each student created  a quilt square tying one of our school values to what they learned or how they grew in that value during the service-learning. One of our amazing staff members took all the quilt squares and sewed them together using t-shirts. These quilts now hang in our academic rotunda alongside pictures of the inaugural WBMS Walk for Water.

In 2022 we expanded service-learning and now each grade level has two staff members who facilitate an active Character Council of students who lead other students in a plan to extend what they learn through Social Studies and identify ways to solve identified problems.  In 6th grade the overall goal is to introduce our new WBMS Jaguars to the importance and joy of service learning and to empower them to know they can make a difference. Through reading the novel, Refugee, by Alan Gratz, and extending the learning in both Social Studies and English Language Arts classes, students support local refugee families. Our 6th graders learn from research and guest speakers what it is like to be a refugee and what most families need. Last year students led a school-wide drive of household items for local refugees and the character council delivered a school bus filled to the brim with these items and received a tour of the New American Pathways facility. In 2023 our 6th graders decided they wanted to ensure children in local refugee families received holiday gifts, so they designed an End of Year Cheer campaign and collected and wrapped over 450 gifts and gift cards for 73 children.

Our 7th graders continue to read A Long Walk to Water and fundraise to support well – repairs in South Sudan through a partnership with the non-profit organization Water is Basic. This organization focuses on empowering women and communities through sustainable work in fixing wells. Along with fundraising, we have expanded our service-learning by adding educational outreach. For example, council members teach feeder elementary school students about the issue of clean water access through reading the picture book, I Dream of Water, by Shawn Small, and then complete a follow up activity with the same students prior to our annual Walk for Water. The WBMS Walks for Water event continues to grow and now has more participants and a much larger Village Market. Last year our students raised over 20 thousand dollars, which went to repair the wells in 20 different villages in Africa. In 2023 we invited another local middle school, Autrey Mill Middle School, to join us as our students work to expand their impact year after year.

 In 8th grade our overall goal is to help our local communities which aligns with the social studies curriculum focused on the state of Georgia. Our 8th graders read and discuss Linked by Gordon Korman and students research challenges Georgians face and build Sways from which all 8th grade students learn. Each year students vote on how to help others. Last year they chose to focus on the basic needs of food, water, and shelter. Every 8th grader at WBMS learned about a local organization, The Sandwich Project, and then donated supplies and made sandwiches in Social Studies. Our 8th graders made over 1000 sandwiches! They also cleaned a local river and led food drives and clothing drives. This year 8th grade partnered with our Jewish Club and created a Sister Daffodil project where each 8th grader planted 2 daffodil bulbs in various colors in solidarity with 1.5 million Jewish children who were killed in the Holocaust but to focus support on the 5.5 million people who were killed for other differences. Most of our daffodils should bloom in a multi-color but still have a flash of yellow, again to illustrate solidarity and unity with the Jewish community and build on what our 6th graders do each year. Our goal in 8th grade is to continue the work where the characters in Linked left off which. Additionally, each 8th Grader has committed to completing 125 acts of service to honor the 5.5 million non-Jewish victims in the Holocaust.  Their service-learning will end with a full day of service focusing on hands on projects close to home this May.

Through service learning our students learn gratitude, empathy, and empowerment. Although they are young, they discover they have a voice and can use it for good. Through research and collaboration, students realize they can make things happen; they can positively change the lives of others; and because they understand the root of the problems they are working to solve, they truly understand the meaning behind their work.  They are not just raising money for a school project. They are raising money for a well so members of a village can avoid disease and females can go to school rather than spending all day walking for water. They are gathering toys so children who have fled another country still have something of their own. They are enhancing their own community. If a student understands he can make his world better when he is eleven, imagine what he will do when he is twenty-five.

If you want to learn more about our service-learning journey or need support getting yours started, please reach out. Clearly this work takes tremendous dedication from staff members, students, and parents; but we hope more schools will join this fulfilling work.


Georgia Association for Middle Level Education

PO Box 2900
Norcross, GA 30091

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