Sweetwater Middle Community Be There Committee

Sweetwater Middle Community Be There Committee

Working together to build a better community, better school
It may take a village to raise a child, but sometimes it takes “village” leaders to raise up the concerns of the whole community to the benefit of all. At one Gwinnett middle school, this approach is driving community improvement efforts that can’t help but support students. After all, better communities make better schools and better schools make better communities.

“We ask members of our Be There Committee to stand together as a community to make this a better place and a stronger learning environment for our children,” says Sweetwater Middle Principal Georgann Eaton. “We don’t ask for money or a lot of time. We ask for people’s voices.”

The 80 or so members of Sweetwater’s community group all have ties to the community that Sweetwater serves but no students at the school. The group’s three to four lunch meetings each year average about 50 participants. Participants come from all walks of life— representing businesses, faith communities, service organizations, government agencies, elected officials, Realtors, law enforcement, homeowner associations, and apartment complexes.

However, members have at least two things in common. They have a desire to improve the community for all of its residents— personal agendas are checked at the door, Ms. Eaton says— and they have the patience to doggedly pursue long-term improvement projects.

The committee doesn’t tackle quick-fix issues. Instead, they focus on projects with long-term impact for the community in areas of prosperity, safety, and education. “[This community group] has been an interesting journey in building bridges, ensuring alignment, and connecting community and education, not by a thread, but by a rope,” says committee member Bryan James of CSI International, Inc.

In its first year (2007-08), the committee decided to advocate for sidewalks on Cruse Road, a major thoroughfare for the community and the road that Sweetwater faces. “We’re a foot community,” says Ms. Eaton. “Our families need safe passage.” The group mailed letters, spoke at county meetings, and met with transportation officials. The result? The county has approved the budget for the sidewalks, plans are on the drawing board, and architects are working out logistics. Ground for the Sweetwater community’s sidewalks will be broken in summer 2011.

Be There Committee members are committed to working together on long-term improvement projects
that benefit the entire community.

Next on the committee’s to-do list… advocate for opening a transit corridor on Cruse Road between the business district on Pleasant Hill Road and the continuing education opportunities at Gwinnett Technical College on Sugarloaf Parkway.

The group does not specifically focus its efforts on support for Sweetwater, but that’s by design. “This isn’t a Sweetwater committee; it’s a community committee,” says Ms. Eaton. “Our school is the heart of the community. Anything that benefits our entire community helps our families and helps our kids, so it helps Sweetwater, too.”

That said, the school has benefitted from a higher profile with community leaders, positive relationships in the community, and additional volunteers for mentoring and tutoring programs, says Mr. James. He notes the contributions of mentors from businesses, local faith groups, service organizations, and active and alumni chapters of fraternities and sororities— both at Sweetwater and in other school communities. “I think mentoring today is more important than ever,” he says. “If discipline issues can be reduced using positive behavior reinforcement and recognition, then all students will share in a safe and better learning environment.”

Ms. Eaton acknowledges that the group’s work on transportation and other issues facing the community may not bear fruit immediately, but she also points out that nothing grows if you don’t prepare the soil and plant the seeds. The Sweetwater community’s “garden” is being worked by a dedicated group of “gardeners” and everyone will benefit from the harvest.