Isis McDowell, pictured with her teacher, Billy Ferris, and mother, Eugenia McDowell, is one of the Rotary’s 180 Degree recipients this year. Photo courtesy Rotary Club of Sandy Springs

When the Rotary Club of Sandy Springs’ Vocational Director Jim Buckler passed away a few years ago, his replacement, Daniela Schmidt, said she wanted to honor his dedication to young people.

As Schmidt began talking with different people, including Buckler’s wife, members of the Education Force of Sandy Springs and the principal of North Springs Charter High, she finally reached Kira Willis, the school’s graduation coach.

“She had the idea of recognizing students that normally are not recognized because they are not the best academically, or in sport, or in other areas, but that made a difference in their life,” Schmidt wrote in an email.

“She said that there are a lot of students that struggle because of different reasons, some drop out of school, some have problems at home, some struggle academically, some do not come to school on a regular basis – but some of these students happen to make a turnaround,” Schmidt continued.

So the Rotary designed the 180 Degree Program, which recognizes North Springs students, appointed by their teachers or coaches, who have made positive changes in their lives.

Two students are recognized at a time, four times a year, with the first two students honored in May 2013. The students are invited to the Rotary’s weekly lunch meeting, with parents and family members, their teacher or coach introducing the student, and the student receiving the award.

Schmidt has since moved to Germany, but Fulton School Board and Rotary member Julia Bernath has taken the program lead. She said the program provides inspiration and motivation.

“Rotary provides such a wonderful opportunity to recognize these students who have worked so diligently to stay on track,” Bernath said.

“Inviting them to Rotary gives our club an opportunity to see the students who are directly impacted by their efforts, and it gives the schools a chance to recognize these special students and their parents. This experience also allows the students and their parents to see how they are valued in the community, which would inspire them to continue on with their education.”

Sally Wyeth, communications manager for Rotary, agrees.

“This is one of the Rotary Club of Sandy Springs’ favorite youth programs because it allows the Rotary Club of Sandy Springs a chance to meet these young adults in person and to offer encouragement,” she said. “This may be the first time some of these teenagers have attended a Rotary meeting or have been recognized in a special ceremony for something they have accomplished.”

Ann Marie Quill

Ann Marie Quill is Associate Editor at Reporter Newspapers.