February 22nd, 2024  |  Schools & Faculty

Arete Partner School Provides Beacon of Hope

Less than three miles from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birth home in Atlanta, Georgia, and the church where he delivered his first sermon at the age of only 18 sits a school proudly carrying on his legacy of equality and opportunity.

Founded in 2015, Arete partner school Peace Preparatory Academy is dedicated to educating the whole child, supporting entire families, and affecting lasting positive change by fostering a high-quality, faith-centered learning environment in the heart of the English Avenue community.

For Rue Gunter, working at Peace Prep is more than a job—it's realizing her calling. She plays a pivotal role at Peace Prep in helping build a more just, peaceful, and beautiful world. It's where she is known to her neighbors, participates fully in the local community, and is committed to loving those around her.

Following graduation from Wheaton College with a Christian Education and Ministry degree and a minor in Anthropology, Rue planned to attend seminary and work at a church. However, as it often does, life had other plans. 

"After college, my husband and I had no idea where we wanted to live, so we began networking across the country," Rue says. "That's when I began to pursue opportunities at faith-based nonprofits engaged in justice work, specifically in urban areas."

Rue and her husband found themselves in D.C., working to combat violence against vulnerable populations living in poverty. But a year and a half later, Rue connected with Peace Prep and learned about an opening for a development staff member. 

"From the beginning, it was a good fit," she says. "The little experience that I brought was what they were looking for, and I was hired as their first full-time fundraiser."

"Knowing we wanted to move to Atlanta after college was a full-circle moment for me," she adds. "But in hindsight, I needed that time to gain experience and industry knowledge before landing at Peace Prep."

     Rue Gunter comforting a student at Peace Prep in the English Avenue community of Atlanta

Rue's fundraising insight has been instrumental in her role as Peace Prep's Director of Development. Now in her third year, she leverages her expertise to secure the financial support crucial for the school's sustainability. 

Through a partnership with Arete Scholars, 45 community families now enroll their children at Peace Prep without the barrier of high tuition costs, which often prevents access for lower-income families. 

"98% of our students receive tax credit scholarships through organizations like Arete," Rue notes. "Even though we incur a significant cost per student, we have decided that our population is better served without a tuition scale."

"Most of our students are zoned for low-performing schools," she adds. "Thanks to programs like Arete, we can provide higher-quality services and education to families at no cost. We are incredibly thankful for this partnership because Arete Scholars helps us significantly expand how we can raise money to meet our students' needs."

The challenges faced by Peace Prep students mirror those of the wider community. English Avenue, along with the adjacent Vine City neighborhood, continues to grapple with high poverty and crime rates compounded by the historical legacy of segregation and urban decay.

English Avenue has a property vacancy rate of nearly 60%, and more than 40% of its residents have a household income of less than $15,000. And because there is no grocery store, the area is known as a food and resource desert, meaning its residents have little access to healthy, affordable foods. These are disproportionately found in lower-income areas and make it difficult for children to maintain a consistently healthy diet.

In the 1970s, suburbanization began to drain the area of economic opportunity, and over the following decades, the sale and abuse of drugs became an all-too-common sight. In 1995, the English Avenue Elementary School closed, punctuating a legacy of undereducation in the neighborhood. 

"The reality is there have been a lot of really significant barriers to flourishing in this community, much of it brought on by economic depression, the introduction of crack cocaine and heroin, as well as housing vacancy and abandonment," Rue says.

Acknowledging the community's complex history and present-day struggles, Peace Prep has responded by reimagining the educational paradigm, prioritizing human flourishing as its core objective.

"Our mission is to educate whole children, support whole families, and provide growth and change opportunities for the whole community," Rue explains. "In other words, whole children and whole families make whole communities."

The school serves as a catalyst for hope and transformation by practically addressing the barriers to flourishing that the people of the community face. Peace Prep provides students with uniforms, two daily meals, and a family food pantry to address the immediate challenge of food scarcity. Additionally, mental health therapy is available free of charge for any student in need. All of this and more are made available in addition to the school providing an excellent education for their students.

"We know that if a student comes to school hungry, it's going to be hard for them to succeed in class," Rue shares. "We have to meet a child's most basic needs before we can attend to their educational needs."

Despite the daunting obstacles, Peace Prep is a beacon of hope in the community. The school's more than 100 students are beginning to thrive through its commitment to academic excellence and holistic support.  

For Rue, serving at Peace Prep is more than a job—it's a profound expression of love and service to her neighbors. 

"This community is full of life and vibrancy rooted in a rich and sweet history that continues to influence the people who live here," she says. "It's why we are experiencing generational restoration in our neighborhood and on the West Side of Atlanta."

Every day at Peace Prep brings new challenges and triumphs, but sharing the school's transformative impact with others is the most rewarding aspect for Rue. 

"My favorite part of the job is guiding people through campus," she shares. "People who have been generous to us or are considering a gift for the first time get to come and see what is taking place here. It's encouraging to see how others are inspired by the work being done."

The response from visitors is nearly universal and contagious—as they experience it for themselves, they too begin to share in the same hope and delight as the kids they are helping.

"People are often overcome by the joy they see here," Rue adds. "I think for many, it comes as quite a surprise to see that in a place that has been, for so long, systemically robbed of joy in many ways."

"There's a lot of joy and life on our campus," she adds.

Amid adversity, Peace Prep is a testament to the enduring power of education, compassion, and hope. It's a school that exists to affirm every individual's inherent dignity and worth and empower its students to envision and pursue a future full of promise and possibility. Through its unwavering commitment to justice and equality, Peace Prep continues to catalyze positive change, one student, one family, and one community at a time.