When the UTC chancellor met the executive principal of The Howard School in Chattanooga, Steven Angle, Ph.D., asked Mr. Zac Brown how the University could help the high school achieve its goals. Mr. Brown said he was immediately interested and appreciative that Dr. Angle wanted to find ways to partner with the University’s neighbor.
Then Mr. Brown met Robert Fisher. Mr. Fisher, a Rhodes Scholar, a Truman Scholar, a Brock Scholar, and the second-term president of the Student Government Association at UTC, began to meet with a core group of students at The Howard School to establish a student government. He asked them what the structure would look like if they could decide. He asked them to talk about their goals and aspirations. They didn’t know it, but Mr. Fisher was leading them through a strategic planning process and the high school students responded with enthusiasm.
“It is important for kids who look like Robert to get to know him. Our students who are in key roles and positions think, ‘that could be me,’” Mr. Brown said.
Students decided The Howard School would focus on marketing and communication, community engagement, internal leadership development, and diversity and inclusion.
Both Mr. Brown and Mr. Fisher were especially keen for the students to explore diversity and inclusion. The Howard School, historically African American, is now welcoming many Hispanic students, some of whom are just learning English. As the SGA brainstorming sessions began, it was clear both sets of students wanted everyone to be involved. Fisher encouraged a cultural ambassadors program, so that Spanish-speaking students could develop friendships.
Mr. Fisher invited another UTC student, Ronald Elliot to engage with the Howard students and their advisors. Mr. Elliot, who is from Nashville, helped craft the details of student government constitutions at Two Rivers Middle School as well as at McGavock High School, where he served as class president for three years and student body president. The Honors College student has served as president of Freshman Senate at UTC in 2014-15.
“Most people think constitutions are boring, but I find them fascinating,” said Mr. Elliot, who is a political science major with a concentration in public policy and a minor in chemistry. His focus is pre-med—he would like to become an orthopedic surgeon.
Students at The Howard School were invited to watch a UTC SGA meeting in action. Mr. Brown said the interaction between high school and college students has been positive.
“Our students are excited! They want to help set high standards, they are rising to the challenge. I find it encouraging and refreshing to watch them develop a blueprint establishing high expectations, discipline, and good grades for those who want to take leadership roles. It’s a carrot dangling,” Mr. Brown said.
The experience has been “an eye-opener” for Mr. Fisher. He observes that high school is hard enough, but many at The Howard School have extremely difficult circumstances. He has met students who work several jobs to support their families.
“These students have such drive and motivation, they love their school and they want everyone who goes there to love their school,” Mr. Fisher explained. “Many have overcome so much, they are self-motivated. They have taught me about quality and excellence beyond a high GPA or high ACT score. For me, these students have redefined the term ‘college readiness.’”
Mr. Elliot has met students at Howard he describes as “selfless” who work hard in school and after school.
“And the teachers and administration look after these students like a family,” Mr. Elliot observed. “These students may be younger than me, but they are really engaged and excited and they are teaching me.”
As Mr. Fisher prepares for May graduation and his studies at Oxford, Mr. Elliot will continue to work with the high school. He even plans to come back for graduation and a summer meeting.
These UTC students are giving The Howard School students the best gift of all, said Mr. Brown.
“We certainly accept financial gifts, but the hardest thing to give is your time. For these UTC students to come in on their own time, that’s a sacrifice. They are not paid to do this work. And it’s a neat thing to know the work will continue,” Mr. Brown said.