The Soulsville Charter School is the only school in the nation invited to the vice presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 11, at Centre College in Danville, Ky.
And it’s all because of this message:
“I AM a man of strength and power, a driving force that will use the rocks that have been thrown at me and build a castle. I WILL continue to keep the faith and determination given to me by my father.”
That statement, posted on The Soulsville Charter School’s counseling center by high school senior Justin Hicks, was seen by Memphis attorney Leigh Chiles of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC, during her visit to the school through Leadership Memphis’ SUCCESS High Schools initiative.
Chiles was so moved by the message, along with a class discussion she witnessed about the upcoming presidential election, that she called one the professors at Centre College, her alma mater, to entertain the idea of bringing the students to the debate.
Dr. Clarence Wyatt agreed and Chiles went about soliciting the donations to The Soulsville Foundation from friends and colleagues to make the trip possible. She raised more than enough for the trip – $15,000 – and will use the extra funds to help stock the charter school’s new library.
While at Centre, 20 Soulsville students will tour the campus, sit in on classes, engage in college interviews with the assistant dean of admissions and tour the nearby University of Kentucky.
The plan is for the students to be able to collectively ask one question of vice president Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan.
A new addition to Leadership Memphis’ Executive Program curriculum, the SUCCESS High Schools initiative works to increase the number of students who go on to pursue post-secondary education in eight targeted high schools over the next five years.
Chiles is one of 80 executives divided into teams of 10 across those eight schools: Kingsbury High in Berclair, East High in Binghampton, Trezevant High in Frayser, Hamilton High in Hamilton, Power Center Academy in Hickory Hill, Melrose High in Orange Mound, Soulsville Charter School in South Memphis and Fairley High in Whitehaven.
“I and nine other members of program have been working with The Soulsville Charter School to help them get 100 percent of their Class of 2013 graduates enrolled in college,” Chiles said. “The folks in higher education recognize the importance of the mission of schools like Soulsville and the fact that the model in place there is incredibly successful.”
Part of the SUCCESS High Schools initiative is helping parents with the process of filling out Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms through computer training workshops and other assistance. It’s part of an overall effort of the Memphis Talent Dividend: College Attainment Initiative, in place to get people to complete college, said Dewanna Lofton, director of communications and alumni engagement with Leadership Memphis.
“What we’re finding is that the majority of students don’t go onto post secondary opportunities because filling out the FAFSA is a barrier to them,” Lofton said.