Perspectives

Bridgeworth Holiday Giving spotlights the Higher Academics Summer School

Prepared by Julie Moebes Ellis

I became involved with the Higher Academics Summer School the year it was founded, 2011. My initial involvement was much like a “camp mom” – to welcome and love on the students, take them treats on the weekends, and support the teachers who had undertaken the enormous challenge of starting a four-week academic boot camp in a state where they had no family or connections.

That first year, my husband and I would take our boys to Indian Springs to visit HASS students on Friday nights to play basketball, cards, board games, and generally hang out. At the time, my boys were 12 and 7. Those high school kids seemed so old and so big! I was in awe of these teachers and students are voluntarily give up four weeks of summer vacation to focus on academics. My sons thought the students were crazy. Being with 18 high school teens 24/7 for four weeks with no pay? My husband and I wondered if the teachers were a bit crazy. But it didn’t take long for my entire family to fall in love with the students and teachers.

Will Ellis and HASS student Xavius Gowdy

Will Ellis and HASS student Xavius Gowdy

When I joined Bridgeworth, I shared the story of HASS and asked if anyone would be interested in meeting the students and helping us incorporate financial literacy classes into the 2014 summer curriculum. Immediately, Larry Goldberg, Jeff McCormack, and Henry Ware said, “I’m in!” For HASS 2015, we expanded the curriculum to include guest speaker Lauren Dango from First Commercial Bank, and a budget game which put the students on a typical teacher’s salary and then gave them unexpected expenses like new tires or car repairs – that was eye opening and especially fun for the teachers!

The HASS students especially enjoyed coming to Bridgeworth. They were greeted with surprises of Steel City Pops on one visit and Edgars cookies on another visit. Darius Howard, 12th grade, Paul Bryant High School said, “I am going to need a budget when I get out of high school and college. That is a skill I will need my whole life.” Jaleel Washington, 11th grade, Sumter Central High School added “I really liked visiting the Bridgeworth office because we were always greeted by friendly faces and when they did presentations, they always made jokes and tried to connect with us.

Each year, my family and I have become more and more involved with the HASS program and students. I am honored to now serve on the Higher Academics Summer School Advisory Board. It has been an amazing five years which has seen tremendous growth in the program and the students. Since HASS was founded, I have witnessed:

  • Students increase their ACT test scores by an average of two points.
  • The first three HASS graduates successfully graduate high school and enter UAB -one on full scholarship.
  • Students discuss social justice issues facing our country and their generation with Deputy Defender Shera Grant, U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, and the Honorable Shanta Owens.
  • Students work with trial lawyers from Christian & Small and Bradley Arant Boult Cummings to successfully argue an actual court case in front of the Honorable Judge Teresa Pulliam.
  • Students chase teachers around the campus with water balloons and whipped cream pies.
  • Teachers take on the role of educator, mentor, big brother/sister, disciplinarian, cheerleader, tutor, life coach, and friend.
  • Boys and girls mature into amazing young men and women ready to take the next step.

I could not be more proud of the Higher Academics Summer School and its teachers and students. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for these bright and promising young people.

BTN: #1-446142.1215

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Julie Ellis with 2015 HASS graduates: Darius Howard, Jahina Somo, and Xavius Gowdy

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