'Build Me a World: The Story of The Howard School' seeks to inspire

'Build Me a World: The Story of The Howard School' seeks to inspire

August 18th, 2012 by Joan Garrett McClane in Local Regional News

In this photo taken August 16, 2012, Howard School of Academics and Technology graduate Alexis Walton, right, answers a question during a panel discussion after the screening of "Build Me a World: The Story of the Howard School, " at the Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga, Tenn. Walton was featured in the film and is a member of Howard's Talented Tenth, a program that teaches leadership and debate to students in the top ten percent of the school. At left is the film's director Bethany Mollenkof.

Photo by Allison Love /Times Free Press.


* What: The Howard Summit, a roundtable for the community and pancake breakfast, plus screening of "Build Me a World: The Story of The Howard School."

* When: 10 a.m. today; movie screening at noon

* Where: The Howard School, 2500 S. Market St.

* Admission: Free

Source: Fancy Rhino

Local filmmakers and officials with The Howard School are hoping a newly released documentary about the challenges and triumphs of the mostly black and poor inner-city school will spark a community movement.

"The investment our company made on the story has been exhausting at times," said Drew Belz, who helped create the movie with colleagues at Fancy Rhino. "That is the same feeling that teachers know well. They continue to exhaust themselves, but it is so worth it when they see these kids reaching higher.

"I want people to think really radically about what Howard could be, what it could be as the downtown school in our area."

The movie, "Build Me a World: The Story of The Howard School," was screened for a packed Tivoli Theatre on Thursday night. Some viewers discussed the impact of the film during a question-and-answer session held after the movie. But a more-thorough discussion of the film and the future needs of Howard will be held at a pancake breakfast and screening of the film this morning at the school.

School leaders and political representatives for the downtown area said they hope the film launches a powerful public relations campaign for the school, which was last year named a failing school according to No Child Left Behind standards. The school was also subjected to state intervention last year because of low graduation rates and test scores.

Earlier this week, newly released state education records showed that Howard is in good standing for the first time in at least a decade. Its graduation rate jumped from 68.6 percent in 2010 to 88.3 percent in 2011.

The filmmakers were able to gain access to the school by holding a film class in which their storytelling centered around teacher Mason West, who led the school's leadership program -- the Talented Tenth. West no longer teaches at Howard but is still involved with students.

"They told the story of one teacher, but we have 67 other teacher who are just amazing," said Howard Principal Paul Smith.

On Thursday, the Tivoli Theatre felt like a school pep rally. The Howard drum line marched to the front of the theater before the screening and young school girls were dancing to the beats. Students laughed through most of the film at shots of their principal, their teachers and classmates.

"I feel so good," George Ricks, a school board representative and avid Howard volunteer, told the crowd. "I'm so excited. ... If the downtown community would just get behind Howard. ... I need you all to call your board member."

Cassandra Lyles, the grandmother of one of the stars of the movie, Howard student Alexis Walton, said she cried throughout the film, even at the funny moments.

"It was a joy," she said, standing beside her granddaughter, "just watching the obstacles they have to overcome."

Walton, who received a scholarship to attend Tennessee State University this fall and plans to major in civil engineering, said she expects the film to inspire youth who are struggling in the Howard community.

After showing the trailer at Howard, she said she heard about strong emotional responses from students.

"Teenage guys were crying and said I touched them," she said.