Top of the Class: Howard High School's Hayle Mack breaks through after cycles of school changes

Howard School valedictorian Hayle Mack poses for a portrait on the Lookout Mountain Conservancy's property on Wednesday, June 5, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Hayle Aliese Mack never struggled with the school part. It was everything else that snagged her.

She was intelligent and competitive, and she succeeded in advanced classes with older students. But when she enrolled at The Howard School, teachers noticed she wasn't interested in teamwork. Group projects weren't for her. She kept her head down.

"I just hated going sometimes," she said of school. "It was irritating. I disassociated myself from everybody. It kind of made it worse."

But over four years, architecture and engineering design teacher Japho Hardin noticed Mack mature. She enlisted in almost a dozen extracurricular activities, took part in after-school team competitions and gave a speech at the unveiling of Howard's Future Ready Institute. (She doesn't remember who asked her to give the speech, just that someone tapped her with five minutes' notice to go before the assembled local media.)