published Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Howard school, TVA call intern program a success

by Adam Crisp
  • photo
    NuQeilla Robinson, 16, works at digitizing older TVA documents. Students participated in a "school to work" program recently at Howard. The TVA-sponsored program pays students, who must be 16 or older, minimum wage to work in the electronic document management program. Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press

For years Lorina Upshaw has heard negative news about Howard School of Academics and Technology.

Bad test scores and behavior issues have at times dominated headlines, but Upshaw believes in the students at the historically black south Market Street school.

“These kids are knowledgeable, and they can do as well as other kids with the proper training and the right opportunities,” said Upshaw, a member of the Howard class of 1969.

So Upshaw, over the last two years, has gone about bringing that opportunity to Howard.

An information representative at TVA for 34 years, Upshaw asked her bosses to create internship opportunities for Howard students. Earlier this year, TVA freed up funding for five part-time internship positions at Howard.

It’s not unusual for TVA to use student help, but this is the first time the utility has set up a satellite office to make it happen. TVA also sent a half-time retired engineer to oversee the students and computers and document scanning equipment to make it all work.

And now, after roughly one school year, TVA said the program has worked so well it will continue it for another school year at Howard.

The students work for just an hour and a half each day and are paid minimum wage, but the teens and Upshaw think the program will have lasting benefits.

“Everyone else ... they volunteer with the principal or at a nursing home, but we’re here working and actually getting paid,” said 16-year-old sophomore NuQeilla Robinson, one of the interns.


State education officials have watched Howard School of Academics and Technology closely over the last year as state officials evaluate whether the school should be, along with a dozen of the state’s other lowest-performing schools, taken over and run in a special state Alternative School District.

Recently, leaders have suggested Howard has made enough improvement in its graduation rate to avoid that harsh step and some of the other sanctions that would come along with it.

“Howard is now in an ‘improving status.’ It’s still in the commissioner’s improvement district, but we know we’ve made the graduation rate two years in a row,” said Superintendent Jim Scales.

“When you show the kind of progress we’ve shown here, that should show the state we have a good focus, a good plan and a good leader in the building,” he said.

Two weeks ago, the state’s new education commissioner told the Chattanooga Times Free Press a decision on Howard’s future would be communicated to the system “soon.”

It’s not just busy work. Robinson and her classmates are converting hand-written files and hand-drawn engineering plans into digital files that can be searched and obtained by TVA employees. At the same time, the interns are getting exposure to working in the real world.

“We hope it provides them professional training,” Upshaw said. “We hope that it gives them a better chance at getting a job.”

The engineering file conversion teaches the students about computer-aided drafting, and the file-conversion work exposes them to digital document management. Both are growing fields of study at area technical schools, Upshaw said.

“I hope that they take this work and think, ‘I could work at TVA one day.’ Maybe in the same office with me,” Upshaw said.

All the work is supervised by John Geeter, a retired TVA electrical engineer who approves the students’ work.

So far, program organizers say the TVA School-to-Work Program has been successful. One senior has told Upshaw because of the exposure she’s received in the class, she would like to pursue employment in the document management field, perhaps with TVA.

That’s a point of pride for Upshaw, who said she wants to serve as a role model for students at Howard.

“It makes me proud to know an organization as big as TVA will buy into this program to help these kids,” Upshaw said. “With the proper training and encouragement, these kids can do it.”

Contact staff writer Adam Crisp at or 423-757-6323. Follow him on line: and

about Adam Crisp...

Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...

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chioK_V said...

@For years Lorina Upshaw has heard negative news about Howard School of Academics and Technology.

Pretty much all of that negative news came from internal sources. For years you couldn't turn on a local black radio station or turn on the evening news without listening to the host or hostess of radio and callers making negative comments about the school or seeing one of their own being interviewd on tv making the very same negative comments about their children, their communities and one another. All others who joined in just fell into step with what they were already saying about one anothe.

April 19, 2011 at 2:28 p.m.
sangaree said...

All I can say on the matter of negative news surrounding Howard is this: Although African-Americans for sure are the group to be persecuted and discriminated against in America in many ways they invite persecution. Chinese, certain Native American Indian groups, Japanese, and most certainly Jews. However, you will never hear any of those groups getting on national tv referring to their young people as "dirty laundry." You'll never hear any of those groups constantly bashing their young, their communities and one another. You'll never hear those groups inviting outsiders in to solve their issues. They know once that door is opened again they lose control of their destiny. For a group who has had to fight the longest to be free in America it's sad to see how easily it is to convince them to give up those freedoms and march double time back into bondage.

April 19, 2011 at 7:27 p.m.
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