MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Booker T. Washington High School got attention across the country a few years ago after President Barack Obama delivered the school's commencement address. But students, teachers and administrators say there's much more to the school than that.
The school has increased its graduation rate by 30 percent over the past few years. Their major focus is to ensure students have a bright future.
At Booker T. Washington High School, part of their motto is "We lead and others follow." That's certainly true. The school was the first in the Memphis city district to begin teaching students in gender-specific classes. This unique educational approach uses same-gender classes to increase teacher effectiveness.
According to teacher Jocelyn Mosby, "Well for one, boys and girls learn differently and so they
have to be taught according to how they learn."
Over the past few years graduation rates have increased from 55 percent to nearly 84 percent, and those numbers continue to rise.
"We have great students who come from great homes," said Principal Alisha Kiner. "I always believe that parents send us the very best they have and the very best job they’ve been able to do and it’s our job to partner with them and propel students to greater levels."
The school also has a vast vocational program, from home economics classes to cosmetology. For those students, they have the skills to get right into the workforce.
Algebra teacher Steven McKinney uses technology as a method of instruction for his students. Because of that creativity and the educational growth his students have shown, McKinney was recently honored as a Prestige Teacher.
"What I’m trying to do is attack all three of their learning styles. I give them something to look at, I give them something to hear, and I given them something to look at. I give them something to do all at the same time and giving them an opportunity to do it at their own pace," he said.
BTW also is a school with a wealth of history. Founded in 1873 as the Clay Street School, it later became Booker T. Washington High School, named in honor of the educator and civil rights leader.
It was also among the first public high schools for African-Americans in Memphis. In fact, the city's first African-American mayor, Willie Herenton, is a BTW grad. Both students and staff agree it’s a special place.
Student Jhalyia Dabs told us, "Actually, I came here kind of late and I’m not from Memphis, and I came here and everyone was all nice to me and came to me with open arms."
Administrators say the school strives to provide each student with an education in a safe, supportive environment that promotes excellence. Student we spoke with say Booker T. Washington is more than a school. For them, it’s like home.
"It’s an environment that’s easy to learn in and you’re able to enjoy yourself while you learn, so instead of a boring class you have a fun class and you learn more and you do really well," said student Quinton Ayers.
From its top notch academic programs to its place in Bluff City history, Booker T. Washington High School is, without a doubt, a cool school.