By Lindsay Moore
The Commercial Appeal
Monday, May 19, 2008
Mattie Brown Guy never attended the new, modern Manassas High School.
But she walks the halls as if it were her own.
Students in the cafeteria
shout greetings and make room for her at a table.
Guy, class of '54, is a fixture among the alumni who are at Manassas
every Tuesday. She never misses a program or sporting event, and
students say she doesn't sugarcoat the truth.
High school administrators say they need more like her.
With schools feeling pressured from the outside and the inside, alumni
can be a valuable resource, administrators say, providing financial
assistance, tutoring and mentoring, while also helping to instill a
sense of history, school spirit and pride in today's students.
"If we don't help them, who will help them?" asks Guy, surrounded in
the Alumni Room at Manassas by decades-old memorabilia.
It was the alumni who bolstered the students after a shooting there
"They let it be known it was an accident and our school is not bad,"
said DeMarcus Douglas, 17, who graduated on Saturday. "They stood
East High model
Many see the Greater East High Foundation as a model of how alumni can
The foundation, which has received national recognition, was created by
Charles McVean, class of '61. Among it's many functions, the foundation
pays students to tutor others after school.
"We have identified the most underutilized resource in our city today,
the top performing students at these inner city high schools," said
McVean, chairman and CEO of McVean Trading and Investments.
Known at East as "Charlie Mustang," a nod to the school's mascot,
McVean has funded lunch for 200 during parents' meetings and routinely
supplies outside speakers to inspire the students. Recently, visitors
from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange exposed students to a new world of
East principal Fred Curry is the first to credit McVean's involvement
at East for bolstering test scores and school pride.
"He has the right idea in terms of trying to get pride back in school
and in terms of getting alumni back in these schools and to assist
schools," Curry said.
McVean's idea is also being used at Whitehaven High School, where Dr.
Jerre Freeman sponsors the Greater Whitehaven High Foundation.
Dr. Vincent Hunter, principal and member of the class of '82, has proof
the program works.
"Our scores went from 68 percent to 85 percent proficiency in one year."
Some hard to reach
As accepting as some students are of the alumni, in many schools there
is a large part of the student body -- teens dealing with bad grades,
crime-ridden neighborhoods, uninvolved parents or gang recruitment --
who past graduates don't reach.
"What we have to do is figure out a way to turn these kinds around who
are headed in the wrong direction," says McVean.
He's planning a tutoring program for the students who are not
The Greater East foundation plans to train 50 tutors at the University
of Memphis this summer. If Memphis City Schools gives its approval, the
foundation will pay them to work with students.
While intervention might work, others say programs need to bring in
some younger alumni to make an impact on students who are harder to
At Manassas, most active former students graduated in the '40s, '50s
and early '60s, said Nadie Kinnard, president of the Manassas Alumni
She said the students "think we think everything they do is wrong,"
said Kinnard, class of '65. "They need somebody that understands their
language, why they do what they do."
Manassas alumni have raised money and maintained a college scholarship
program but have been unable to establish a formalized mentor program,
Kinnard said. Money always helps, but it's not the only answer.
"You've got to have some people power," Kinnard said. "Younger people
can relate to these students better than I can."
-- Linda A. Moore: 529-2702
Adult volunteers at Memphis City Schools must submit to a background
check and meet other criteria.
To learn more, call 416-7600 or go online to mcsk12.net and click on
Volunteer Services at the bottom of the site index list to the right of