Don't Wait, Don’t Hate, Participate, Graduate!

Idea Leader:
Chris Brown

Location: Hixson, TN

Partner Organization: On Point

Project Summary: Chris Brown, 18, and fellow members of the Chattanooga Teen Board were in heavy campaign mode with their message including presentations, a billboard, t-shirts, and videos.  In February, 350 students from 8 high schools came together for an all day Youth Graduation Summit where participants experienced a day of learning organized as if they were already college students with classes, seminars, and socials in groups named after college mascots.

Teen Board Decides Peer-to-Peer Messaging Most Effective Way to Lower Dropout Rate


Last summer, On Point’s Teen Board began considering what their area of focus should be for the coming school year. The Teen Board is comprised of high school students representing Chattanooga area high schools and is charged with providing a teen voice, guiding program planning for On Point’s youth development work in the schools. As the Teen Board discussed issues facing local adolescents, they realized most risky behaviors were attractive to their peers because many lacked a vision for their futures. Many of the seniors noted that younger students have a difficult time understanding how great an impact today’s’ choices have on tomorrow’s options.

Chris Brown, a senior at Hixson High, recalled that as a ninth grader, he had no idea that a few “not so great” grades would have such a great influence on his senior scholarship applications. When asked how that message could be better communicated to students at a younger age, they unanimously agreed that hearing from peers and having the message reiterated often would be the most effective strategy. 

As a result, the Teen Board developed a plan to and applied for an AT&T My Idea grant to implement it. Chris agreed to serve as the point person and official applicant for submitting the proposal. The Teen Board brainstormed together at their Fall Retreat weekend in October and refined their three pronged approach:

Promote peer-mentoring to build early commitment to graduate among 9th grade students

  • On Point hosts leadership development groups in 19 area high schools. The Teen Board developed a slogan for Life On point groups to rally around for the school year:  “Don’t Wait, Don’t Hate, Participate, Graduate!”  
  • Through small group presentations and panels, the Teen Board members, along with other Life On point upperclassmen students, became more intentional about connecting with younger students around the importance of being committed to graduate.
  • Upperclassmen were challenged to model the message:
  • “Don't Wait”… is never too early to get serious about graduating!
  • “Don’t Hate”….instead of trying to put the least into school, get the most out of it!
  • "Participate"… all school and Chattanooga has to offer.
  • ……So you can "Graduate”!    

Create a media campaign around graduation

  • The Teen Board members consulted with a local marketing and graphic design company to develop a billboard and t-shirt design to portray their message. In order to grab attention and stick in people’s minds, they shortened their slogan to: “Don’t Quit, Finish It!”
  • During the Teen Board’s planning retreat in the fall, they also created video media messages to be used in Life On Point groups and their high school news broadcasts, complete with their own Graduation Rap!

Host a Youth Graduation Summit

  • On February 18, 2011, after much planning by the Teen Board, Chattanooga’s first Youth Graduation Summit was held for 350 high school students from 8 participating high schools. The all-day event was an approved field trip for Hamilton County Department of Education and was covered by local media.  The goal of the day was to create excitement and build commitment around graduation, helping students envision a future in which graduation is a crucial component.
  • The community support for the Graduation Summit was incredible!  Stuart Heights Baptist Church allowed the students to have full access to their main campus -- the space was perfect for large group speakers and videos as well as small group break-out sessions. The United Way and Ready by 21 sponsored sandwiches for lunch and many other vendors donated food to feed the large crowd.  Finally, a local foundation provided a grant to cover the expense of school bus transportation from the eight participating schools.
  • During the day, the tone was set for college by treating the students as if they were already there….responsible for choosing their classes and being prepared to go with their second choice if their first choice was full! The session topics were identified by the Teen Board and presenters sought from a variety of community partners, such “For Girls Only” presented by our partners at Girls, Inc., also a “My Idea” grant recipient. The Teen Board presented a special panel session entitled “Graduation 101” for ninth grade students, with professional expertise from a local 9th grade school counselor and a graduation coach.  Other sessions included “College, Cars and Credit Cards” for upperclassmen presented by Suntrust Bank and another on scholarship opportunities by the Chattanooga Community Foundation. 
  • During the morning, the students sat in groups from their schools. However, for the afternoon sessions, the Teen Board wanted the students to have an opportunity to intermingle with students from various high schools who were also committed to making graduation a priority. To accomplish this, the students were divided into groups by SEC mascots and each group identified a word that characterized the theme for the day; a sampling included such things as: dedication, vision, commitment, overcome, dreams, follow-thru, believe, never give up.  
  • Student evaluations rated the Graduation Summit as helpful in building their excitement and commitment to graduation.  The individual speakers and small group sessions all received positive remarks.  Suggestions for next year, in addition to having the Summit again, were to have more Chick Fil-A sandwiches! 

The Teen Board blocked out a retreat day on May 26, 2011 to evaluate their three pronged approach. They agreed that they should continue looking for ways to mentor younger students through our Life On Point groups. Regarding their media campaign, they concluded they had a great time creating the videos and choosing the billboards, but they believe a personal touch is more effective, such as getting to talk to students in a relationship. The Graduation Summit was the highlight of the project and the Teen Board members report the students at their various schools are looking forward to it becoming an annual event. The Teen Board is thinking about potential local partners who would like to help fund what the “My Idea” grant contributed for this first year.

Although funds were set aside for a fun group activity for this retreat day, the Teen Board chose instead to use the bulk of their funds to serve the recent tornado victims in our area, hit April 27.  So, on their retreat day, the Teen Board visited Ringgold, Georgia and viewed the tornado devastation just minutes from Chattanooga.  Since most are still under the age of 18, they were not allowed to help with construction efforts. But, they met with relief workers at a local church who stated they needed snack food items to feed all the children in their special summer program beginning the following week when school was out. The Teen Board visited the high school and middle school, which may not open again by next school year and heard stories of two teens who lost their lives in the storm.  Afterwards, during lunch, they processed not only what they just witnessed, but also their efforts throughout the year. These student leaders were humbled all the devastation they had been spared and also encouraged by all the work they had accomplished.

Chris Brown perhaps summed up the heart of the Teen Board’s effort when he told this story last summer.

“Once, my friends asked me, ‘Chris, Why are you so good?’ They wanted to know why I had not gotten involved in a lot of the risk behaviors that so many kids in my neighborhood have. I thought about it and remembered a caring adult who goes to my church and also works at On Point. He connected with me and helped me connect to others in my community--it made all the difference. I believe that connecting with kids will also make all the difference. It can help give them a vision for their futures and cause them to think about the importance of graduation.” 

The Teen Board was successful in building a number of connections among Chattanooga youth in support of graduation -- relationally through mentoring younger students, publically through a media campaign, and communally through a city-wide Graduation Summit.