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Stephen P. Robinson Collaboration Grant Report: Girls Preparatory School and McCallie School

Wednesday, May 25, 2016  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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The Art of Consequential Philanthropy


Schools:    The Girls Preparatory School, Chattanooga, TN

                  The McCallie School, Chattanooga, TN


Teachers:  Linda Mines, History Department Chairman, GPS

                 Trish King, 6th Grade Social Studies, GPS

                 Erin Tocknell, English Teacher, McCallie

                 Sumner McCallie, Academic Dean, McCallie


View their video presentation at the 2015 SAIS Annual Conference here


The Background:

In addition to teaching content, methods of thinking about that content, and skills to articulate those thoughts to a larger world, we at independent schools also desire to instill the more human side of how knowledge can be used. We expect our students to act on what they have learned to benefit their communities. Much of their energies may be revealed through their chosen profession: a doctor who works to save lives, a lawyer who works on behalf of those needing fair representation, a teacher who instills confidence in the next generation of leaders. But many of our students will go outside daily jobs to share their gifts through charitable work with direct financial giving through professional or personal avenues, by volunteering with local non-profit organizations, or by serving on these institutions’ boards.


The McCallie School and the Girls Preparatory School have outstanding records of service in Chattanooga, nationally, and even internationally. We are proud of the authentic impact we have made on people’s lives: building 17 homes with Habitat for Humanity, providing holiday gifts for hundreds of children at local elementary schools, feeding families in need through the Food Bank or Ronald McDonald House charities, tutoring at numerous after school programs, and raising $100,000’s for various medical research efforts to name just a few.


But we realized we were falling short.


In conversations with our students and graduates, while we knew they valued service work, it seemed they frequently remained ignorant of why the need for the service existed in the first place. We built homes but failed to truly grasp the dynamics of affordable housing issues in our city. We tutored at afterschool centers for youth at risk, but rarely discussed the issues of gang violence that causes these centers to be so important. We served as translators for parent-teacher conferences at a local school where the majority of families are Latino, but we didn’t explore the position these families find themselves in regarding healthcare and employment.


We wanted to change that.


We wanted to set aside time to study our city, to understand the needs of our neighbors, and to gain a deep appreciation for the ways in which non-profits work: how they raise funds, what it means to be on a board, and how the public-private interaction can happen to lift up all in our city.

In August, 2015, we embarked on a process to fill this perceived gap in understanding. The two schools offered a coordinate class for two hours on two days a week for ten weeks called Consequential Philanthropy. Expecting 12 students, we finally capped the course at 33! And on the first day of the class, the students learned that they had $5,000 of real money (thanks to the Collaboration Grant from SAIS) which they were charged with distributing in order to offer the most productive help in addressing a need in our city. The ten weeks, then, became the process of understanding Chattanooga, its history, its people, and its needs, so as to most effectively achieve their goal.


The Process

We began by exposing students to the kinds of challenges individuals face by playing a “Can You Survive” game where participants used the monthly salary from a chosen profession as a basis to meet bills, rent, insurance costs, etc. From this experience emerged areas of life people struggle with every day. They became the weekly topics for our course: poverty, hunger, affordable housing, access to healthcare, and access to good education are examples. On Tuesdays, the group met at McCallie School to reflect on readings, discuss videos, and hear from invited experts in the social service sector to gain a deeper knowledge of the problems. Sometimes, these afternoons were also spent simply getting acquainted with how a life process works: hearing from a realtor and then role playing how to buy a home, learning about the city’s health department and what it does, calculating health insurance bills. On Thursdays, the group headed to a local non-profit agency working in that social sector to see first-hand the approaches used and, when able, to meet face to face with clients relying on the services. Visited organizations included the following:


Causeway: provides entrepreneurial expertise to start-up non-profits

Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprises:  encourages neighborhood revitalization

Volunteers in Medicine: provides free health care for those without insurance

Habitat for Humanity: builds affordable housing with and for families in need

Salvation Army: provides shelter and support for those in crisis

House of All Souls: supports men with disabilities who are homeless

Chattanooga Food Bank: provides food assistance through a number of programs

Boys and Girls Club: provides safe, engaging places and mentors for kids

East Side Elementary School: serves a poor, predominantly minority population

La Paz: supports the Hispanic community in Chattanooga

Chattanooga Police Department: deals with growing issues of gang violence

Chambliss Children’s Home: provides excellent child care and support


The final two weeks of the course focused on how best to divide the funds so as to make the greatest difference in our city. These conversations focused on two main questions. First, where should the funds go? Second, how should this distribution process be determined? Two board members and the President of the Lyndhurst Foundation, one of the key grant-making foundations which has transformed Chattanooga in the past thirty years, helped lead the students through a value clarification discussion and then shared the Foundation’s own history and process of encouraging its vision for the city.

The Results

Student quotations reveal the most important results:

  • “Wow, this is telling.” (said by a student who could not label any neighborhood names to a city map except her own.)
  • “How do people actually make it?” (noted after listening to the challenge of aiding people without health insurance)
  • “The best solution is one where the people who are being affected by it have had a chance to create it.”
  • “I realize that I misjudged people who are struggling as not being motivated. I was wrong.”
  • “WE are the ones who CAN push for change.”
  • “Affecting change is tough. There is an art to philanthropic giving.”


Almost every week, students emerged from the non-profit visit in a reflective mood. It was clear that much of what the course was exposing them to was not something they had focused on, knew much about, or had comprehended was reality for many of our citizen neighbors (and maybe even a few of their own students friends, though they did not know it at the time.)


One of the greatest moments of the course came in the final two weeks as students were challenged to wrestle with distribution of the funds. On one particular afternoon, the students were asked, “What if SAIS did NOT allow us to give funds to a non-profit, but instead it was up to this group to develop a project idea?” What emerged were remarkable, innovative, practical approaches to some of the city’s most vexing challenges.


In fact, students chose to split the funds between an existing non-profit focused on supporting a group home for homeless men and their own vision of working with teachers and peer students from other schools to offer this very course in those settings.


Looking Forward

The students’ choices have led us teachers to pursue two goals:

  1. Host a day-long conference in March, 2016, for any educator at a Tennessee independent school to discuss teaching civic engagement. This will involve students from our course.
  2. Develop a week-long summer institute involving teachers and students from local private and public schools focused on connecting students across the city to better address the needs of Chattanooga. We hope to offer this in June, 2016.


We intend to offer this course at McCallie and GPS next fall for a new set of students. We hope to convince an alumnus to fund the course as the decision making process with actual funds sharpened the class experience. It raised questions about priority and interconnectedness. More crucially, it provided students a way to try to affect change. It allowed them to be on a solution end of the myriad of problems they saw. That is critical in not losing their engagement to despair or being overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge.


We thank SAIS for providing an amazing platform for uncovering for students their city and its needs, and providing a way for them to learn how to rise up to meet those challenges. We would be excited to share our experience and to hear those of other schools as we strive to teach civic engagement.



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