For most college students, spring break means it’s time to hit the beach. But students from Howard University are using their week off classes to help others, and they’ve come all the way to St. Louis to do it.
Every year, hundreds of students from Howard University travel to different parts of the country to do service projects over their spring break. The program is called Alternative Spring Break, or ASB.
It only makes sense that a group from one of the most notable HBCUs in the country came to Sumner High School — a school with a rich Black history stretching back to the 1800s.
And their work extends beyond the walls of Sumner High.
“We were able to find Sumner. We were able to find Annie Malone along with Hawthorne Leadership School for Girls and Covenant House to work on our initiative of youth empowerment,” said Sydelle Davis, a senior at Howard University and is this group’s ASB site coordinator.
The college students came to mentor Sumner’s students, and they’ve already made a big difference.
Davis said it took some time for Sumner students to work through the nerves of having college students around. But, once the ice was broken, connections formed quickly.
“I think after the first hour, the first class, everybody let their walls down a little bit, got a little loose with us,” Davis said. “We had a fun time making TikToks. One of the students is a rapper. He did a little performance for us. So, it really set the tone for the rest of the week.”
ASB is a tradition that runs deep at HU.
Truth Burney is a junior at Howard and another trip leader. She started participating in ASB when she was a freshman.
“They truly take everyone who can come and who has the heart to serve,” she said.
Each Howard student has been paired up with a small group of Sumner freshmen, sophomores or juniors. The Howard students shadow these high schoolers during the school day, help with schoolwork and talk about the possibilities that await them in their future.
It’s clear that starting the conversation has made all the difference for these students. Some juniors in Mr. Northway’s social studies class shared their thoughts on having the Howard students on campus for a week mentoring them.
“It’s all about spirit and culture here at Sumner. So, to have students that come from a college that also has that kind of heart in their community, it’s amazing,” Regina Washington said.
Dru Garth-Dukes said she really wants to get her college degree.
“I have two graduates in my family, so it’s kind of on my chest to graduate and go to college,” she added.
Chanel Harris told the class, “I’m not really the type to give speeches or really put myself out there. I just want to say I’m so glad you all came out to see us. I know a lot of us in the school are really glad you all gave us the opportunity.”
Sumner High is home to some famous alumni. Arthur Ashe, Chuck Berry, Ethel Hedgeman Lyle, Tina Turner… their walk of fame in the building stretches far — literally. Students said there are more faces that’ll soon be added to the wall.
“You are looking at future billionaires. You’re looking at future business partners. You’re looking at the next Tina Turners and Dick Gregorys that came from this school. We are those, most definitely,” junior Stephon Riggins told the classroom.
The Howard students are also spending their afternoons working with kids at the Annie Malone children’s home across the street from Sumner. They’ll be in town until Friday.