The Marietta Daily Journal: Powered by Service Leadership program sponsored by Usher begins at Pebblebrook

by Hilary Butschek
August 04, 2015 

Educators say the class of 2019 will have a different education than any other Pebblebrook High School class, emphasizing the relevance of academic standards in their lives.

About 650 freshmen gathered in the school gym on Monday morning to hear about a program that emphasizes leadership and community involvement sponsored by Usher’s New Look, an Atlanta nonprofit founded by Grammy award-winner Usher Raymond in 1999.

James Harris, a New Look Alum and now Program Strategy Manager, told the Pebblebrook students a story about his old life, trying to fit in on the street and how Usher’s New Look gave him an education that helped him excel beyond what he imagined for himself.

“In the streets, I just used to react and respond. I felt like I had no other choice. I was enclosed into a perimeter in my mind. I let the stereotypes that people put on me dictate my actions, but I’m here to let y’all know that stereotypes aren’t true until your actions reflect them,” Harris said.

Harris told the students that in 2007, he had plans to get a gun and find a friend who had wronged him so he could get revenge, but his mother stopped him.

“She said, ‘His life is not worth yours. You’ve got a choice to make. You can choose to better yourself or you can choose to be a part of this,’” Harris said.

Harris said he gave the gun to his mother and never saw that friend again. He said two weeks later, he was chosen to take part in Usher’s New Look summer program, where he said he learned how to be a leader.

“That summer at New Look, they continued to give me the platforms to showcase my abilities as a leader, and my confidence was built up to the point where I believed that college was for me and I could do it,” Harris said.

 

Pebblebrook High School Principal Travis Joshua welcomes musician James Harris, who was representing the ‘Powered by Service’ education program sponsored by Usher’s New Look foundation. The program emphasizes leadership, music education and college readiness.

Pebblebrook High School Principal Travis Joshua welcomes musician James Harris, who was representing the ‘Powered by Service’ education program sponsored by Usher’s New Look foundation. The program emphasizes leadership, music education and college readiness.
Officials react 
The program, a week-long intensive training in leadership called “Powered by Service,” will be incorporated into classrooms all year, said Mary Elizabeth Davis, chief academic officer of Cobb schools.In the 16 years since it was created, about 24,000 students in the nation have gone through Usher’s New Look program, said Yvette Cook, New Look president and CEO.“Think of us as a youth leadership incubator cultivating the next wave of change makers in the Cobb community. By week’s end, over 600 youth will receive leadership certification backed by Emory University’s Goizueta Business School with a charge to begin serving within their local communities,” Cook said.The new curriculum will emphasize helping students realize their work in high school can affect their future, said Chris Ragsdale, Cobb superintendent.

“It really just puts the focus on the kids and making them understand that today is the day you decide the beginning of the rest of your life. If you make the right choice or put the right decisions into action, that’s what is going to put you on the path of what you want to do,” Ragsdale said.

The new curriculum will take things that interest students, such as music, and incorporate them into learning the standards required by the school, Davis said.

“The proximity of Pebblebrook to the amazing things happening in the Atlanta music scene is going to make it the perfect location,” Davis said.

The goal of the program is to get students ready for college or for a job, said Melissa Moore, director of instructional and innovative practices for Cobb schools.

“Making the academics relevant to them makes them more interested and it makes them want to be here,” Moore said.

Davion Bugg, 14, a Pebblebrook freshman, said he’s excited about the program because hearing Harris’ story showed him he could achieve something with his life.

“They told us their story of how they became something, and it makes me want to be like them and learn leadership,” Bugg said. “I have plans to go to college, so I think this will help me do that.”

Pebblebrook High School performing arts dance company students Commodore Primous, Maggie McCowin and Alyssa Payne perform a musical number with the rest of the troupe on Monday during a freshman rally to introduce Usher’s New Look program. Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and about 600 incoming freshmen took in this new brand of education developed by Atlanta native and music industry icon, Usher, entitled ‘Powered by Service.’ <br>Staff-Kelly J. Huff

Pebblebrook High School performing arts dance company students Commodore Primous, Maggie McCowin and Alyssa Payne perform a musical number with the rest of the troupe on Monday during a freshman rally to introduce Usher’s New Look program. Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and about 600 incoming freshmen took in this new brand of education developed by Atlanta native and music industry icon, Usher, entitled ‘Powered by Service.’
Staff-Kelly J. Huff