Officially, Aug. 9 was the first day of class on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus.
For 56 high school juniors, that is.
University High, a Hamilton County Schools initiative headquartered at UTC, made its long-awaited debut. The program was designed as a college pipeline for high school students who might not have seen themselves heading toward a four-year university education; many of the students will become first-generation college students or are from families of limited financial means.
University High program highlights will include a daily structure dedicated to academic advising, college prep, experiential learning and support; on-campus experiences via learning labs across UTC departments to build pathways toward continued higher education; and place-based learning and internship opportunities within the community.
“We are focused on students as their advisors instead of their teachers,” University High Principal Arielle Hayes said. “University High is built on this idea of interest-based learning; not only will we provide them with their core content areas, but a lot of that learning will come through internships.
“With UTC being our base—and all of the colleges and majors the University offers—it’s literally at the students’ fingertips.”
Since joining Hamilton County Schools in 2012, Hayes has been an administrator at Normal Park Museum Magnet School, Orchard Knob Middle School, Dalewood Middle School, East Hamilton Middle School and—most recently—was the assistant principal at Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts. She also had a stint as the HCS school choice charter coordinator.
Being named University High principal is one of three honors bestowed upon Hayes in recent months. She was named one of Chatter magazine’s 2023 “20 under 40” and selected to join the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2024 Leadership Chattanooga program.
Hayes leads a University High faculty contingent comprised of Eryn Queen (counselor advisor, Spanish), Kate Knox (English), Emily McDonald (math), Juney Shober (science) and UTC alum Catie Sanhueza (social studies).
“The reason kids chose University High is to do learning differently, to do teaching differently, to do education differently—which is why the teachers chose it, too,” Hayes said. “How can we do education differently and really support our students who may not have seen themselves in this space or walking on this campus—or any campus for that matter?
“So our goal is to navigate what that looks like, to finish your high school career while also beginning your college career.”
The first cohort of University High students comes to its UTC headquarters from 10 different Hamilton County schools. Learning will take place in three classrooms in Lupton Hall and one in Hunter Hall.
Hayes, who received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, raved about the Lupton Hall location and its proximity to student-centric programming.
“When I was in college, I hung out in what was called the BCC, but it’s the same as the Multicultural Center. That’s where I met my core group of friends, and my best friends to this day are from college and from hanging out there,” she said. “Being in the Multicultural Center as a Latina, it was nice to see people like me not only thriving—but also struggling.
“College is not meant to be easy. It’s meant to challenge you, build on your academia and make you better to go into the world, so the fact that we have access to this as juniors and eventually seniors will help their growth exponentially.”
After two years in the program, University High students will earn 14 to 20 college credit hours. “The college courses they’ll take will be mirrored and scaffolded in our curriculum,” she said. Courses will prepare students for future UTC classes while meeting HCS high school graduation requirements.
University High students will have full access to all UTC student support services and engagement opportunities, including University Health Services, the UTC Library, the Center for Career and Leadership Development, the Aquatic and Recreation Center, and on-campus events.
“UTC has been so phenomenal; I really can’t say it enough in public settings,” Hayes said. “When I talk to people, faculty and staff and members of UTC, they’re like, ‘They’re our kids, too. Everything we provide access to, they have access to.’ That is so beautiful to me.”
The next class of high school juniors will arrive at UTC in fall 2024, with the campus supporting 100-plus students at that time.
The first University High cohort will soon be joined on campus by UTC students. The first day of the University’s fall semester is Monday, Aug. 21.
“I won’t say our students won’t be nervous when everyone’s back on campus, but that’s natural,” Hayes said. “Being here in Lupton will allow for mentorship without forcing it.
“UTC students come from the same schools our students are from. All of the students here have a story from when they were in high school and how they came here. Hopefully, those natural conversations will take place—and our students will thrive from them.”