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I am APS: Shataira Hightower

by Allison M. Slocum

I am APS is a special series highlighting students, faculty, alumni, and others in celebration of the rich and diverse experiences, backgrounds and contributions within the Atlanta Public Schools family. Together, we stand in solidarity of our shared admiration of APS and the mission which guides us. #IamAPS

Shataira Hightower is a Class of 2024 graduating senior at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy. Photo: Allison M. Slocum

Shataira Hightower, a senior at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (CSKYWLA), has always been book smart. Coming from a family rich in skills and talents, she’s had to move independently in a lane less traveled than those before her.

Through hard work, determination and constant encouragement from her mother, Hightower has found her academic footing and boasts a weighted 4.0 GPA, ranking 4th in her class.

Leaning into her love for education, Hightower serves her school as a member of the National Honor Society and the Beta Club. Additionally, she holds the position of CSKYWLA 12th Grade Representative and is an Atlanta Public Schools Student Advisory Council member.

She recently shared with us her love of poetry, how her experience at CSKYWLA has impacted her education, and her future plans to give hope and counsel to the voiceless.

Shataira Hightower’s activities include the following: National Honor Society, Beta Club, 12th Grade Representative, and APS Student Advisory Council. Photo: Allison M. Slocum

Shataira Hightower
CSKYWLA’s Class of 2024 graduating senior and future psychologist.

What is the thing you love most about your school?

I actually love how small the school is because I feel as if they’re more able to dedicate time and attention to each individual student. I know that in [larger schools], there’s so many students that you sometimes can’t pay attention to each individual student and then they get left behind or knocked down. But here, there’s 30 people in my class. There’s no way I can see my sister falling and not help pick her up. I really adore that.

Shataira Hightower’s love for English inspired her to pen a wining essay titled “How to Get Perfect Attendance: A Memoir”. Photo: Allison M. Slocum

What is your favorite subject?

English. Specifically poetry, because I love how you can take a word where the denotation is pretty simple and change it how you want— to a unique connotation. Rain could just literally be water falling from the sky, or it could be something deep and powerful within you that’s pouring. And the ability to make people cry from just five words is absolutely insane. I love the power that you have within a pen. It just feels so empowering, so beautiful. I love walking into an English class. The vibe is always different than any other classroom. It just feels as if you automatically have an emotional connection simply because it’s English.

Have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up?

I would love to be a psychologist. I may minor in criminal justice. When I do become a psychologist, I would like to work with incriminated juveniles because both of my uncles went to jail when they were very young. I feel as if that took away some very critical years that were very important. I feel as if they never were able to have their own voice at such a young age. They were forced into having no rights. This is what you do for years. And when they got out, they felt as if they didn’t have any opportunities and they were still stuck in that box, even if they weren’t anymore. I want to be able to go and tell these kids that you may be here now, but that doesn’t mean that when you get out that this is all you have. There’s still an entire world out there that you can access, that you can shape. That’s what I want to do.

What made you decide that psychology was an area of interest for you?

We always do Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the morning. And SEL with a sisterhood environment really creates a family. I know this person through and through. I’ve been with them since the 6th grade and it makes me so connected to them. And then you look at other [students] and some are getting arrested, getting in trouble, going to jail, getting pregnant— and I don’t want that to happen to my sister. This is my girl. This is who I’m growing up with. It makes me have that protective spirit of wanting to keep them out of trouble. Wanting to make sure they make good choices, that they know all their options. And that became even stronger as I rose to the 12th grade, because I look back and I see these middle schoolers. I see the 9th and 11th [graders], and it’s like, these are my little sisters. I have to watch them. I have to make sure that they grow well. I have to make sure that they know every opportunity that they have here, and I feel as if that really helps with my goal.

Share a lesson that stood out to you and helped shaped who you are today.

From 9th through 11th [grade], we always talked about what it means to be an American. That was a reoccurring topic inside of English. And I felt at the very beginning I was like, American— it means pride, bald eagle, flag. But I quickly learned that it was much deeper than that. And then we read The Great Gatsby and I realized how fake America can sometimes seem. How we’re the front cover. We’re almost shallow in a way. It’s because we’re taught to be that. Not that we aren’t deeper people, but that when somebody says, ‘hi, how you doing?’ It’s not an actual question, it’s just a greeting. This year, I was having a conversation with Ms. Tookes about that. How America is always so fast paced. And as a psychologist, I would want to slow that pace down. I want people to realize that you can take a break. You can break down a little bit. You don’t have to always be that picture perfect smile person. You can stutter. You can have issues, and that’s okay. You can teach them how to get through that. Because I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but during the pandemic, especially teenagers in my age group, we had a really big [spike in suicide cases]. It was just so traumatic because, again, these are my sisters. These are my brothers. This is my friend group. Why are they in such a traumatic period of time? And it’s like they don’t know how to express themselves. They don’t know how to be themselves. They don’t know themselves. I want to change that. I want to make sure that everybody knows that they have a voice and that if they’re sad, they can say, ‘I’m sad’. They don’t really have to keep it all inside of themselves.

CSKYWLA seniors, Shataira Hightower and Caydence Walker, have been chosen to represent their school as I am APS spotlights. Photo: Allison M. Slocum.

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