By Christopher Sanchez
Every year, deserving juniors who exemplify the highest level of academic, ethical, and social commitment are honored by receiving the ΦBK High School Book Award. Created, organized, and funded through the Phi Beta Kappa Atlanta Alumni Association, the High School Book Award program has allowed faculty members of high schools in the greater Atlanta area to select one junior in their own school to receive the award. The recipients are honored at their school’s end-of-year awards ceremony, and each is presented a copy of a book, usually a biography of a leading citizen of the colonial period of American history.
The Metropolitan Atlanta Alumni Association High School Book Award began in the mid-1990s as an outgrowth of an award made by the Phi Beta Kappa faculty group at Oglethorpe University. Taking inspiration from an award given to a senior who had participated in the honors program, members of the Atlanta Association decided that it would be good to sponsor an award for high school juniors in Atlanta’s high schools. “We felt that this was a way to increase the awareness of Phi Beta Kappa among students who may soon be candidates for membership in the Society,” said Susan Carlisle, the current president of the ΦBK Alumni Association of Atlanta.
The award is presented to a member of the junior class who is the best representative of the ideals of Phi Beta Kappa. For example, previous winners include a starter on her high school basketball team who also is in a leadership position in the student theater company, an academic star whose interest in politics earned him a place as a student assistant in the Georgia General Assembly, and a computer network and website designer who has risen to the top ranks academically at his school two years after moving to the United States from Eastern Europe. Members of the Association suggest schools to contact to determine if they would be interested in presenting this award, and most schools are very happy to participate. Initially beginning with ten high schools, the awards program grew to forty high schools under the leadership of past board member Betsy Frank. For the past two years, forty-eight schools participated in the awards program. The primary way in which the program has grown is through the generosity of the members of the Association.
“Members are given the opportunity to sponsor a particular high school or to support the program with a donation not for a specific school,” Carlisle said. For example, Nash Boney, a professor of history at the University of Georgia and a ΦBK member, has been funding the award for Cedar Shoals High School for the past two years. Both of Boney’s children graduated from Cedar Shoals and his wife, also a ΦBK member, taught French classes there for seventeen years. He explained that he just sent his check to the Atlanta ΦBK Association and in return they would send him the book to award. Then he would carry it over to Cedar Shoals and Erika Wade, a counselor at the high school, would take care of the rest. Boney plans to continue the two-year commitment with the high school and the Association. “This Phi Beta Kappa contribution, though small, is a fine way for guys like me to continue to make a contribution down at the high school level, where much of the crucial action takes place,” Boney said. This year, in memory of Marlin Gottschalk, a long time officer and board member of the Atlanta Association, a grant to match the first $500 in contributions to the book award program has been established.
Several years ago, a reception to honor the recipients of the award was added by the Phi Beta Kappa Atlanta Alumni Association. This year’s reception will be held on August 25, at the Druid Hills Golf Club. The recipients, their parents, and a representative from each high school are invited to meet the members of the Association and each other.
Christopher Sanchez is a junior at the University of California, Riverside, majoring in sociology. The University of California, Riverside is home to the Iota of California chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.