West High School Head Principal Ashley Speas, Ph.D. Photos by Vivian Shipe

By Vivian Shipe

KNOXVILLE, TN — It was a different type of email. sent out by Principal Ashley Speas to the parents of every student at West High School on a Sunday night. The email request was in response to a request to provide clear backpacks for all students at Austin-East due to the new requirements put in place after the death of a third student over a three week period.

Speas, who has been Head Principal at West for over 5 years, wanted to do whatever they could to help. The students wanted to help their friends also.

One of many motivation pieces in Speas office

Technological advances in this century have made it possible to link students together all over the city with the tap of a screen. When their friends died across town, they felt the hurt and the loss too.

The response to the email was immediate and West joined the community who also rose up to meet the needs of the student body.

The email, which asked for donations in 72 hours to provide backpacks for over 700 students was a lofty goal, yet by the end of Monday afternoon they had met the backpack goal and by the end of 72 hours had collected additional funds to donate for student needs and even sent snacks to the school for every one of their fellow teachers who were also in pain and shock from the shootings of the three students.

Principal Speas has great faith in the youth of today despite the challenges they face. When asked about what  she thought this generation will look like in the next ten years, without hesitation and with a confident smile she said, “They will  be leading the charge. It doesn’t matter your background. They must understand that at some point in their lives, they can make a difference. We need them to find their niche and push us forward.”

From a community standpoint Speas said. “We all want a better world for our kids. We go together. We need each other.”

Principal Speas explained it was an opportunity to show “love is love.” Her students didn’t let her down.