Matthew Howard: An Alumni Who Gives Back Every Day
As most anyone on campus knows, Matthew Howard is a well-respected and hard-working member of the Board of Child Care staff. After only two years as head of the on-campus mechanic shop, he has found ways to save thousands in unnecessary charges and updated operations in numerous ways. What’s less well-known is that he’s also an alumnus of Strawbridge School. That’s not surprising since, as he says, he did not fit the profile of a “typical” student.
“Not everyone who attends Strawbridge School comes from adverse homes,” says Matthew. “My family life is actually pretty solid. I was lucky for that, compared to a lot of the other kids here. I have a lot of support from both of my parents.”
Yet the school proved to be the right fit for him, in so many ways. More important, the transformation that he experienced during the three years he attended was textbook. Matthew admits he never felt comfortable in any school, and the middle school years were particularly difficult for him. “I had a lot of challenges [in 7th and 8th grade], a lot of anxiety and social problems,” he says. “I was super-antisocial and had a really hard time in large groups of kids. So I just wound up leaving school to go hang out in the woods for 6 hours. I just needed to be by myself.”
The public school system tends to be intolerant of such behavior, and eventually, after receiving some counseling and being transferred to several different schools, Matthew wound up as a day student at Strawbridge. As it turned out, it was what he needed most. “In public school, it was like you were up to something if you didn’t want to go to class or anything like that,” he says. “Their answer is always ‘no.’ here [at Strawbridge], it was more like, ‘how can we help you get back into class at some point?’ There is just a strong level of support here for any problems I had, which was really helpful.”
Matthew says Strawbridge’s focus on the individual student’s need, along with small classrooms guided by education specialists, were key to his ability to grow and eventually thrive. “Coming here felt more comforting, it just seemed different. Here, they were accepting of the type of person I was,” says Matthew, who graduated in 2001. “They don’t try to ‘fix’ you, they just try to help you understand that it’s OK if you’re different. A lot of it is just helping you accept and understand who you are.”
One of the things that helped him cope and find a pathway forward, he says, was the school’s flexible curriculum. “I had a lot of electives and I was given more ways to express myself,” he says, adding that he spent a lot of time in the wood shop during senior year, which allowed him to find inspiration and discover something he liked to do. In fact, he originally intended to pursue a career in carpentry after graduation.
Eventually, his desire to work with his hands — and to work indoors on solid ground, rather than up on a roof in bad weather — led him to join his father’s auto mechanic shop. He worked there for a decade and gained experience, know-how and increased responsibility.
In 2015, when offered the opportunity to come back to BCC to run the on-campus mechanic operations, Matthew couldn’t resist. “It felt like it would be cool to come back and work here and give something back,” he says. “I am happy to be back here. It feels like home.” Giving back includes mentoring and teaching: “I have kids who work with me from time to time, and if any are willing to learn, I am more than happy to teach them.”
And not just about maintaining and repairing vehicles, either.
“I tell them to embrace this place,” he says. “This place has a lot of support and a lot to offer, and I think it’s important that they acknowledge that.”
Learn more about our graduates at Behind the Tassel.