Scholars in the Schools Taking High Schoolers on Academic Odyssey

"The Iliad" has long remained the definitive epic. With its tale of gods, heroes and a 10-year war, it consistently captures the imaginations of students and scholars alike. This fall, educators will use Homer's poem to inspire area high school students and perhaps lead them on new academic odysseys.

The University of Houston's Scholars in the Schools program is bringing "The Iliad" to students at Sam Rayburn High School in Pasadena, Texas. Through this program , a dozen 10th graders will study the work and participate in seminars led by UH professors and Sam Rayburn teachers.

Offered through UH's Honors College, Scholars in the Schools aims to provide high school students with unique, pre-college learning experiences through informal, yet engaging, seminars conducted at UH and at Sam Rayburn High School.

This year's program is the brainchild of Brian Johnston, who teaches English at Sam Rayburn and his brother-in-law Rob Zaretsky, UH professor of French history.

"Many of Brian's students have never visited a college campus before, and many are unaware of life beyond their communities," Zaretsky said. "We want these students to know that we as educators take them seriously and that their horizons can extend into higher education if they select that path. UH is a very real possibility for them."

Students will visit UH's Honors College for the first seminar Sept. 10. Following that kickoff class, Zaretsky will head to Sam Rayburn High School every other week to teach alongside Johnston. The final Scholars in the Schools class for the year will return students to UH for an end-of-semester event.

"The willingness of Robert Stock, Sam Rayburn principal, to devote the time and resources to this endeavor, is truly inspiring. After all, while the students will benefit from this book, it is the sort of benefit that standardized testing cannot measure," Zaretsky said.

In addition to Zaretsky and Johnston, guest lecturers will participate in Scholars in the Schools. Among them are "Iliad" experts Case Duè Hackney, professor of modern and classical languages, and Richard Armstrong, associate professor of classical studies and fellow in the Honors College.

"The Iliad" focuses on the Trojan War and features Greek mythology's most iconic characters: Achilles, Agamemnon, Zeus, Hector and others. The work is a mainstay in college classrooms (including the Honors College's Human Situation course) and within popular culture.

"When Brian told me about his students at Sam Rayburn, I was struck by the parallels between their experiences and the themes in Homer's work," Zaretsky said. "It explores themes of friendship and family ties; the search for immortality and meaning; the often conflicting demands of one's society and one's own conscience."

Scholars in the Schools is part of the Honors College's community outreach initiative "Honors and the Schools." This initiative also includes the Houston Teachers Institute, a professional development program dedicated to strengthening teachers and teaching in Houston-area schools and Common Ground, which unites Houston-area English teachers and UH professors in dialogues focused on classic literary works.

To learn more about these programs and the Honors College at UH, visit