POUND OF FLESH
Context, the Blurb Society, and the Weaponization of the School Newspaper
Today, I feel compelled to speak out on behalf of our Springdale High School Bulldog community, and because we have a story to tell. I’m sitting here in my classroom at 9pm, one of my favorite places. Please take a moment to be with me. (Disclaimer: I am a teacher. I do not represent the administration or even other teachers. This is a personal perspective.)
First, and bear with me, context. Context takes time and energy. The first of the context will be personal anecdotes starting with my arrival to Springdale in 1977. Trust me it will help. We were a Walmart family and moved approximately 13 times by the time I was 11. When we settled in Springdale, a visible difference I noticed was the absence of African-American people. My 4th grade teacher in Morehouse Missouri was African-American so this was a cultural change for me. But I was a kid, I made friends, my Dad and Walmart parted ways and we stayed. In junior high, I learned a new term and a little about this town that had become my home, “Sundown town”. Again, context for later. I loved my experience in Springdale. I will freely admit I grew up oblivious in many ways. Comments that today would cause me to speak out, did not make even a blip in my young world.
Move forward. In 1993, I became a teacher at Springdale High School. I was 25 and had so much to learn. I am sure I made a lot of mistakes, but I tried to apologize when I was wrong and learn when I failed. I also loved my career choice and the students at our school. In the 90’s and into the 2000’s, Springdale began to experience a cultural shift. We had an influx of students from Latin American countries, California, and the Marshall Islands. Our town grew and changed. These changes affected the heart of our community and our school. We opened our school doors wide and began creating something new and better.
I must insert information about our SHS small learning communities here. Our career counselor became very involved in the small learning community movement of career academies. Career academies take the school within a school concept and add a career and college ready component. These academies create a unique learning experience for students. The Medical Academy led the way. I believe they began in the year 2000. The Law and Public Safety Academy was created in 2002 following a wave of careers available in the public safety field following the September 11th attack. The engineering academy, business information and technology academy, agriculture academy and teaching academy came next. We hope we will continue to add these pocket academies.
With our population explosion, the district had to start looking at building a new high school. As difficult as this was, many of us were 100% on board with this decision. Right before the split was a difficult time. We had a huge population pushed into a too small facility. Multiple portable buildings were on the band practice field. The halls were packed. Fewer students were able to participate. We needed a second high school in our growing town.
Our second high school was built on property on the west side of town. It is a beautiful building referred to originally as a “beacon of educational excellence in the West.” The last year before the split was difficult. The line had been drawn along a business highway in town. We were about to be divided socioeconomically and ethnically, and many people knew it. Teachers were recruited and interviewed to go to the new school. I had colleagues that said they were interviewing to go to the new school because they could not continue their successful programs after the split. I had one colleague who told me to look around during the last school pep rally at all the students with their arms wrapped around each other singing the alma mater, and this colleague told me to enjoy it because that picture would be gone in less than 10 years. Many of us chose to stay with our students. To me, Springdale is people who work hard, and I had no desire to go to a now wealthy area to teach students who needed me less.
Har-Ber High School was able to build from the ground up. At the time, they chose not to be an academy school. They believed this was not a necessity for their student population. They created a very successful traditional high school model.
In very recent years, they have seen some demographic changes as our feeder school system was reworked to balance the numbers in the two schools. I believe at the time, we had 500+ more students and floating teachers. That public meeting for the feeder school change is a story for another time.
Context takes time.
After the split, many of the resources of the community went to the side of town with money. Many people moved their children to make sure they were on the ‘right side of town.’ Real estate companies promoted our new school on billboards. We began to deal with very American issues of segregation, white flight, socio-economic inequity, and the concentration of poverty. Again, these are not just Springdale issues. These are America’s issues.
In the midst of these changes, our community of Bulldogs came together. We started from scratch deciding how our new community would form. As we learned methods to serve in a high poverty community, we found that our students have characteristics and strengths that make them beautiful. We also found that our pocket academies and special programs were well-suited to our new demographics. Our focus became making sure every student found their niche (that is an ongoing goal) and that each student is personally connected to specific teachers for their time at SHS. Creating a safe, family-focused, welcoming to all, growth-focused environment that makes sure students have food, shelter, and necessities so that they are prepared to participate in their education.
During the next few years, our district supported a plan to close a street that ran right through the middle of our campus. I still say cross the street to students. They look at me a little confused. That city council meeting is also a story for another time. Let’s just say, I heard very interesting comments from my position in the room from people in the audience. Our district remodeled our building and added another structure. This campus is absolutely beautiful now. Thank you to the classes that walked through construction for so many years.
Context Takes Time. We are now about 300ish words past buzzfeed. So PLEASE don’t quit reading.
For the next 13 years, we created an inclusive learning environment where students felt welcome, and we worked to refashion the Bulldog experience. We based it on the traits we saw in our students: loyalty, tenacity, perseverance, strength, dignity, and courage. For many of our students, waking up and coming to school to pursue their education is hero stuff. While home may normally be a loving place, food insecurity, homelessness, and difficulty paying bills can cause even the most stable family to break at times. Poverty is difficult. Our students were generally happy and became involved in multiple clubs, groups, activities, and academies. One of the most difficult experiences they faced was when they went into the community. In the early years of the split, they were often told, “we support Har-Ber” or “Sorry we donate to Har-Ber”. When they would prepare for competitions, they would be excited to go. But then they would get home, and they would relay their experiences with students from the west side of town, who would treat them as less-than. So we found they were safe at school, but we had to help them process being faced with both racist remarks and remarks about their socio-economic status. And then we pressed on.
Our students received unique experiences with our career academies, International Baccalaureate program, Bulldog television, the arts, foreign languages (on the Island in the 1000s), the Blatt building experience in the 900’s hallway, our multiple academic and career programs, and athletics. Our clubs have expanded based on student interest. Our counseling center created our Mentoring Program. Our nurses helped facilitate healthcare, dental care, and vision care for our students. We got the 21st Century Grant. The whole school was in! Also, our district made it possible to have chromebooks for our students. This has been recent but fantastic! Because of our commitment, both students and all of our staff, we also began to change our reputation. There were times (before our charter school came) that we would hear, “go to Springdale High School for academics” (Our IB students have attended college around the country), “go to Har-Ber High School for athletics” (their athletic groups attend camps around the nation). So, this new generation of largely immigrant students began attending college, and entering the workforce, and changing the reputation of Springdale High School. Springdale High School became unique in town and a destination for students craving diversity and inclusiveness. We have had numerous students in town who transferred to Springdale High School specifically for our learning environment, for this learning environment.
Eventually, our high schools began to fill, and we needed to think about a third high school. The Don Tyson School of Innovation is our recently added charter school that offers a more flexible learning environment to our student population. As a charter, they are able to sculpt their curriculum with more freedom to create their own unique educational experience. I very much appreciate this choice that is available to Springdale students. However, we once again had to work to assure the people in Springdale that our school is a wonderful place for a student to experience a unique high school.
I am not naive enough to believe we perfectly serve every student at Springdale High School, but I promise you that is our intent.
Springdale High School continues to battle negative stereotypes from being labeled a gang school, ghetto school, etc.. I do often challenge people to come hang out with our students. You will fall in love with them. And it will give you hope for our future.
Onto Athletics. As many know, right or wrong, we have made athletics and competitions an integral part of childhood. People start competitive athletics; soccer, baseball, football, dance, cheer, etc. at extremely young ages. We as a society pay for personal trainers for our 8-year-olds. We pay for private traveling team coaches. If we have a problem with our traveling team, we find 10 more athletic kids and make a new team. It is childhood athletics in the 21st century. As a result of this, high school athletics has changed. With the division of our school district at the high school level, many people with resources transferred their students to the athletic side of town. And they supported students without the resources to make the move, and lead to the success of their students’ school. This was an extremely difficult reality for many people at Springdale High School. Many of our students (not all) did not have access or the resources to be involved in the youth private sports movement. So, our district and our schools on the East side began to work harder to support youth sports within the school. This also benefited the district, because then West side adults could look for talent at younger levels. And then students would transfer at younger ages and already be in the feeder schools to add to the West side talent. This system worked very well for the west side of town for years.
The only time Springdale High School was a problem for the power structure of the town, was when our school was successful athletically in men’s sports. This excludes men’s soccer (which we are very successful at) because it is seen as understandable with our immigrant population. Take that as you will. In football, we saw an example of this almost immediately. Following the first varsity level game between the two schools, Har-Ber lost. The next day (I believe), Springdale High School coaches were brought into a meeting and called on the carpet for the win. The power structure in town put us in our place. For a brief period we had a great deal of success in men’s basketball, and the year after we made it to the state finals, there was an influx of transfers to the west side school including a player of ours. Our basketball coach seemed to receive very little support following the state finals and left to coach at another school. In the early years, our women’s sports programs suffered incredibly. For basketball people who are reading this, the female team across town pressed until the end, kept their starters in, we were crushed game after game. I am sure you will be surprised to learn, there were no meetings on our behalf. The next year, one female student came to SHS from the junior high that was a feeder to both schools and played basketball for us. Our coach was accused of recruiting by staff across town. In town, after that first year, our football team was never an issue because after the first varsity year of Har-Ber being open, we were the perpetual underdogs. We had small inexperienced teams, playing in the biggest conference in Arkansas. We had talent at different times but little depth. Our coaches were often teaching very basic football concepts to many members of the team that were new to football and the west side of town was able to dismiss us, or pity us.
When students transferred West, most of the time, we simply let them go. If they did not want to be a part of our unique situation, they probably should not be a part of our unique situation. We were not perfect. There were hard feelings at times. I said things I wish I could take back at times. I know there are people close to me that said things they would like to retract. I use this moment to apologize to anyone I hurt personally.
Questioning the inequality of the situation was not effective for us. The power structure was not in our favor, and we had been told over and over to put aside feelings and do what is best for the kids. The kids. The kids. And honestly, that reached teachers at a primal level. The kids. Not your kids, our kids, just kids. So we for the most part shut our mouths and went back to work.
I think I was personally able to switch my frame of thought after Springdale’s 0-10 season. My son played on that team, and I was forced to deal with that pain on a personal level. It is difficult to see your kid hurt, but he told me he wouldn’t trade a better season for his teammates. So that was enough for me. It has to be about more than equity when it comes to high school sports. Equity is apparently an unrealistic dream in modern America.
High-poverty schools will always face an uphill battle with the schools that have the advantages of wealth and political power. So, I changed. And our school was blessed at that time to get a new Coach. Coach Zak Clark. He was able to find limited community support (in the beginning), pull the current staff together and hire a couple more. Football became about something different. One of the main focuses of the football booster program was to make sure our kids were eating good, nutritious food to help offset the hours they were spending preparing for the sport. Coaches personally picked students up and brought them to school for summer practices. Our student population are primarily bus riders. Public transportation in Springdale is minimal. The coaches also created a program focused on building men. They connected students with community mentors and tried to keep the focus on the student as well as the team. Coach Clark was given an award by Ozark Guidance recognizing his work with our Bulldog’s mental and physical health. I am so incredibly grateful to Coach Clark and staff for their commitment to our Bulldogs. Mike Hignite and I love Coach Clark. People love Coach Clark, he in many ways was able to bring back some football success because he was building something special. And people began to take notice……… That is when we became an issue for our neighbors to the West.
I am going to briefly mention the focus of buzzfeed. I realize buzzfeed’s purpose is the blurb that might go viral and make a reporter known so they can get a job that pays the bills. Or another news organization with more resources will pick up the story and investigate further. Buzzfeed is a harsh world.
Buzzfeed finds enough info to make a 733 word document that fits most people’s attention spans (no judgement I am guilty of this) and sends it out into the world. I also realize that people protect their own tribe. I 100% support protecting the first amendment. But I feel we also need to protect our children. Our society has shown that very little is off-limits. Thankfully, journalists and private citizens quickly come to the defense of politicians’ children of all ages, or the children of celebrities, or sports figures. It doesn’t mean that horrible things aren’t said about them, but normally society says stop. Journalists say stop. While this is legal in our society (look at the gossip mags at checkout), legal does not always equal ethical. I don’t believe we need to change our laws regarding school journalism, maybe we just need to recalibrate our moral compass.
So this leads to my very last point. God bless everyone who made it this far. Do we as a society want to weaponize the school newspaper to punish students at rival schools? The intent of the issue was made clear by the op-ed written by what I believe was the entire HBHS newspaper staff. It’s interesting that no one is discussing that ‘piece’. These articles were defended by the adult supervisor by saying they were being investigated for months. That it wasn’t about the rivalry or personal.
Obviously, I 100% supported the district administration for taking down the articles and reassessing district protocol. Dr. Rollins statement was correct. Their writing was “intentionally negative, demeaning, derogatory, hurtful and potentially harmful to the students addressed in those articles” and “extremely divisive and disruptive to the Springdale School District’s educational community.” Every word of that statement is true. Every single one. Now imagine your child sitting in your house was the target. Thank you to all the adults who were sitting in the room who attempted to protect our children. Let’s ALL be adults who protect our children.
I also believe we as a district (not just admin) need to speak out on behalf of Coach Clark who was a personal target of a school newspaper. I cannot believe this personal attack was allowed in a school newspaper. So as an adult, let me say, I am a social drinker. I will have a beer with friends. I drink wine. I am an adult. My children know I drink. I have discussed alcohol as a drug with them. We have tendencies in our family. So if anyone believes Coach Clark is less than because he was drinking a beer with friends, JUDGE ME TOO. I apparently deserve your disdain as well. How does any of this paragraph fall under the umbrella of journalism? Gracious.
Let’s look at the whole picture. Let’s look at the motives.
Some of the investigation included a video of a parent who was extremely upset at the West-side coaches as parents sometimes are. This parent had invited friends to help him burn his Miami gear after a disappointing loss. He is the ultimate Miami fan and a big personality. I love him and have known him much of my life. He got carried away in the emotion of the moment and switched his focus to another team and another coach. You can hate the act, but it was done in the spur of the moment and obviously, there was a lot of pain for his child and the children of his friend’s behind that. I 100% love this entire family.
Some of the investigation was fueled by another unhappy adult from our football team. This adult wanted Coach Clark to feel the pain their family was feeling. They were also mad at their football coach. A different act of rage on behalf of a child, but still an act of rage and vengeance. This is the person who provided the Herald with the FOIA’d information. This person wants Coach Clark removed from his position.
Then the Herald published their issue. Not on transfer policies in general, but the transfers of these specific students at a rival school. When privilege and entitlement are injured, the reaction can be severe for those in their path. “When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” (Author of this quote is unknown to me.) According to the Herald, minors from a different school were interviewed about a process that they are not allowed to personally complete. Parents and administrators are the only people who can complete the process. No interviews of the parents of the transfer students were ever completed. These students and parents carefully followed the protocol established to help students get the education that suits them best.
There has been a lot of sarcasm and hatred levied against our academic programs at Springdale High School over the last couple of weeks. Many people who live out West (obviously not all. I have dear friends there. I hope they still love me after this.) will never believe we offer anything of value at Springdale High School. We will always be stereotyped in negative ways by these people. So I understand that you would come out swinging when someone says they are choosing an academic path at our school. It doesn’t fit the biased schema.
I do take this personally. My life’s work since 2002 has been the Springdale High School Law Academy. My husband spent 9 years of his career starting this program. He was the instructor of the three criminal justice classes. Our Law Dog’s are the best! Our academy programs are strong. Academies are an important option for all students, but especially Springdale students.
Back to the transfers. At least some students who transferred were uncomfortable at their school. (I can only speak to my personal knowledge.) That is hard for many out West to believe because they are the athletic popular kids who normally thrive in a traditional high school setting. They should sit at the top of the traditional high school food chain. But these kids were not comfortable there and were very unhappy. Springdale High has been a very different experience for them. They are a part of our Business and Technology Academy. At Springdale High, they are so much more than popular athletes. They are a true part of this united nations of humanity. I had one parent tell me he hadn’t seen his kid smile when he was talking about school in years. This move brought them a different academic learning environment, a different cultural environment, and brought them joy.
Their joy is not an insult to HBHS. I have had students leave our academy, go West, and flourish. I have friends who have students there and they love every second of it. So kudos to Har-Ber for serving their students well. We are all doing our best, but students don’t fit cookie-cutter molds. We are here to help them find their best selves. Even if their best selves will be found somewhere else.
Back to the transfer process. This process was established by the district and had not been questioned by the folks to our West. Because, let’s be honest, historically they were on the receiving end of athletic transfers. They were the athletes’ school after all. Arrangements were always made. Everything was fine. Until, for one calendar year, a small handful of talented athletes decided to find their place somewhere else. And Har-Ber adults and students were furious. These are not the kind of kids who go to Springdale. And Springdale is not the kind of school to attract these kinds of kids.
As a friend of mine put it, they wanted their pound of flesh from these students, and they got it. Heck, everyone got their pound of flesh from those very specific students, our coach, and our student population. Trust Me. WE KNOW OUR PLACE NOW AMERICA. OUR TITLE 1 SCHOOL DOESN’T MATTER TO YOU. WE KNOW NOW. Okay, that is my heart talking right there. Not my rational mind.
Not sure anyone is still reading, but God bless you. Buzzfeed is way easier to read. My current word count says 3800 and I am still writing and revising.
On to the choice of when to release their months-long investigation. Remember, this is a months-long investigation, the release was almost immediately after the first loss by the wealthy side of town in 12 years. This was a shock for that side of town and put us directly in their cross-hairs. A choice was made to publish right after they lost the game to make sure everyone on our side knew the only reason we would ever win a game was because we had to have cheated. This was implied that we gamed the system, since they did not uncover cheating. But seriously, how else could the Bulldogs have won? We are allowed success as long as we know our place. It was a shame because it did put a damper on the win. But the memories of that night on the field were priceless. The better memories, I hugged a student who said, “I’ve only known loss”. He has been coming to games since he was little. He was so happy for his friends who played. I saw a track student run full force at one of his football friends and jump into his arms, full body hug. I saw students saying prayers of thanks. It was beautiful. I saw so many students doing the ‘ugly’ cry.
So you can know where my heart was. We had worked the concession stand until the third quarter, and I spent the fourth quarter in my classroom with the lights off praying. My prayer over and over was let this be for all of our kids who face unbelievable odds in life. Let them have one moment to see that sometimes the dream is possible. Let this not be about my selfishness or pride; it had nothing to do with me. My husband was the only person who knew this story until today. I did walk to the back door at the very end of the game and saw the reaction to the two-point conversion at the other end of the field. The first person I hugged was the wonderful lady who cleans our building at night. She had been cleaning, but stopped briefly to see the end of the game. DO NOT GET HER IN TROUBLE FOR THIS! She also loves our kids.
I am going to share something so you will understand the craziness of Rivalry games. There was a little bit of ugliness as an adult on the opposing sidelines (not coaches) came after some of our Springdale players calling them “traitor bastards” as they were going through the handshake line. Tempers flare. Rivalry. It’s wild. But anyone who grew up in the 80’s in Northwest Arkansas knows how crazy rivalries get.
Back to the issue. It does not make it better that the story was done by teenagers naming teenagers. Anyone who has ever dealt with teenagers on social media knows, cruelty is a very human trait that all of us are capable of, but students at school are supposed to be protected against cruelty at school………… Right? As I think I stated earlier, the op-ed truly encapsulated the intention of that issue of the Har-Ber Herald. Har-Ber is still superior. Springdale people are trash and cheat. Pound of flesh. The Springdale coach is a terrible person of bad character. Pound of flesh. And 5 specific players mentioned by name are horrible people. Pound of flesh. The school newspaper as a weapon of entitlement, tribalism and unhealthy rivalry. Will you be okay if a Bentonville newspaper feels your daughter’s dance team doesn’t represent the state well because of their spam pages on Instagram? Will you be okay if a Fayetteville school decides their debate team was cheated at a tournament and attacks your students on an individual basis? Will you be okay if a Springdale school publishes comments and false and damaging information about your minor student? Now picture your child at home as the target. How will we protect your child, when national media pressure can make it politically impossible to do so?
And what will happen to our football program in the future? It has been made clear to our coaching staff that not only are they unvalued by the powers that be in our community, but their success is a threat to the establishment and wealth of the West. I pray they stay and continue their original mission. It is difficult to go it alone, but we have done it before. And CONGRATULATIONS on making playoffs this year! Sorry about the Craziness of our Town. Sorry about the damage done by the national media. Sorry you and your families were harmed. Please stay.
Back to the school stories. This had very little to do with a broken state transfer system. If it were about a broken state transfer system, it would have included the ineligible player that Har-Ber had playing for them that made them forfeit games and be disqualified from the playoffs. Very little, if any, investigative effort went into checking the transfers to Har-Ber. It was to cause pain to five students that had wronged them. Pound of Flesh. And they succeeded. And they were rewarded with national media fame, college essay material, and future internships according to snapchat stories.
To our First Amendment defenders, (First, you are important. I may need you tomorrow.) we as a society need to decide if this is the world we want where Rival schools are allowed to personally attack individuals at neighboring schools. Do we want to live in a world where the wealthy children putting the poor children in their place is celebrated? Do you support the Weaponization of school news? What age is too young? Should middle school rivals be allowed to do it? How do we protect the students who have a bullseye on their back, put there by a rival paper? I doubt America is still listening. I doubt the journalism professors and teachers are still reading. “Because ka works and the world moves on.” Stephen King. But I will ask the questions anyway.
To the Arkansas Athletic Association. Let’s be honest. We, the adults of the world, have created a society that LOVES sports and competition. And we like to stack our teams. We pick the World Series our traveling team is most likely to do well in. We fire coaches hired to coach traveling teams for 8 years olds. Our society is weird, but this is it. Maybe it’s time that sports follows the direction of education. Our goal as educators is that students find their place where they feel connected and can learn. We want them to be their best selves. Whether they are at Springdale High, Har-Ber High, or the Don Tyson School of Innovation, let them move. Let these children figure out where they fit. They don’t live in the 1950’s. They live in 2018. If their transfer hurts our team at SHS, it will be hard. But we have to suck it up and let them go. They are the society of the free-agent. If you need a rule, say no transferring within 1-2 months before games begin (including benefit). How much easier would our lives be? Make exceptions for the extreme cases in our very migrant society. Sometimes people need to move mid-year due to family issues. But let’s stop trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.
To the student’s who wrote the article. I understand your righteous anger. I understand your desire to expose the perceived wrong against your school. My prayer is in the future, the entire truth becomes a focus of your work. We have given you terrible examples in the adult world. I hope as your career grows that you will learn that a whole history has to be told and not just part of a history or just the history of an elite group.
Teachers of journalism. Your job is incredibly hard in the world we currently live in. The journalism world has to find a way to profit, and cut corners, in an age when information is easy. Not necessarily good or true, but super easy. How do you teach journalism in the buzzfeed world? Is the goal to find the truth, or to get the share? What are your social norms? Which minors deserve to be protected? My prayer for you is that you choose to teach to the best that journalism has to offer. I pray that we honor and teach the highest ethical and moral norms of journalism. Or at least we teach that at our schools, only unbiased truth will be printed.
To Buzzfeed. Keep defending the first amendment. Please look further into any story that involves minors. Please. Please. I am not too proud to beg on behalf of children.
To the local news reporter who years ago wrote an article discussing the inequity. I have lost that article. But I remember it. I remember you. Thank you for trying.
One thing I know, I will try to never again share a short blurb of news from a random local town in America. Because behind those shares are people and sometimes children who are thrust into a very horrible troll-filled social media world. No one deserves that.
And America, remember the pound of flesh you have all taken and enjoyed and savored, and frankly felt good about? We are the people who are hurting so you can feel superior.
We Are The Springdale Bulldogs. Our school will graduate our 107th graduating class this year. We are made up of the poor, working-class of America. We are immigrants and the children of immigrants from many nations. We are from many states. We speak many languages. We are from all walks of life. We are the best of us. Our traits are Loyalty, Tenacity, Strength, Dignity, and Courage. Today you may have injured us. Tomorrow, we go back to work.
I chose to write this as a voice for every Bulldog. And I am very sorry if I add to the hardships faced by our administrators who have such important issues to deal with every single day.
To everyone who made it to the end. Sorry for all the typos, grammatical errors, etc…… So many commas, but many needed to be there to express my thoughts. And I was worried you wouldn’t breathe.
Sincerely, and with so much love for my dysfunctional, growing, ever-changing, beautiful home-town. Think how far we have come. For Pete’s Sake. We can be better. We should be better. I am reminded every day how dang cool our kids are. They need better. I believe in all of us. To those of you who are blindsided by all of this on the West side of town, I send you nothing but love and a different perspective and prayers for empathy.
Springdale, Arkansas. I do love you.
Springdale High School teacher 1993-2018 (And Counting)
Word Count 6047
For posterity. Link to editorial published right after the loss.