Thursday, May 8, 2014

An Open Letter To Hal Braswell

Dear Mr. Braswell,

It was with great sadness and concern that I read your recent article in the Bossier Press Tribune entitled "The Future of Bossier High."  As I read, I could not help but wonder how long it has been since you toured our facility.  Can you tell me when, exactly, was the last time you came to visit us?

Were you at our recent Senior Awards Assembly where many of our graduating seniors were awarded thousands of dollars in scholarships to schools all across the nation?

Were you at Jalen Oliver's signing ceremony when our champion wrestler signed with Bacone University?

Did you meet our principal, David Thrash, during your visit?  Surely if you took a tour of the campus as your article seems to indicate ("..."Bossier High School is sitting half empty.") you met Mr. Thrash.  You'd remember him.

In case you can't recall the details of your visit, let me refresh your memory.  After all, the thesis of your article is that Bossier High is doomed; the numbers likely aren't there to support the continued operation of the school.  That's what kids are to people like you and the demographers:  numbers.  I can understand that to a point -- the MFP funds schools based on numbers and student population.  But certainly an experienced reporter such as yourself knows that kids are more than numbers and you did your research which would include a site visit.

But let's tour the school together, virtually, shall we?

As you drive into our campus that building to your left is the gym.  Have you ever been to a basketball game there?  Maybe you couldn't find a place to sit because it is pretty crowded.  During the playoffs it's even more crowded.  Our boys have dominated high school basketball (in both 4A and again when we dropped to 3A);  they have made the playoffs every year since I've been a teacher there and I came to BHS in 2001.  Those kids are champions!

Did you see that playoff game this season where Devonte Hall played with the flu, fell to the floor at the end of the game, had to be helped off, but still hit a scoring record?  Talk about heart!  You may have heard that
Devonte signed with Northwestern a couple of weeks ago to play for them in college.

Our girls basketball team hit the playoffs at least eight years in a row.  Champions!

As you drive through our campus, Mr. Braswell, please notice how beautiful it is.  One of our teachers and her class planted the flowers around the light posts in our parking lot, and through the years have landscaped and planted various beds around the campus.  The roses along the front breezeway are beautiful this time of year.  Please notice how clean the campus is.  It's also clean at the end of the day because our kids don't want trash messing up their campus.

Our custodians are the hardest working folks in the parish.  When I get to school at 6:50 every day they are out there picking up trash so the campus is clean when the kids come.  You'll see that about our custodians when you enter the building, too, because those floors are buffed up and literally shine like glass.  There may be some peeling paint here and there but the campus is spotless.

When you come on campus be sure and stop by Mr. Thrash's office.  I'm sure he'd love to take you on a tour.  He can show you our ten computer labs (some of which are taking up space in those "empty" classrooms, right?);  we're very proud of our computer labs because so much standardized testing is done on computer now-a-days, and at Bossier High we like for our students to have access to the

best technology we can muster.  We have many teachers that have received rather large grants for technology and other materials.  If you look at our home page you will see that math teacher Marco Reyes won grants totaling over $3,600 and science teacher Amy Washington also has received a couple of very generous grants, just to name two.

Oh, and I guess you heard about that huge Department of Defense grant Bossier High just received from NMSI to help foster and support AP classes next year!  Great news, isn't it!  Our kids are very excited about the AP classes and I know personally that the English department classes filled up as soon as they were announced.  We will have AP in math, science, and American History also.

At any rate, be sure to enjoy your tour with Mr. Thrash; he's an excellent principal and I wish I had several days to tell you the many ways that he mentors and helps our students.  With all due respect, you can't even fathom what he deals with each day.  Yet he does it all with a grin and a hug for every single kid on campus. I've seen him pull a dollar out of his pocket for a kid who needs lunch and I've seen him drive a kid home from school when he missed the bus.

Be sure to go by the library on your tour; you'll notice more computers out there, of course.  The library is really the hub of the school.  In most schools I guess you would consider the office to be the center of activity but at our school it's the library.  That's because our librarian wears multiple hats as both librarian and senior class sponsor.  We call her The Oracle.  She and her team run not only the library but also prom and graduation.  Did you know that at Bossier High we have a tradition at graduation:  our teachers write personal notes of congratulations to the seniors and the librarian slips the notes into their diploma packets for graduation.  I can't begin to tell you how many kids have been touched  by those notes of love and encouragement.

If you hit the campus at lunch time you'll find our cafeteria full of kids and the food lines long.  Our cafeteria workers know every kid by name -- they aren't just numbers to them.  We have picnic tables outdoors and they stay full, too.   You will see our student population is incredibly diverse.  We have neighborhood kids and Barksdale kids.  Our kids are black, white, Hispanic, Asian, and pretty much any ethnic mix you'd like to name.  Did you see the article in your own newspaper about our Alumni scholarship recipients?  You couldn't have a wider diversity there.  But you know what the beautiful thing is?  There really are no cliques at our school.  If you ask any one of them to tell you their favorite thing about Bossier High School a very large percentage of them will tell you that we all get along.  We are a family.

You see Mr. Braswell, that's one of the things your numbers and your demographic reports will not show you.  Our kids get along with each other and they look out for each other.  They help each other.  And they stick together.  For some, it's about the only family they have. There may be band kids, athletes, the "smart" kids, the special education kids, the average kids...it doesn't matter.  They stick together and look out for each other.  I've never seen anything like it and I have worked elsewhere.

Continuing with your tour, Mr. Braswell, be sure and check out our ROTC building where our ROTC instructors hold their students to the highest standards.  They work with our kids with after school archery practice and many other activities.  They take an end of the year field trip, usually, which offers these kids opportunities they may never have otherwise.

Of course you'll want to stop by the football stadium: you can't miss it on your way out.  The record of domination in Bearkat football is legendary.  Not every year is a winning year, but our kids play with heart.  They give it everything they've got.  Be sure and check out the new $200,000 weight room while you're
over there.  It's first class!  And the field house:  you see that Bearkat ripping through the wall?  Our athletic director's wife painted that one summer.  Pretty cool, I think.

I'm starting to run rather long here, Mr. Braswell, so I'll wrap this up.  I haven't even begun to tell you all the great things that happen at 777 Bearkat Drive each day.  I didn't tell you about the Family and Consumer Science department where they've completed projects making blankets for infants, the homeless, and flags for soldiers; they've made dresses from newspapers and quilts from t-shirts.  I didn't tell you about our awesome band and choir.  I didn't mention our Young Authors district level winners and our State Academic Rally winners.

In closing, I will share with you one of the proudest moments (there are so many...) I had early this year.  During lunch one day I was working in my classroom when I heard the rhythmic cadence of the drum line as they marched (in 100 degree heat mind you - it was probably late August or September) to the lunch common area where they spontaneously began to play.  Soon other band members saw them and dashed to the band room for their instruments.  Before long we had a spontaneous pep rally on our hands and the rest
of the students circled around and cheered.  The flag line even joined in.  I hate that you missed that!  You'd have seen our English I teacher, Mrs. Gunn, (aka Beyonce) out there dancing with the leader of the flag line.

But you know what really touched me about that day (and that scene was repeated for several weeks to come).  As I looked out my second story window and listened to the music, I saw one child standing alone, off to the side.  This child is autistic and pretty much non-verbal.  At a lot of schools a kid like that might be shunned, avoided, or even bullied.  Not at Bossier High School.  As the band played their song this student paced and walked circles around the flagpole, very excited, head bobbing and fist pumping, loving the music and the beat.  Before long, other kids joined around this student, including this kid in their dancing.  He grinned and fell right in with them; he might not have been verbal but he knew what love was.  And it was a joy to see.  I mean, it warmed my heart in a
way I can't even describe.  At that moment I felt a love for my school that transcended everything else.

You see, Mr. Braswell, again, these are things that a demographer's report will never show you.  Bossier High might be small in enrollment compared to some other schools.  But research shows that for a school with demographics like ours a smaller population is ideal for these students.   As I mentioned in my blog post last weekend which addressed your article, some of our kids struggle against circumstances that would buckle the strongest adult.  But they keep showing up every day, ready to learn, ready for help, ready to improve.  Don't ever tell them that Bossier Parish is going to abandon them too because I can tell you, the teachers and administrators at Bossier High School are there for the long haul.  We are in it to win it and we are never, ever going to give up on these kids.

Come visit our school, Mr. Braswell.    Come met our students.

Sincerely,

Pat Becker
English II, IV, and Creative Writing
Sophomore Class Co-Sponsor

4 comments:

desertbluff said...

Thank you so very much for such a compelling reflection of what is real at Bossier High School. As a member of the class of '64, I am so appreciative of all that the entire staff continues to do to foster such a wonderful culture at my alma mater. BTW, I did my student teaching at Bossier in 1968.

Dana Papenhausen said...

I cannot fully articulate how appreciative I am of your words. I graduated in 2007 (Mr. Thrash's first class). I've since earned my BA and I now live in California. I still wear my class ring around my neck and have my senior panoramic picure on my wall. I work for City Year, a national educational nonprofit. I try very hard to get my students to understand and foster a sense of community. I tell them, "at my school we stuck up for each other. We had to because many people in our city looked down on us. But we had heart. We went through the toughest of times, but they were made easier because we had each other to lean on." Seven years later and living 2000 miles away I still attended a Christmas party with my Bossier High family. No matter where I go or what I do, I will always be a Bearkat. I will measure my financial success in life on, not if I can but, how many scholarships I will be able to offer Bossier High students. Thank you for being a champion for our beloved school.

Pat Austin said...

Dana, I remember you and am so glad you shared your success with me. I love hearing where our students ended up and what they are doing; it sounds like you are making a difference! Thanks for sharing and commenting.

Pat Burchett said...

Truly a wonderful letter that totally describes the beautiful spirit of students, faculty, administration, and all workers at Bossier High School ...An awesome experience to be a part of this team.. Just try it..you will love it too!!!