August 2021

AUGUST • 2021

TEXARKANA MAGAZINE August | 2021 | Volume 2 | Issue 8

62. S T Y L E The Aesthetics of Academics 68. L I F E And They’re Off… 70. S T Y L E Back to School

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10. B U S I N E S S Getting Technical 18. P O L I T I C S The Team of Eight

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36. S P O R T S Friday Night Lights 60. E N T E R TA I NME N T Good Evening TXK

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22. c o v e r/ C OMMUN I T Y 4 Leaders, 2 Cities, 1 Purpose 28. C U L T U R E A Perfect Fit

72. S H A R E T H E L O V E Weddings and Engagements 74. T X K R O O T S Jonathan Weaver

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Back in the Good Ol’ Days…

CASSY MEISENHEIMER Queen City High School Class of 2001 Cheer

TERRI SANDEFUR Prescott High School Class of 1989 Band and Color Guard

KARA HUMPHREY Texas High School Class of 1996 Cheer

LEAH ORR Pleasant Grove High School Class of 2005 Yearbook

MEGAN GRIFFIN Texas High School Class of 2007 Drill Team

MATT CORNELIUS Home School Class of 2006 Student of the year six years straight!

BRITT EARNEST Pleasant Grove High School Class of 2006 Drill Team, PGTV and Yearbook

BAILEY GRAVITT Texas High School Class of 2016 Skipping Class

TERRI GRAVITT Texas High School Class of 1984 Student Council

TIFFANY HORTON Texas High School Class of 1996 Cheer

BRIAN JONES Atlanta High School Class of 1997

FRED NORTON Texas High School Class of 1976 Musical Theatre

Theatre and anything that would get me out of class

MADELEINE RUSSELL Texas High School Class of 2013 Student Council

EMILY SARINE Sulphur Springs High School Class of 1999 Cheer

JONATHAN WEAVER Pleasant Grove High School Class of 2007 PGTV

LIBBY WHITE Pleasant Grove High School Class of 2003 Volleyball and Yearbook

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2801 Richmond Road • Suite 38 Texarkana, Texas 75503 903.949.1460 letstalk@txkmag.com txkmag.com Publisher C A R D I N A L P U B L I S H I N G Staff C A S S Y M E I S E N H E I M E R cassy@txkmag.com T E R R I S A N D E F U R terri@txkmag.com K A R A H U M P H R E Y kara@txkmag.com L E A H O R R leah@txkmag.com M AT T C O R N E L I U S matt@txkmag.com B R I T T E A R N E S T britt@txkmag.com Local Sources C L A R E A N G I E R J O H N L U K E A N G I E R M A R Y C A R O L I N E A N G I E R P H I L I P A N G I E R J O S E P H G U E R N S E Y

I ’ll never forget the day John Henry entered the world. As most new parents are, we were nervous and excited about meeting our newborn son. John Henry’s arrival was anxiously awaited, as our arms had been left empty almost exactly one year prior. August 27, 2009, Fred and I thought we were going to be first-time parents to a healthy baby boy. Unfortunately, life took a different route after a long 39 weeks, and instead of leaving the hospital with a healthy baby, we left to attend our son’s funeral. Reflecting twelve years later, it is surreal how his birthday unfolded. This tragedy came with no warning signs. What was supposed to be a beautiful moment was replaced with a gut punch and a lifetime of longing. I remember my heart being completely broken, but I also remember trusting that God had a plan. The countless cards and prayers we received during that time still carry us through today. It was a trial in life we were not prepared for, but God’s people were prepared to carry us through it. Fred and I knew immediately we wanted to try again to have children. Our prayer was answered quickly, and we found out December 31, 2009, we would be parents again. This was a season in life when profound grief surrounding what I no longer had, walked hand in hand with overwhelming joy at what was to come. I knowmany people must have been covering Fred in some extra- strength prayers because I was an emotional mess every day. Oh, did I mention that John Henry would have the same due date as our first son Trip? It was like I entered Ground Hog Day and was reliving the previous year but praying for a healthy baby to fill our arms and hearts. In August 2010, less than a year after I experienced the most intense heartache Cassy and John Henry Meisenheimer

of my life, my arms were filled with a six- pound, six-ounce baby boy we named John Henry. He was our triumph after facing trials we could never have imagined. After ten days in the NICU, we brought home our second-born son to experience life as new parents. Our family will celebrate John Henry turning 11 this month. I always rejoice that I get to look an answered prayer in the face and see the sweetest freckles (angel kisses) and most precious dimples that can light up any room. He is an old soul with a tender heart for people and animals. If you open a window of conversation with him, you better be prepared to have at least ten minutes to talk because, like his momma, talking is his spiritual gift. I do not have adequate words for the gratitude I feel for being able to fulfill the role of mom, and I give God all the glory for blessing me with this title I do not deserve. Today I celebrate God’s faithfulness in life as He so graciously surrounds us with people who carry us from our trials to our triumphs! At my house, we always celebrate heading back to school. We all seem to thrive within the boundaries of a normal routine. Letting go as a mom can be hard but trusting my boys into the care of the great educators of Texarkana is something I do with ease. We have incredible campuses with well-trained and caring staffs that create opportunities for our kids to pursue the passions of their hearts. So, high fives to the incredible educators of Texarkana who carry our kids through trials and triumphs every single day. We wish you all a blessed 2021-2022 school year.

J A C K H U M P H R E Y V I C K I M C M A H O N H A N N A H M I L H O R N J O E R E G A N E L L I E T Y E

C R A F T E D I N T E X A R K A N A . E M P L OY E E OWN E D A N D L O C A L LY S O U R C E D .

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Texarkana Magazine is a multimedia publication showcasing the Texarkana area and is designed and published by Cardinal Publishing, LLC. Articles in Texarkana Magazine should not be considered specific advice, as individual circumstances vary. Ideaology, products and services promoted in the publication are not necessarily endorsed by Texarkana Magazine .

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GETTING TECHNICAL BY MADELEINE RUSSELL

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Macey Wright, Mrs. Jennifer Gibson and Sadie Moore in the Graphic Design program at PGHS. Photo by Matt Cornelius

O ur nation has focused heavily in the past two decades on the importance of a bachelor’s degree and has equated that with success. As a result, we are now seeing a shortage in skilled laborers. A career and technical education (CTE) pathway, once considered a “back-up plan,” currently has a starting salary equivalent to, or more than, masters graduates. It has become normal to see ads and marketing initiatives across social media platforms targeting people who have received CTE. Representatives from our local higher education institutions and school districts boast that Texarkana, USA is ahead of the game in training and preparing for a highly skilled workforce. In fact, one of the most appealing factors for a new business wanting to move to Texarkana is knowing they will have the resources to hire highly skilled people. Texarkana CTE programs address industry needs and the constant innovation of technologies. CTE programs allow our region to continue to compete with larger cities and metropolitan areas across the state and nation. Brandon Washington, Vice President of Campus Operations and Dean of

Community & Business and Workforce Education at Texarkana College, stated, “CTE programs allow a huge jump-start to a person’s career. For example, industrial maintenance students at Texarkana College are being hired before they even graduate.” Washington explained, “There are enormous job openings with major earning potential and the U.S. is having trouble filling these spots. That is why the mission of the CTE program at Texarkana College is to identify these needs and invest in state-of-the-art equipment to train our students and have them prepared to enter the workforce in these high demand jobs.” Not only are these initiatives being encouraged throughout the state of Texas, but the state of Arkansas is also seeing a high demand for CTE programs as well. Jennifer Teresa, Dean of the Industrial and Technical Division at the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana (UAHT), stated “Governor Hutchinson is making a big push for CTE programs. We want to be leaders in the state for this initiative and are expanding and moving forward in this direction.” A unique aspect of CTE programs in our community is the partnerships between higher education institutions and local

Auto Body Technology program at Texarkana College. Photo by Michael Ulmer

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Stephanie Stokes and Brandon Washington in front of the Electronics/Instrumentation Technology Training machine in the Ledwell Building at Texarkana College. Photo by Matt Cornelius

Mikki Curtis next to the computer numerical control (CNC) machine which is built into the curriculum of the Industrial Maintenance programs at the UAHT Secondary Career and Technical Education Center. Photo submited by UAHT

school districts. Through dual credit CTE courses and state-wide CTE initiatives for K-12 schools, students are exposed more than ever to hands-on CTE programs. Stephanie Stokes, Dual Credit Coordinator at Texarkana College, stated, “Texarkana College partners with 16 school districts to provide dual credit CTE programs. Their instructors are highly trained and certified in the respective CTE subject, and the outcome of a dual credit CTE course is the exact same as a traditional college CTE course.” Stokes emphasized dual credit Career Tech programs allow young students to discover the type of work and industry they are interested in. It also exposes them to several pathways within each industry. Mikki Curtis, Director of the Secondary Career and Technical Education Center at University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana, also works alongside Arkansas School Districts to partner and provide dual-credit CTE programs. Curtis said, “It is an amazing opportunity for high school students to graduate with one or more certificates of proficiency in a high demand skill. Something

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our school is very proud of is that CTE dual credit courses are completely free to high school students.” Curtis also said, “If a high school student wants to continue on from these certificates, they have a direct pathway towards an associate degree. Our CTE program provides opportunities for all high school students to obtain a high demand job quickly and efficiently.” Local school districts see the value in CTE programs and are constantly investing in their students. Charlotte Leon, Assistant Principal for Student Advancement at Texas High School, spoke about the numerous CTE programs at Texas High and their highly qualified, passionate and experienced instructors. Leon said, “Mark Ahrens, a Computer Science and Robotics teacher at Texas High School, was recently selected among thousands of teachers as a 2021 Amazon Future Engineer Teacher of the Year Award recipient. He received a prize package of $30,000, which includes $25,000 to expand computer science and/ or robotics education and a $5,000 teacher cash award.” Leon also spoke about a new initiative being implemented at Texas High called Camp ROAR. “This camp is to excite and motivate students for a CTE pathway and to showcase the many opportunities for obtaining a high demand job after graduating from high school,” Leon said. “We are molding and promoting our future by investing in our students and these CTE programs. The Tiger Family is phenomenal, and we want what is best for our students and for them to be successful.” Pleasant Grove ISD has big goals for developing students into productive, successful, and well-rounded citizens. Jennifer Gibson, Director of Career & Technical Education at Pleasant Grove High School, said, “Pleasant Grove ISD has taken full advantage of the opportunities offered by the Texas Education Agency to grow and enhance the Career and Technical Education programs over the past seven years. Through the expansion of programs within 13 career clusters, we have a full course offering to guide our students into careers that best suit their interests and the needs of our community.” Gibson also said they are able to offer 35 industry-based certifications within various

Rodney Fellers, Automotive Instructor, with a student in the Automotive Technology program at LEHS. Photo by LEHS Journalism

Robotics program at TISD. Photo by THS Commercial Photography

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Aviation Technology program at THS Photo by THS Commercial Photography

Culinary Arts program at THS Photo by THS Commercial Photography

programs. PGISD currently leads the region in certifications earned by students. In 2021, PG students completed the year with 244 certifications earned. Liberty-Eylau ISD also serves as a leader in innovative CTE programs in our area. Linda Block, CTE Director and Assistant Principal at Liberty-Eylau High School, said a wonderful aspect of the LE CTE program is that it combines both hands-on and academic elements. For example, their construction and welding CTE students are using the fractions and equations they learn in the classroom in real-world experience. Block went on to say that CTE programs allow students who struggle in a traditional classroom the opportunity to succeed and learn in a unique setting. Many times, they see students who are uninterested in a traditional classroom flourish in a CTE course where they can see the purpose and meaning behind traditional academic methods. The future of CTE programs in our twin cities and across our nation will heavily focus on ever-changing, innovative technology. Studies project that by 2050, all cars will be electric. Imagine how much that one projection will change the way automotive courses and programs will be taught around the world. Career and Technical Education is imperative to the success of our workforce. What has been seen as the last resort should be considered a top option to all students. Dr. Jason Smith, President of Texarkana College, says, “College IS for everyone.” Whether it’s a certificate in welding, an associate degree in industrial maintenance, or a dental assisting certification, college is in fact for everyone. The next time you or someone you know is contemplating education or a new career path, make sure Career and Technical Education is considered from the beginning. To put it simply, CTE is serving at the forefront of our future.

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photo by Matt Cornelius

THE TEAM OF EIGHT BY FRED NORTON

“Who in their right mind would ever want to serve on a public school board?”

I was asked that question in 1997 when I first sought election to the Texarkana Independent School District Board of Trustees. Twenty-four years later, 14 of which I spent as a TISD Trustee (1997 to 2003 and 2013 to the present), I can happily report that I have never found a more rewarding experience. School board members (or trustees) are elected by voters in the school districts they serve to make important decisions about their local schools. Trustees are not paid, so school boards bring together people who

are passionate about quality education and willing to commit much of their time to this crucial public service. They provide local, citizen governance and oversight of education at a point close to the parent and child. Though ultimate responsibility for education rests with each state, both Arkansas and Texas have delegated much of that responsibility to the local school board. Within the framework of state and federal law and rules promulgated by state authorities (the Department of Education in Arkansas and the State Board

of Education in Texas and their respective commissioners), individual school districts have significant latitude in shaping the educational programs of their schools. It is the primary responsibility of each individual trustee to study issues facing the district, evaluate needs and resources, and, after due consideration, vote in the best interest of all students at a formal meeting of the board. This is neither an easy job nor an enviable task. Trustees regularly face hard choices, self-sacrifice and exposure to public criticism. However, it also brings

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TASD —The mission of the Texarkana Arkansas School District is to empower all students to realize their full potential. TISD —The mission of Texarkana Independent School District, an innovative learning community strengthened by its diversity, is to provide a superior education in a caring environment that inspires, challenges and engages each student through a wide range of opportunities. You will readily note that these mission statements are as unique as the school district trustees who authored them and the student bodies they address. This is a prime example of how elected trustees pursue their responsibilities, always mindful of the populations they serve. Using the district’s foundational mission statement, trustees establish a clear vision and high expectations for quality education that supports strong student outcomes and then reviews regular reports from the administration on district operations and progress toward goals. 2. Advance policy. A key responsibility of the board is to adopt local policies that guide how the district operates. These policies set practical guidelines for transforming the district’s mission into reality. Local school boards govern by adopting policies that must be consistent with and within the scope allowed by

a great deal of personal satisfaction in sharing with parents, staff, and students their academic successes. This crucial responsibility and the closeness of trustees to the voters arguably make the local school board the purest example of democracy our society presents. With rare exceptions, most public school boards in Arkansas and Texas comprise seven elected trustees. Combined with the district superintendent, this “Team of Eight” collectively fulfills a number of responsibilities critical to the district’s success. 1. Articulate a mission. The school board sets the course for the district’s schools by adopting goals and priorities to keep the district moving in a positive direction and then monitors success. Each board has a mission statement to guide it when setting goals. Here are the mission statements adopted by our local public school boards… LEISD —Liberty-Eylau Independent School District will provide an instructional environment where all students will develop essential academic, career, and social skills for a lifetime of learning. Our students will become responsible, contributing, and highly productive citizens in a diverse and changing world. PGISD —The mission of the Pleasant Grove Independent School District is to ensure high levels of learning for all students.

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that promote continued constructive discussions and generate positive community interest in its schools’ educational efforts.

STUDENT POPULATIONS BY LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS

5. Forge consensus. Public school trustees frequently confront issues that invite a diversity of strong opinions and passionate beliefs. Their goal should, however, remain ever consistent: to pursue consensus, to reconcile differences and to reach compromise—all in the service of their students. 6. Employ and evaluate the superintendent. One of the most crucial responsibilities of a school board is the selection of a superintendent. The superintendent, as chief executive officer of the district, implements policies set by the board and is the person held accountable for the smooth and successful operation of its schools. While the board’s focus is oversight of management, policymaking, planning and evaluation, the superintendent’s focus is on implementation and managing day-to-day operations. Through yearly written performance evaluations and ongoing discussions, the board assesses the superintendent’s progress toward district goals. 7. Adopt a budget and set a tax rate . Perhaps the least popular, yet most necessary, responsibility of the school board is to manage the district’s finances. The superintendent and staff formulate the school district budget and present it to the board for approval. If the board has revisions, the superintendent makes those changes. After conducting a public hearing to receive comments, the board adopts the budget and approves a tax rate to ensure the budget is adequately funded to attain those goals identified and prioritized by the trustees considering any input shared by their district constituents. Trustees must exercise good stewardship as they marshal district resources to achieve the highest outcomes at reasonable costs. Now in my fifth three-year term as a TISD trustee, I consider myself a lucky guy to have been associated with like-minded and equally yoked friends to serve in this unique position of public trust. It is not now, nor has it ever been, a responsibility taken lightly, and candidly, it has not always been fun. Serving as a public-school trustee carries a much greater burden than simply being a representative. It requires fortitude of mind and spirit and the prescient sense to lead transformational change in educational methodology and student performance achievement, anticipating today what our students will need tomorrow. That is a challenge which piques my interest, requires creative thinking and keeps me engaged. As a product of TISD myself, and with three TISD-graduate sons who were well-prepared by their teachers to successfully navigate the rigors of higher education, I know first-hand the power of public education and the opportunities it affords the youth of our community who choose to avail themselves of all it offers. For me, there could be no better reason than that to serve on a public school board.

LEISD 2,282* PGISD 2,233* TASD 3,880** TISD 7,654*

*Texas Education Agency for October 2020 **Arkansas Department of Education for 2020-21 school year

federal and state laws and regulations. Important decisions are made based on district policies, where trustees influence nearly every aspect of school operation. District policy also provides a record of the decisions the board has made. 3. Demonstrate accountability. School trustees share responsibility for the performance of the district’s schools and students. This requires maintaining high academic standards, transparency and accountability, and it is a responsibility shared with a number of parties: teachers, administrators, support staff and parents. That’s right—parents. More often these days than one might suspect, some parents expect their children’s education to depend solely on the actions of educators and activities which take place on school campuses. Successful students require more, and many school districts find they are required to expend a disproportionate number of resources on student populations where parents either refuse to accept accountability for their students’ performance or do not understand the necessity to do so. 4. Provide community leadership. Board members lead the community as advocates for public schools, serving as the link between the school system and the public. To build trust between the district and the community, trustees must listen to and hear their constituents and explain the district’s priorities established to meet the community’s needs and expectations. As public education advocates, they help build support and report district progress by communicating with the community, students, staff, parents and the media. Once the board makes a decision, its role is to engage its district’s patrons in ways

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4 LEADERS 2 CITIES 1 PURPOSE BY L IBBY WHITE W ith the days of summer drawing to a close, there is an all-too familiar anticipation growing. The start of school triggers different emotions for everyone, but hopes are high for the upcoming academic year. you put in kids’ hands, but the infrastructure in the background that makes it work,” said Ronnie Thompson (LEISD). “Our district is half city, half rural, and a lot of our rural kids did not have quality connectivity at home. When your internet speed is buffering because that’s the best you can get, there are certain things you can’t participate in. For kids going through virtual education at the time, they suffered because of connectivity.”

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all said we are ready to “get back to normal.” But what is “normal?” What will the 2021-2022 school experience be like for our students and teachers? These Texarkana Superintendents explained their views of the educational excellence in our community and shared their hopes for the days ahead: Dr. Becky Kesler of Texarkana Arkansas School District (TASD), Dr. Doug Brubaker of Texarkana Independent School District (TISD), Ronnie Thompson of Liberty-Eylau Independent School District (LEISD), and Chad Pirtle of Pleasant Grove Independent School District (PGISD). Our local administrators were unified not only in their admittance of the challenges of the previous school year, but also of the strength and growth their campuses experienced along the way. “COVID affected everything,” said Chad Pirtle (PGISD), “but nothing was necessarily detrimental because of the aid provided by the state and the federal government which allowed us to purchase a large amount of technology.” Pleasant Grove used allotted funds to make upgrades in technology, adding enough devices for every student in grades three through twelve. Campuses received state and federal funds to aid during the pandemic, but it was up to each district to serve the specific needs of their unique populations. Connectivity for at-home learning was an obstacle for many public schools. “The challenge for us was not so much the devices

Despite their differing school colors, the superintendents voiced a common admiration for the resiliency of their students and staff and expressed how each district’s caring campus culture was demonstrated during the pandemic. Through that experience, their true colors were revealed. “We pride ourselves in the family atmosphere we have at TASD,” said Dr. Becky Kesler. “One of the things I was so proud of our staff this last year was that they really took ownership with our students. So many of our students chose to stay virtual instead of coming back to school, so our teachers would actually make home visits. If we felt like we were losing a student, the teacher would go to the student’s home. They would take food to the student, take a computer to them, or hot spots. They really embraced that family mentality, and I was so proud of the fact that we really tried to not let anyone fall through the cracks.” Dr. Doug Brubaker moved to TISD in January 2021. “When I was interviewing with the board, and then after I got here, it wasn’t long before people started talking about the ‘Tiger Family.’ It’s this beautiful spirit that permeates the staff and student body, where people just really take care of one another. Joining the district when

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Ronnie Thompson, Superintendent Liberty-Eylau Independent School District (LEISD) photo by Brian Jones

Chad Pirtle, Superintendent Pleasant Grove Independent School District (PGISD) photo by Brian Jones

Dr. Doug Brubaker, Superintendent Texarkana Independent School District (TISD) photo by Brian Jones

Dr. Becky Kesler, Superintendent Texarkana Arkansas School District (TASD) photo by Brian Jones

I have, I had the opportunity to really see that in full effect with the pandemic being such a challenging time.” “In Pleasant Grove Independent School District, we talk about a ‘state of mind,’” explained Pirtle (PGISD). “We highlight ‘state’ because in everything we do, we are striving to be the best in the state. I’m passionate about taking care of our people. I also think the positivity and joy that radiates through our campuses is unique.” “One of the big things we did during the pandemic was we made sure our kids got fed,” said Thompson (LEISD). “That was important because for a lot of them, their meals for the day happened when they came to school. When COVID shut schools down, our Food Services Department was still working pretty much full time. We would use our bus routes and deliver breakfast and lunch meals. There were also some federal funds that flowed through the State that allowed us to buy technology and Personal Protection Equipment and gear that we needed. We also actually got with our Career and Technology Department, and they built us hand sanitizing stations. They’re building 30 more this summer, so we’ll have even more on our campuses this school year. That was important because they were on back order for months. Our

welding teacher said he thought he could make it. He made one, and the rest is history.” As we settle into a “new normal” this fall, educators have a monumental task on their hands. With such a challenging year in the rear-view mirror, the consensus among the group was to focus on a positive school experience and celebrate progress in their districts. “I think assessing and addressing the individual needs of students as we kick off the school year is going to be one of the most important challenges we face,” said Brubaker (TISD). “In terms of setting a positive tone, I think about what has been accomplished over the last 18 months. TISD staff members and their peers across the state have kept schools functioning for kids. That’s an amazing accomplishment. I’m also really excited about a strategic planning initiative we have set up this fall. We’re going to be engaging the community in dialogue about what we want our schools to look like five years from now.” Thompson (LEISD) further explained that public schools have to accept that “the biggest challenge is closing the educational gaps that were developed during the pandemic. Even for kids who chose face-to-face learning the entire school year, they still had

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to be quarantined and were virtual at some point. I think parents and the community realized there’s a difference between virtual and face-to-face learning. When you’re at home, there are going to be gaps. To overcome those gaps, it’s going to take a good three to five years, unfortunately. But that’s the reality and the greatest challenge facing us as educators moving forward.” “I’m excited for our students and staff to have the opportunity to have a much more normal year than what we just experienced in 2020-2021,” added Pirtle (PGISD). “I’m excited on the academic side about the literacy initiative we have in our school district. My goal is by 2025 to have 100% of our kids reading on grade level. Kesler (TASD) shared recent changes to their district structure: “We just completed our new middle school north of the interstate, Arkansas Middle School. Our sixth grade will join them this year. That left College Hill Middle School empty, so we made that campus College Hill Harmony—our leadership and music school. Every student will get an instrument to play, and we expect about 400 students to be there. Our junior high, that was known as North Heights, is going to be known as The Heights next year. It will be a MicroSociety school. They’ll have their own mayor, city council and a whole society within the school. It’s a really neat concept, and the parents are excited about it and the accelerated curriculum we will offer there. Every student at The Heights will work a grade level ahead. Our Gifted and Talented program will also be there, and we’ll have about 200 students on that campus next year.” With the rapid growth of technology and the continual expansion of curriculum and activities on our campuses, there is no telling what the school experience will be like for future generations. “When I go out to our schools, I see our kids coding; I see them working in robotics; I see them in art; I see the things they’re doing in music; there are times when I’d like to check myself back in and start over,” said Brubaker (TISD). “If you look at 20 years from now, I think we’re going to see technology giving us the opportunity to tailor experiences to individual needs and interests, and I’m really excited to see how that’s going to unfold.” However, there are core elements to the future academic experience some hope will never change. “There’s nothing that takes the place of a face-to-face teacher,” said Kesler (TASD). “The students would probably say they want to go virtual and do only online learning in the future. But I’m hoping in 20 years we still have classrooms and teachers. There’s always a place for online learning, but I’m old school, and I hope we still have face-to-face learning going on. That relationship is so critical, and nothing will take the place of the relationship between a teacher and a student.” Mr. Pirtle (PGISD) expounded on that idea and reflected on the influence his third-grade teacher, Mrs. Whitney, made on his life. “I don’t really remember what she taught me, but I remember that she loved me. We probably all have someone who had that kind of impact on us. I would like to say to the Texarkana Community: Find a way to love our teachers. They do so much for our kids, so my challenge to you is to love our teachers.” The strength of education in our area and the talented leadership guiding our campuses into the new school year sets the tone for not only a more “back-to-normal” experience for our students, but an extraordinary one.

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Head of School, Susannah Joyce, with parent Morgan Bennett, watch students Reed Thane, Maxwell Bennett, Wren Thane and Madge Bennett,on campus at St. James Day School. Photo by Matt Cornelius

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A PERFECT FIT BY TERRI GRAVITT

C hoosing a school is one of the biggest decisions you make for your child. A very reasonable fear many parents have is the transition a child makes from the gentle world of home to a large, busy schooling environment. Fortunately, we are blessed in Texarkana with wonderful options, making this transition easier. A smaller campus is a good option for some families because they are often more conducive to individual care while still achieving excellent academic outcomes. When a child has access to a smaller school environment, some find that in education, bigger is not always better! Small campuses can play a vital part in helping to ensure that no child slips through the cracks. The low student to teacher ratios mean teachers have extra time to invest in a child’s learning program in order to assure it is pitched at a more tailored and flexible level that remains challenging but also provides a feeling of safety and support. That is the sweet spot in education. That is where the magic happens. When a parent drops their child off in front of the school each day, they put their trust in its teachers and administrators, praying they will see and appreciate all the special attributes that make their child special. Students’ social, medical and emotional needs may be known more personally by the staff of a smaller campus and the quirky little characteristics that make

each child unique become genuinely appreciated as those relationships grow. Belonging to a smaller, more close-knit community is often important to building a child’s resilience and may add a protective layer against mental health issues and bullying. When kids have a feeling of belonging, they can truly exhale and relax, and get on to the business of learning and thriving. Fewer students mean fewer voices, allowing students more chances to speak up in class and express their opinions and beliefs—even the shy ones. One spectacular small-campus option in Texarkana is Red Lick Independent School District, home of the Mustangs. Their mission is to provide students with an enthusiastic and exceptional learning experience, to embrace the diversity of the students’ learning abilities, to inspire optimism in all students so they may realize their full potential, to be proactive in providing teachers with current technology and training, and to be relentless in the pursuit of these principles for the benefit of their students. With only 516 kindergarten through eighth grade students on two campuses, Red Lick is small in number, but the extraordinary staff and hardworking students dream big and push hard for excellence in their education. This excellence is proven when you look at some of their alumni. Connor Brooks, who is now a senior at Texas A&M College Station, started school at Red Lick when he was in kindergarten

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New Middle School Principal, Dr. Matt Endsley, former students and teachers—Melissa Johnson and Leigh Ann Haley with Superintendent, Brandon Dennard representing the staff at Red Lick ISD. Photo by Matt Cornelius

excellent education.” Red Lick continues to develop students into motivated learners, ethical leaders, independent thinkers, problem solvers and collaborators yesterday, today and tomorrow. Another great option is St. James Day School, which is a private Christian school serving students from Pre-K through the eighth grade. It is fully accredited by the Southwest Association of Episcopal Schools and is recognized by the National Association of Episcopal Schools, the Texas Private Schools Association and by the State of Texas. Its mission is to educate students in a safe environment that instills high intellect, character and compassion— challenging its students academically, physically and spiritually to achieve their highest potential as confident individuals and future leaders. Indeed, they do all of this well, and students absolutely love it! Morgan Bennett, mother of Maxwell (7) entering second grade and Madge (4) entering Pre-K at St. James, laughingly shared, “Both of my daughters cannot wait to hop out of the car every morning, and even beg to spend their summers there!” Morgan goes on to say, “I love the custom education that goes along with

and attended through the eighth grade, graduating with a class of 55 students. His mother Dana Brooks shared, “He excelled there and was challenged. They had fabulous teachers and coaches. I can’t say enough good about his experience at Red Lick.” Connor met his four best friends there. When they had to choose which high school to attend, they all chose Texas High where they entered a class of 554 students as freshmen. Because they had gained such strong leadership skills at Red Lick, they were able to make that transition without a glitch. All five of them excelled, and all graduated in the top 10% of their class at Texas High. They are all now seniors in college with very successful career paths ahead of them. Melissa Johnson, a former student at Red Lick, was so inspired by her experience as a student, she returned as an educator. She is currently serving as the District Dyslexia Therapist. “Even as a child and student of Red Lick ISD,” Melissa recalled, “I was aware it was a very special school. Years later, as an employee, I’m even more convinced of this. Our school district still continues to offer the small ‘hometown feel’ of family and security, together with an

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The Lord’s Prayer or Hallelujah. Inspired by Psalm 127:1 which says, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it,” St. James considers itself a family, and like any loving family, they strive to plant the roots of moral responsibility and academic excellence so deeply that children who finish their course of study truly have wings to fly. Premier High School, whose motto is “providing hope to students who need an opportunity to succeed,” is designed for recovery and early graduation for students who thrive in smaller, more independent learning environments, and who may feel underserved in traditional public high schools. They are a mastery-based, blended learning, college preparatory program with an emphasis on technology and one-on- one teacher/student interactions. Since its opening in 2016, this tuition free public charter school has been providing an alternative to the traditional high school settings of most public schools and their enrollment has increased every year. Shorter school days and hands-on teachers are offering flexibility for students to receive the individualized education they deserve. John Landen Williams graduated from Premier in 2021. “I’m so happy we chose Premier for John Landen,” his mom, Sarah Cooper, said. “He has the kind of personality that he couldn’t care less about extracurricular activities, even the prom or homecoming. It was torture for him even in elementary school to be part of the school programs where he had to stand up and sing! Premier allowed him to be the unique, one-of-a-kind young man he was created to be and learn the way he learns.” She went on to say, “John Landen came out of his shell when he started Premier. He blossomed and now has many different opportunities to choose from for his future. Premier helps students achieve their goals and even get college classes behind them before they graduate. I am so thankful we

High school junior, Marley Franklin, giving his first-grade brother Noah a helping hand on the campus of Trinity Christian School where they both attend. Photo by Matt Cornelius

a smaller classroom. I appreciate the sweet, attentive teachers who encourage time spent outside learning, playing and exploring. The smaller campus size encourages mentoring by the older students, which, in turn, creates a welcoming atmosphere between all the ages.” Her daughter, Maxwell, shared, “You get to do fun things every single day!” Morgan also loves the incorporation of religious aspects into their daily routine, not just during their weekly chapels. It brings her much joy when she catches one of her girls singing

chose Premier!” Its passionate teachers and proven academic record help students achieve their goals on their own terms, providing exactly what some students need. Trinity Christian School, home of the Warriors, is accredited through the Arkansas Nonpublic School Accrediting Association, and serves grades Pre-K through twelfth grade. It provides a biblical perspective in the education of its students. Their philosophy of true education is to develop knowledge of God and His created reality.

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With a highly qualified staff, they are providing a Christian-based, academically excellent program of study. Their mission is to see their graduates walking with Christ in their homes, workplaces, churches and communities for the duration of their lives. So, partnering with parents, they are taking the steps necessary to guide their students and provide them with an education that leads to nothing less. Bethany Franklin, mother of Zack, Marley and Noah Franklin, whose grade levels span from Pre-K to a recent graduate, shared, “Due to the small classroom sizes (10-14 kids per class) and the teachers being extremely available, accessible and personable, academically all of our kids are exceeding their grade levels.” She goes on to share, “While academics are so important, the main reason our kids are at Trinity Christian is the biblical worldview. In the upper grades, they are taught what the Bible teaches and how to defend their faith. From political issues, current events and discipline or behavior issues, all is handled from a biblical perspective. Their teachers talk about having a real relationship with God.” TCS students in the upper grades also sign a character contract that holds them to a standard of living both in and out of the classroom. It means so much to Bethany when she gets to hear her kindergartener recite

entire chapters from Psalms and her older boys hold debates on hot topics in the news using scripture to back up their findings and research. Bethany adds, “It’s worth the money to me to send them to a place where I know they are being influenced both in and out of the classroom. I trust the administrators have their best interest and futures in mind when they make decisions. That means so much to me as a Christian parent who needs all the support from our ‘village’ that we can get.” TCS also offers strong athletic programs such as basketball, football, track, cross country, strength and conditioning, Esports and baseball/softball. The truth is, small classes are logical extensions of an educational philosophy which believes that educating the whole child is vitally important. It is not just a matter of teaching your basic reading and math, but a matter of teaching those subjects and everything else within a larger context. Giving a child a sense of who he/she is and where he/she fits in is part of that mission. When we accomplish this, we equip a child for a lifetime of achievements. The intimate, small class allows that kind of teaching and learning to take place. After all, from small beginnings come very great things!

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T exarkana got its beginnings in 1873 at the junction of the Texas and Pacific and Cairo and Fulton railroads. What was once a thunderous rumble of locomotives passing through town in the late 1800s and early 1900s is now replaced with the hum of 18-wheelers traveling down Interstate 30, except for Friday evenings in the fall, when the roar of our local high school football stadiums fills the autumn air. Texarkana may have gotten its roots as a railroad town, but the lifeblood is the hometown football game, and we are lucky enough to have a plethora of high schools within our city limits that provide an unforgettable experience on Friday nights under the lights. Residents of our great town, which of course is divided down the middle by a literal State Line, have crossed that border every year since 1918 to take part in one of the greatest rivalries in high school sports. Arkansas High versus Texas High easily brings 8,000 to 10,000 spectators through the gates of Tiger Stadium at Grim Park or Razorback Stadium each year. Texarkana is

painted in Razorback red and Tiger orange, and bragging rights are on the line. The Redline Drill Team and the Texas HighSteppers only add to the excitement of one of the oldest consecutive matchups in the United States. Both teams have also had success beyond their annual battle. Texas High was the 2002 4A Division I Texas State Champion, and Arkansas High won Arkansas State Championships in 1973, 1974, 1975, 2006 and 2007. At Harris Field in Liberty-Eylau, the Leopard faithful pack the stands and the entire school and community take part. The band, the Dazzlers and the cheerleaders energize the crowd and push the Leopards to victory. The atmosphere is electric, and the games are a must- see attraction every week. The band keeps the crowd lively and creates an electric atmosphere throughout the game. Liberty-Eylau added their 3A Division I Texas State Championships in 1999 and 2006 to Texarkana’s ever-growing number. Hawk Stadium, on the campus of Pleasant Grove High School, is nestled among tall East Texas pines. Once in the stands, the Pride in Motion Band serenades the Hawk

BY JONATHAN WEAVER

PHOTOS BY MATT CORNEL IUS

fans from kickoff to the final whistle. The Showstoppers form a line from the inflatable hawk and down the field as the football team runs out, and the community support is amazing. Pleasant Grove has Texarkana’s most recent football state championships with the Hawks winning the 2017 and 2019 4A Division II Texas State Championships. Very few of the students orchestrating the ensemble of Friday nights will carry these roles past their senior year of high school. These kids pour out their hearts and souls for the sheer enjoyment of it. The Texas High snare drummer might never again pick up his drum sticks after graduation. The Arkansas High cheerleader may lay aside her pom-poms and enter nursing school, and these fall nights will be a long-lost memory. The Liberty-Eylau Dazzler will go on to college and reminisce about the choreography she used to perform. And the Pleasant Grove football player will graduate and only be left with the fond memories of his time representing the Hawks.

Four years of high school fly by, and these kids choose to spend those priceless moments representing their schools, and our city, for all of Texarkana to enjoy. Do not take those Friday nights for granted. Cheer on all the students and support them in their endeavors. They may be high school kids, but they are also role models for an entire community of younger children. They declare separate allegiances to Hawks, Leopards, Razorbacks and Tigers for now, but Texarkana is home, and they will carry it with them wherever their next adventure takes them. This is a city of champions, and football Fridays around our high school stadiums provide ample moments to capture its energy and truly understand the passion of our great town. Texarkana excitedly unites each week to cheer on our schools and to experience that one-of-a-kind thrill you can only find sitting in the stands, decked out in the colors of your favorite team, under the glow of those Friday night lights!

The lifeblood of Texarkana is the hometown football game.

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