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Fike High School students hosted community leaders for a wide-ranging round table discussion last Tuesday.
The “Let’s Talk, Let’s Listen” event brought together 13 community members and 70 students and was organized by Kimberly Howard, an English educator, AVID coordinator and head girls basketball coach at the school.
“This is small-scale,” Howard told the students. “Yeah, we’re Wilson, but do you realize that if the change comes from this that I am envisioning, then we’ve got 70 to 75 lives right here that can go out and can become agents of change.”
Iyad Abdelaziz asked Wilson County Schools Superintendent Lane Mills what he thought was the one thing that stops students from graduating from high school. Mills responded that connections between students and their schools makes a huge difference.
“We need to offer you the right choices to keep you going,” Mills said. “If you are not connected to something that has meaning to you and a connection with that great course that you like or that teacher who really makes a difference for you, it’s really easy to lose your way.”
Topics ranged from racism to setting goals, teen pregnancy, bullying, effects from drugs and alcohol and the relationship between young people and law enforcement.
“I think forums like this provides community,” said A.J. Gunter, Fike senior class president. “It gets us connected and I think that’s really important for students to realize in this time of the year and this age. Connections help us form relationships and relationships help us to become successful.”
Gunter said having the ability to ask direct questions of community leaders was helpful.
“I believe the community leaders are role models and they are able to provide us information that is true and helpful in the society today and so I appreciate their uttermost truth and the information they provide,” Gunter said. “The reaction has been pretty positive. We have had a lot of people excited about these discussions and the event that has led up to everything. I am really excited about the momentum and the attitude that our students have in this school because we want change. We want connections and we want relationships. I think all of that can come from this event.”
“These students belong to this community and this community belongs to this school and to these students,” said Principal Randy St. Clair, in his first year as Fike’s lead administrator. “Knowing that someone cares about your thoughts, cares about your opinions and your perspective is important, but it is also important that you hear from someone else’s perspective who has been there and done that a little bit, so it’s a partnership.”
St. Clair said that teachers and administrators tell students all the time that “we are in this together.”
“It’s a unified effort,” St. Clair said. “You can’t talk about school without talking about the area that you live in that you get an education from, so that’s why it’s really important.”
Having Wilson Police Chief Thomas Hopkins and Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard as participants made an impact on the students, St. Clair said.
“It’s no secret in this society that there is this apprehension about law enforcement and people in general of all races and backgrounds and this kind of lowers that wall a little bit and shows that this is a human being who has experienced life, who works in law enforcement, who cares about you, who understands some of the plight that you guys are dealing with, but really, it’s just a human at heart that really cares,” St. Clair said.
Hopkins, a native of Wilson who graduated from Beddingfield High School, said forums like this are extremely important.
“It really lets you know what people are concerned about and any issues they may be having and most of all, it’s about building those strong relationships and the best way to build those relationships is just to spend time together. I think that is a positive thing,” Hopkins said. “We want people to be comfortable around law enforcement and of course we want everybody to feel safe and when you have those relationships, I think it makes it easier to communicate and talk about things if there are issues. I think events like this are an opportunity for young people to see what’s out there.”
St. Clair said the forum had a positive effect.
“We have some amazing students in our building who really want to impact the world, who want to change their community, who want to be leaders, and this is a great way of doing that,” St. Clair said. “So having their voice heard and hearing from someone who can kind of show them a different way or a different perspective is really important for their growth.”
St. Clair said Howard is “a tremendous asset to Fike High School and to the community of Wilson.”
“She has a heart of gold. She wants nothing more than everyone to work on the same page and for everyone to come together and be a part of something great,” St. Clair said. “She sees the greatness of Fike High School and she sees the greatness of Wilson and she just has a heart to make sure that everyone is included in that. She believes in tolerance and she believes in inclusiveness and she really works hard to make that happen in her classroom and in this school.”