Ten years ago, I was a girl taking a journalism class at Hallsville High School who wanted to make a difference in the community.
Seven years ago, I was opening an acceptance letter to Texas Tech University to study journalism.
Four years ago, I was graduating college with bylines in print, magazines, web and TV.
Three years ago, I started my job at the Longview News-Journal on the design desk and later became the education reporter. And I’ve had the time of my life.
In about a week, I will be the new enterprise reporter for the nonprofit newsroom the Fort Worth Report.
In all my writing, I try to think back to that girl in a journalism class at Hallsville.
Yes, the stories about the board meetings and the administration and the budgets are important. They are vital to an informed community.
But my absolute favorite stories are about the students of this community overcoming adversity and making a difference.
If being an education reporter has taught me anything, it’s the idea that young people are apathetic about where they live is a lie. The students of East Texas are our only hope at becoming greater than what we are. We have a responsibility to better this town for them and to fight for them to have a fair shot at success.
Young women like Aretha Raibon, Jia Lewis and Najah Jackson deserve a chance to succeed as equally as any other student in their classes. When they told me they looked around and saw few students in their advanced classes who looked like them, I knew the feeling all too well and I hope that is no longer the situation for students of color sooner rather than later.
I’ve seen this community do just that so many times. Like when St. Mary’s students gifted their classmate Wesley Saunders with glasses to help him see color. Or when Pine Tree students came together to raise money for their band director fighting COVID-19. I watched young people step up in the fight against police brutality. I’ve seen Trinity School of Texas students donate tens of thousands of cans of food to the hungry. The Just Keep Livin’ program at Longview High School is helping teenagers achieve by providing them with guidance and healthy living options.
All of this matters because it speaks to the kind of students this community is teaching. Longview is raising leaders, scholars, activists and empathic people.
I am the product of these schools. From St. Mary’s to Hallsville, my entire education through 12th grade was in this community. Teachers in the area like Lucy Knotts, Lori Dohanich, Lee Branson, Jennifer Roberts and Donna Clark still are changing the lives of the next generation of students the way they shaped mine. I can’t thank them enough, and I can’t wait to see the kind of students they teach next.
I also can’t thank enough my favorite teacher and coach, Barbara Barton, for her never-ending love and support. No one is a prouder teacher’s kid than I am, and no one is as lucky as I am that I get to also call Coach B “mom.”
Longview, it has been my greatest honor to come back to my hometown and serve you in this way. Telling the stories of these students has opened my eyes to the difference they can make in this community. It has taken my breath away time and time again. I can’t believe I had the privilege of getting to know these young people.
If I can ask anything of my hometown before I leave, it is this: Invest in our students. Take care of them. Hold leaders accountable so they can have the best education possible. Not just because they deserve it, but because Longview needs it.
This community helped a student in a journalism class ten years ago. It helped make my dreams come true, and I am eternally grateful. I only hope we can replicate that for all students in this area.