MERIDIAN — Our Community, our kids, and our hope
As the holiday season approaches, our community has suffered some blows: crime, robberies, shootings, and people not acting in the spirit of Christmas or even in the spirit of humanity. People are afraid to go out after dark and even in some areas, out of their homes.
I find myself not strolling my children close to sunset in my own neighborhood. But in all this, I hope that people don’t get discouraged or lose hope in our community and young people. As a teacher at Northeast High School, I see close to 150 teenagers come through my door each day. And I find these young people breathing back hope into my heart: their laughter, their energy and dreams and selflessness. And I know that at each of our schools in this town — city and county — there are countless young people and teachers making a difference in the lives of others and changing our world for the good.
These are just a few examples at Northeast High School: our ROTC program does many outreach projects throughout the year, but at this time of year these young cadets give their time on Saturdays to ring the bell for the Salvation Army at our local mall; NE Allied Heath and Hosa students recently sponsored a much needed blood drive; the NE cheerleaders volunteered their time at the Meridian Marathon in November where the proceeds went to the Alzheimer's Association, Camp Eagle Ridge, Hope Village, and Mississippi Lions Eye Bank.
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes collected 115 coats for needed children in our area for Coats for Kids; the Honor Society is sponsoring a fellow classmate in need; the SADD Club (Students Against Destructive Decisions) conducted contests and activities during Red Ribbon Week to bring awareness about making positive decisions and highlighted the dangers of distracted driving by organizing "It Only Takes One ..." activities at home football games.
Student Council also sponsored an Angel Tree child and did a fundraiser that they are using to "Feed a Floor" for one week at Blair Batson Children's Hospital, where they purchase a week's worth of snacks for parents with children hospitalized there.
I’ve also been encouraged by the NE students’ enthusiasm in raising money for Relay for Life that supports cancer research. Two of our teachers on campus created a Penny War between each grade, and it raised over $2,000. One of these teachers has a father who is battling cancer now, and she was able to inspire her students to care and to give for this worthy cause. Another one of our teachers, Nicole Wright, won the Golden Apple award recently. She’s a teacher who stays at school working long hours after the kids go home and who last year, along with another English teacher, logged over 21 unpaid hours after school, tutoring kids for the English II test.
My own classes, made up of ninth and tenth graders, donated money to sponsor a 3-year-old little girl for Angel Tree. Another teacher had his eleventh and twelfth graders raise over $350 dollars to sponsor two Angel Tree children. I was encouraged by the outpouring of love from my students for a little girl they don’t even know but who they wanted to have a good Christmas.
I had the privilege of taking four young ladies from my tenth grade Honors class to Wal-Mart to purchase toys and clothes for our Angel Tree child. I found myself having the best time with four spunky teenage girls who were truly feeling the Christmas spirit. We picked out a baby doll, light up tennis shoes, purple glitter shirts, a Cinderella crown and wand, and countless other things for this needy child, and we had the best time doing it!
Even when the 5-foot-10 inch softball player sat in the buggy like a 3 year old and raced down the aisles with her friends, although completely embarrassed, I felt so proud of these young women who were so joyful about giving to this child and who took time out of their own lives on a Friday afternoon to shop with me.
As we stood in the checkout lane adding up our surplus of toys, clothes, and shoes, my students said to me, “Mrs. Thompson, we wanna come with you next year when you do this.” Surprised, I said, “But you guys will be driving next year and not even in my class.”
“So!” they said, “we call dibs on this next year!” My cup runneth over.
So as a teacher and a member of this community, I am very encouraged by our young people. I am grateful that I get to love and mentor and laugh with all these wonderful teenagers. I’m grateful that every day on this job challenges me, enriches me, and uses and sharpens my intelligence but also keeps me on my toes. I’m grateful for hilarious, hard-working co-workers who have helped me become a better teacher by their help and example. And I’m grateful that each day I am being used to influence these kids for the good.
I know each school has its heroes and stories, but I can only speak for what I’ve witnessed at Northeast High School. We have teachers who work each day to inspire, challenge, and encourage their students, not for money or recognition but because they want to change the life of a child for the good. So as Christmas quickly approaches, I hope people and parents remember to support our schools, our teachers, and our students and to not lose hope in our community and our kids.
Amanda K. Thompson, Northeast High School teacher