Prairie View High School senior Jenna Thompson spoke to the school board on Feb. 13 about recognizing student achievement for academic events as well as athletic competition. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)
LA CYGNE – Bolstered with support from several classmates, Prairie View High School senior Jenna Thompson in a calm, quiet voice laid out a case to the Prairie View USD 362 Board of Education that students who participated in academic extracurricular activities did not receive the same quality of recognition garnered by student athletes.
During the school board’s Feb. 13 meeting, Thompson said that as a student involved in a host of activities – including scholars bowl, forensics, FFA, Future Business Leaders of America, National Honor Society and art club – students in those pursuits and others were not sufficiently honored in senior night ceremonies.
Thompson, who is set to be co-valedictorian along with classmate Meadow Stainbrook, noted that while athletic teams bound for state are given a send-off, those headed for academic state competitions are not. She said that while many students at the school know about the records of sports teams, they are unaware that the school’s band won the highest honor in its last competition.
She suggested that just as every student who competes in sports receives recognition, those in art, yearbook, drama and other activities need that recognition as well – whether they win or not.
“Not every student goes home to a parent who tells them how proud they are,” the senior said.
She said that a recent assembly recognizing William Swisher, who was headed to state piano competition; Stefanie Koperski, bound for state choir; and the PVHS scholars bowl team headed to state for a second year in a row, was largely a result of sponsors pushing for the recognition.
The senior said she recognized that athletes work hard and deserve being recognized, but she added that those working in more academic areas put in considerable effort and deserve equal recognition.
“Recognizing student achievement should be embedded in school culture,” Thompson added. “For permanent change to happen, it requires a culture change in our school.”
She said that since coming to PVHS as a freshman, she has loved the school. However, she also said she wasn’t sure if the feeling was mutual.
“I’ve always been proud to be a Buffalo, but I don’t always feel that Buffalos are proud to have me,” Thompson said. “No student should feel like that. Time and time again they do.”
She suggested that students in all of the school’s activities be acknowledged on senior night. She added that making involved students feel more appreciated will lead to more student involvement.
Board President Wade Teagarden thanked her for presenting their case. However, the board did not discuss the matter during the board meeting.
In an interview with high school principal Joe Hornback on Tuesday following the meeting, he said that he had met with Thompson earlier that day about her message.
Hornback said he was sorry that Thompson felt like participants in academic activities were not fully appreciated. However, he added that his staff had made an effort to insure that they were recognized.
He did say that Thompson didn’t know that students on the forensics team were not recognized until the senior night at the Prairie View Invitational track meet later in the year.
The state forensic contest is usually held in May, and meets in which forensics team members can qualify are sponsored well into April.
He said that the school expanded athletics-only senior nights into seasonal events for all activities during the 2019-20 school year.
Hornback also pointed out that his staff also had implemented an academic letter for students who earned above a 3.75 grade-point average.
The principal also said that during his discussion with Thompson the following day he praised her for her willingness and courage to speak to the board.
It wasn’t the first time she has faced a tough audience, though. Thompson placed second in informative speaking and fourth in serious solo acting in the Class 3A State Speech and Drama Championships last year.
Editor's note: Because of an editor's error, Jenna Thompson was misidentified in an earlier version of this story. Joseph Hornback's name was also misspelled. We regret the errors.