Small schools have advantages too
March 20, 2023
Since moving to New Rockford in August 2021, I’ve covered dozens of regular and special meetings of the New Rockford-Sheyenne School Board as a reporter for the Transcript.
Yes, at times there’s been drama and I’ve been able to write some interesting articles, but lately, I’ve started to appreciate something else – how different a small school like New Rockford-Sheyenne is compared to the school I graduated from, and I mean that in a good way.
I grew up in Huron, South Dakota and graduated from Huron High School (HHS) in 2016. There were nearly 170 people in my graduating class, and our school had a dedicated football and track stadium, basketball/volleyball arena, tennis courts, and a state-of-the-art auditorium for band and choir concerts.
The high school building in our district taught 9-12 graders, our middle school building housed grades 6-8, and there were a handful of elementary schools in town teaching K-5.
On the flip side, before moving to New Rockford I’d never interacted with a school district that taught all of their students (K-12) in just one building, or that had their football field in the outfield of their baseball diamond. It’s also crazy to me that this year’s graduating class at NR-S has only 13 students.
I say all this not to brag about the larger school I graduated from, but because it amazes me that a small school district like NR-S can offer so many opportunities that were never available to me at the school district in Huron.
At the NR-S school board meeting on Monday, March 13, (after most people had left following the music/budget discussion), a few fantastic policies were passed that I only wish had been around when I was in school.
I wrote about each policy after their first reading a month ago so I won’t go into great detail now, but one policy made additions to New Rockford-Sheyenne’s graduation requirements. And, beginning next school year, one of those new requirements will be that every student must complete a job shadow.
Essentially, a student will spend one day at a business or workplace and experience first hand what a certain job entails. They could then decide, using the added knowledge of their first-hand experience, if a career path is right for them.
It’s a brilliant idea, and it’s so important that such an opportunity is going to be required, not optional.
When I was in high school, I recall taking an elective media class and genuinely enjoying it. Back then, I wasn’t the kind of student that genuinely enjoyed much of anything, let alone classroom instruction. So, it was quite a shock for me when I found myself enjoying that class.
Afterwards, I remember asking myself if I should consider going into journalism. However, I convinced myself there’s no way I had the talent or writing ability to do so. In other words, I didn’t believe I was smart enough.
I also allowed myself to believe there was no rush to figure anything out, that I had plenty of time to discover a career path. In reality, I was just procrastinating as I usually did.
I went on to complete my last year of high school and first two years of college having no clue what I wanted to do with my life. I was getting good grades, but I was merely coasting, needlessly wasting precious years of my education hoping I’d stumble into something I enjoyed.
Of course, I eventually re-discovered journalism and I now find myself doing what I love. (I even enjoy attending monthly school board and county commission meetings, even if I sometimes wish they didn’t last so long).
But after listening to the board discuss these new policies, I can’t help but ask myself, “How might my life be different if I’d done a job shadow around the time I was taking that media class?”
For starters, I’m convinced I would have realized my chosen career path long before I eventually did, and that could have changed everything.
The college I attended didn’t offer a journalism degree, so even after I finally chose a career path I had to settle for an English degree instead. If I had known I wanted to be a journalist after high school, there’s no chance I’d have chosen a college that didn’t offer journalism, and I can only imagine where I’d be right now if I’d gone somewhere else.
But here’s the thing – even if the option for a job shadow existed when I was in school, it wouldn’t have changed anything if it wasn’t required.
As Principal Baumbach and Mr. Cook said at last Monday’s board meeting: the outspoken kids at NR-S are already taking advantage of job shadow opportunities and are putting themselves out there. It’s the not-so-outspoken kids that won’t go if they’re not required.
I was one of those kids, and there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that 2015 Nathan Price puts himself in a strange, uncomfortable environment voluntarily. But it’s those kids, the kids like me, that need those kinds of experiences the most.
I commend the NR-S school board, and the committee of students, parents and staff that came up with the new graduation requirements, for creating such fantastic opportunities for students.
But wait, there’s more!
I’d also like to talk about esports, and before some of you make a weird face and ask yourself how video gaming could possibly be beneficial, please hear me out.
When I was in high school I was very introverted, and I spent most nights playing video games rather than hanging out with friends or doing other activities.
I lacked the physical characteristics or talent to play sports (not that I wanted to play with kids who bullied me anyway), and aside from band and marching band, I wasn’t interested in any other extracurricular activities.
In short, I wasn’t putting myself out there nearly as much as I could have. High school activities have always been where we make friends, build memories, learn about ourselves and where we actually enjoy our high school years. And because I didn’t participate in much of anything, I didn’t make many friends, didn’t build tons of memories, and didn’t particularly enjoy my high school career.
However, I can guarantee you that I’d have signed up for esports if that opportunity had existed, despite my tendency to avoid nearly anything that wasn’t required of me.
Thankfully kids like me who aren’t interested in competing in traditional sports or extracurricular activities, but who enjoy video games and competition, have a way to express themselves, meet friends, build memories and represent their school at NR-S.
In just over a week, students from NR-S will be representing their school at the esports state tournament at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks. I can guarantee that every one of those kids will remember that experience for the rest of their lives, and it wouldn’t be possible if the folks at NR-S had assumed – like many still do – that video games can’t be healthy.
Music, sports and extracurricular activities are still important. But not everyone is cut from the same cloth, and I can only imagine how many great memories I might have today if my school had supported an esports program, something they still don’t offer to this day.
Education is all about creating opportunities and preparing students for the future, and it seems to me that even small schools like NR-S are outperforming larger schools in that department. Let's make sure it stays that way.