If you drive down Highway 95 north, pass Clark Street and the tire shop on the right, then turn right on Professor Powell Boulevard and continue straight, the road ends almost directly in front of the Bartlett School District.
It’s a campus of multiple buildings that is surrounded by long vistas of deep shades of green that extend far into the horizon on one side. One the other it is surrounded by residences and the public swimming pool. On this campus sits Bartlett’s public elementary school, the middle school, high school, agriculture facilities, the football field and stands, and the superintendent’s office. It is a campus that is currently bursting at its seams but, much like Bartlett itself, has also experienced moments of expansion and contraction, along with moments of neglect.
The Bartlett Independent School District is host to just about 350 students in facilities that have been remodeled, added to, repaired, patched together, and abated. It has been the site of creative thinking in order to accommodate bodies in the space while facilitating learning. It’s a maze of a place that has no centralized entryway, that was clearly built without a longterm plan and has tried to keep up with the needs of the town and its youth. There is one cafeteria that is now too small for all the students and faculty to sit and eat together. Only some sidewalks connecting one building to the other are covered, and other areas have no sidewalks at all, so students and faculty weather the elements to get from building to building. The football facilities are long overdue for an update, and that includes the locker rooms and concession stands — notable, considering Bartlett has multiple football championship wins from the ’90s under its belt. The agriculture building, where students learn carpentry and welding, is a dated structure of wood pier and beam.
I walked through classrooms, locker rooms, the choir room, training facilities, and gymnasiums with BISD Superintendent Mr. Teddy Clevenger. I quickly became overwhelmed by the growing list of needs that it would take to bring the physical school to a point where educators could just focus on teaching, where students could focus on learning in a comfortable environment, and where all this could happen without the constant battle of a building that in many ways seems to work against them. And through every classroom, hallway, and trek across a lawn, I could sense the frustration swelling inside of me.
I am a product of public school education, and come from a lineage of few resources. In my family, education was the best investment. As I walked through the Bartlett schools I became increasingly disheartened by the fact that our state does not see the same value in education. Texas allows spaces where children are shaped to fall into disrepair. The physical buildings in which they spend the majority of their lives could potentially be unsafe for them, because the state has not provided the resources necessary to allow for upkeep, or has created a system so bureaucratic that finding the resources is next to impossible.
Thank goodness for people.
Because more than anything, what the Bartlett Independent School District has is phenomenal people who work exceptionally hard to advocate for their students, their school, and their town. Mr. Clevenger has worked overtime to ensure that all students receive three free meals a day, and that high school kids can opt into a program where they graduate with both a high school diploma and an associates degree. Ms. Rachel Fahrig has made the commitment to provide afterschool and summer programming that is multi-disciplinary, and teaches the kids life skills in a creative environment while connecting with many visiting educators. Mr. Matt Fisher, the band instructor, is committed to elevating the music skills of the kids while teaching discipline in a fun environment. The entire facilities committee, which is committed to prioritizing the needs of the school and is led by Superintendent Clevenger, is advocating for a bond package in the next civic election. Not to mention the many others I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting, who are open to collaborating, sharing ideas, and working together to find resources that can alleviate the workload for teachers, provide unique spaces and experiences for students, and generally offer creative, interdisciplinary perspectives on learning and skill-building.
Over and over again, as I spend more time in Bartlett, I encounter situations in which I find myself vacillating between the heartbreak of witnessing neglect, followed by the profundity of the care by the citizens of the town. Because in Bartlett, people do care, and that runs deep and extends across everything.
To learn more about Bartlett, please follow @downtownbartlett. Next installment: Two weeks.