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Jadaci Henderson, a 12th-grader at Dumas New Tech High School in Dumas, Ark.
Jadaci Henderson, a 12th-grader at Dumas New Tech High School in Dumas, Ark. Credit: Magdalena Slapik for The Hechinger Report

How would you describe your school?

My town is roughly 5,000 people. It is not a close-knit community, but once it’s divided up, the divisions are very close knit. You have the west side of the tracks; you have the east side of the tracks. The west side of the tracks is majority people of color. You don’t see a lot of people who are not of color on that side of town unless it’s a main street. That side of the town is very close knit. The east side of town is very close knit as well. It’s just one high school. It’s very racially diverse. Majority, I would say that white people hang with white people, and black people hang with black people. Then you have that very few who do go across racial lines. It’s really not something that you do.

What is one thing you feel your school can do better?

We don’t do dances. That plays into the other side of the tracks type of thing. The white kids here actually have something at the country club during the winter time called the winter formal, but people of color are not invited. Like, you can’t invite them. They’re not allowed. They can’t come. There’s some open acts of racism.

That’s a whole topic that my school won’t even address. A school that claims that we are a family and a community — they won’t even address something that’s a big issue for people of color, and the majority of our school is people of color. Some of our teachers do bring it up, but it’s more of a one-sided discussion. If you have challenging views, or views that they do not agree with, you do not talk about them, because you will get in trouble. They consider that insubordination.

Schools need open-mindedness. Students need to be able to talk about issues going on in society. They need to be able to openly voice opinions without repercussions. Often times, I see students, especially here at the high school, who want to engage in society and who want to talk about things that are on their mind, but they know, “Well, if this teacher doesn’t like what I’m saying, I can be wrote up.” I feel like that just shuts out a lot of voice that schools are supposed to help create.

What makes an effective teacher?

A teacher with an open mind and an open heart — that makes an effective teacher. There are kids from all walks of life that teachers encounter, not just the cute, cookie-cutter, average kids. They encounter kids who are homeless, kids who are broken, kids who are lost in a world with no role models. And, they have to be able to say, “I’m gonna treat this kid just like I’m gonna treat this other kid over here. They might not be perfect, they might be a little bit harder to teach, but I’m still gonna do it.”

What do you think is the purpose of education, and what role should school play in a student’s life?

The role of school is to educate me, so that when I go out into society I can become productive. I can be a functioning member of society who can work, who can educate someone else, who can be a role model. That’s what I always thought it was. Now, I’m seeing the role of school, of education, is basically a pastime, like a public babysitter for whoever feels their children should be here.

What do you plan to do after you graduate high school?

As far as hopes and dreams for my career, I want to become an educator. Not just a teacher. I would like to be a full-force educator. That means, if I stay in Arkansas, working for the Department of Education in some way, shape or form. Possibly, being a principal, faculty member, something like that.

I’m going to school at the University of Arkansas at Palm Bluff. It’s an HBCU, which is one of the reasons why I chose to go there. It is also a legacy school for my family. My aunts went there, my grandparents, my grand aunts and uncles, my cousins. It’s like destiny, almost. I jumped straight on it, and I applied to it in July. By end of August I had been accepted, and I had started talkin’ to the staff that worked there. I was really excited. I’m still really excited to just continue this generational legacy of our family going to this school. Everybody’s like, “Oh. I’m applying to schools!” I was like, “Oh. I’m already accepted!”

Jadaci Henderson was interviewed on 4/13/17. Student interviews were carried out during the 2015-2016, 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years. Posted grade levels are the grade the students were in when they were interviewed.

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