All three of Newton County School System’s high schools — Alcovy, Eastside and Newton — have completed the junior and senior prom season with the last of the proms having taken place on Saturday, April 14.
Students from each of our high schools flock to the Square in the city of Covington to take pictures before the prom; it’s a time-honored, long-standing tradition that dates back more than 20 years and not a school system-sponsored or -sanctioned event.
I love our square and sense of community, and I, too, enjoy participating in the busyness that goes on at the Square. It is this sense of community that inspired me to write about the recent controversy regarding our largest high school’s gathering at the Square for picture-taking, memory-making, and the opportunity to bask in the moment created by the excitement of the prom. While I wasn’t at the event, it is clear that a plan must be developed to ensure our students and families are met with a welcoming, safe, environment to enjoy this major life event.
I must admit it was certainly disappointing to learn from a newspaper article that there was a situation at the Square involving our students; no one reached out to me to express a concern, and as I prepare this letter, I still have not heard from anyone impacted by our prom students. Maybe it is only one person’s perspective; maybe there are others who are concerned, but I know for certain that our students, families, friends, and school system never intended to be a topic of discussion at a Covington City Council meeting, nor did they expect to end up on the front page of the newspaper.
This issue could be used as an opportunity to cast negativity on our community; everyone has different experiences and sees this matter through their personal lens. Through my lens, I see young adults in need of a community that supports them — all of them — not only in word, but in action. I see young adults who will look to their community to come together to cherish and celebrate them and to work to ensure they never end up the subject of controversy or inappropriate, tasteless commentary. In the school system, we teach our students about the importance of collaboration and express that the “jobs of the future” will require working together to solve problems.
While there is no way to predict who will show up to take pictures on the Square, or anywhere for that matter, we must be equipped and prepared to adjust to the conditions so that the public’s experience is high-quality and reflective of a community that values its young people — each and every single one of them.
As such, I stand prepared to “walk the talk” by working closely with our businesses, cities and county to ensure our prom-going students and their picture-taking, memory-capturing families and friends are celebrated, welcome and safe no matter where they choose to meet to enjoy the moments leading up to an event that happens only once in their lives and one time each year.
If we truly want our students to return to Newton County after graduation, to contribute to the local economy, raise their families and share their talents, skills and abilities, we must demonstrate, throughout their lives, that when faced with the tough dilemmas of community-building, we embrace one another and come together to respectfully resolve each of the issues we face. Communities that do this reflect our very own school system’s motto of “spirit, pride, and excellence.”
Samantha Fuhrey, Covington
Samantha Fuhrey is the superintendent of the Newton County School System.