School board discusses cords worn at graduation

By Amanda Dodson -
The Stokes County School Board listened to South Stokes students make a request to wear FFA cords at graduation this week. - Amanda Dodson | The Stokes News

Stokes County Superintendent Dr. Brad Rice made the decision on Monday night to allow South and North Stokes FFA (Future Farmers of America) club members the opportunity to wear their cords at this week’s graduation ceremonies.

Conversation was sparked on social media weeks earlier and more than 100 people weighed in with their thoughts and concerns.

South Stokes senior Sarah Birkholz was one of three students who addressed the school board about the issue on Monday.

“Over the past 13 years we have all strived for the day that is a major milestone in our lives – graduation. As soon as you reach middle school and high school you are strongly encouraged by teachers, administrators and parents to join clubs and find your fit. As for myself, knowing I speak for many others, joining clubs is what we did. Over the past four years especially, countless students have devoted themselves to community service projects, clubs that not only benefit the school, but also benefit the community,” she said.

The teen went on to say, that it was academic honors, grades, and standardized testing that only seem to catch the eyes of administrators.

“Everything rides on how a student performs on tests. At the end of the day, not every kid learns the same nor has the academic ability to be in organizations such as Beta Club. We come to you today in hopes you can help us recognize the well-rounded students we have here in Stokes County.”

She asked the board to consider allowing the FFA members to wear the cord they received from their teacher at Friday’s graduation.

Rice knew in advance the students were speaking on the issue and commended each one for going through the correct channels and following policy regarding the matter.

“I’d like to talk about where we’re coming from and how we got to where we are today,” he said. “There’s not a board policy that specifies if cords would be worn, would not be worn, it’s left up to administrators and the teachers at the schools.”

Principal at North Stokes, Nathan Rasey shared the history behind their decision to only allow students with a weighted 3.8 grade point average wear honor cords at graduation.

“North traditionally has only presented honor cords as an academic award and to the best of my knowledge, it’s been that way since the school started,” he said. “But it is a dilemma because we have FFA students, we have students involved in Habitat for Humanity, local EMS and the fire department, American Red Cross and it goes on and on. They are all wonderful organizations.”

Those students achievements are recognized, the principal stated. The school hosts an award’s day and a senior banquet.

“If this is a school level decision, I think it gets in a little tricky territory when you start to consider all the different things. All three of these high schools don’t do the same thing and we never have. Academically we don’t offer the same courses; we don’t all offer the same athletics, the same clubs. Some would say that that’s inconsistent, but a lot of those are distance. Unless we go swimming in the Dan River, we’re not going to have a swim team at North. There’s a lot that play in the local decisions that makes each school unique.”

Principal at South Stokes, Johnna Cheek said she echoed much of what Rasey said and traditionally it was academic achievement recognized on graduation day.

“I certainly do not debate the contributions our FFA have made to our schools and our community. They have done exactly what they’ve said. They’ve gone above and beyond and care tremendously about the program at South Stokes and the program throughout the county,” she said.

Rice noted, he’d spoken with assistant superintendent Tony George, former principal at West Stokes and they have been allowed to wear different cords, recognizing a variety of clubs, throughout the years.

School board member, Pat Messick said she’d like to see more consistency within the high schools regarding graduation.

Vice chair of the school board, Sonya Cox agreed.

“The way I look at it, I feel like there’s a lot of kids that don’t excel in the classroom. I think there are things they can learn from being in these clubs that they’ll take with them the rest of their lives.”

She added, any achievement should be recognized and the FFA cord doesn’t take away from the honor cord.

“Everyone may not know what those cords mean watching from the stands, but it means something to those kids wearing them and that’s all really matters,” she said.

Chairman Jamie Yontz nodded in agreement.

“I don’t want to put these three that spoke this evening on the spot, but I’m going to say you’re honor students and you’re up here fighting for FFA cords. It means something to them. This year we should let them wear cords,” he said.

Rice made the decision to allow the FFA members to wear their cord at graduation, along with any other school club who’d been previously presented cords at award’s day or senior banquet.

This summer, before the upcoming school year begins, the superintendent suggested principals and teachers come together and form a consistent policy to be utilized in the future.

Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.

The Stokes County School Board listened to South Stokes students make a request to wear FFA cords at graduation this week. Stokes County School Board listened to South Stokes students make a request to wear FFA cords at graduation this week. Amanda Dodson | The Stokes News

By Amanda Dodson