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Dana A. Jones: Riverheads High School grads stand strong

riverheadsThe recent controversy regarding one specific assignment from a long standing educator at a local high school is something that cannot be missed in our community. Whether you turn on the television, radio, or pop in for a quick check of Facebook, it’s splattered everywhere. Smeared across our small, sheltered society of Augusta County is the story of one teacher who dared to do the unspeakable, unimaginable act: teaching.

I’m sure everyone has had a chance to investigate the “controversial” assignment, but for the sake of comprehension let’s cover it again: Cheri LaPorte, a 9th grade World Geography teacher at Riverheads High School, gave a homework assignment to her class which included the attempt at copying Arabic calligraphy of the shahada, an Islamic statement of faith. The instructions were simple: “Practice Calligraphy” (typed in bold just above the instructions, mind you). “Here is the shahada, the Islamic statement of faith, written in Arabic. In the space below, try copying it by hand. This should give you an idea of the artistic complexity of calligraphy.” Just below these instructions was the shahada in Arabic, then beneath that a large box for the students to try their hand at a replica. This piece of paper is our controversy. A homework assignment is our biggest terrorist threat here in Augusta County, Virginia.

As a graduate of Riverheads High School, class of 2007, I tried to remember my own World Geography class with Mrs. LaPorte. I remember being excited at the opportunity to learn about something other than the Civil War and someplace other than the United States, which was pretty much the only history or geography lesson I received up until high school. I also remember having Mrs. LaPorte once before in middle school for some sort of social studies class, mainly involving economics. Mostly, I remember Mrs. LaPorte’s face. She had a mother’s face, the kind that is sweet and inviting. Nothing about her or her lessons was intimidating. She pulled you in with her excitement about the world and it rubbed off onto her students. She got us involved. Unlike most teachers, she didn’t talk at you and lecture you about whatever it was she was teaching that day. We didn’t sit there, with our pens pressed firmly into our notebooks, trying for the sake of the SOLs to jot down every note written on the board because she wasn’t that type of teacher. She was better than that. She still is.

Just a few days ago this all surfaced, coming up in every Facebook post on my newsfeed. Reluctantly, I clicked on the article and read the absurdity about a teacher trying to secretly convert her students to Islam. I immediately thought about the Paris attacks, and the following dispute of governors not allowing Syrian refugees into their states, and then the next argument about the government funding going to said refugees. My brain spun. How did we all get so backwards? Isn’t this 2015? Isn’t this the land of the free, home of the brave? Of course, I put in my own two-cents on social media, proud that I had been one of the firsts to comment. I supported Mrs. LaPorte, condemned those who would think so foolishly, and even threw in some expletives because, let’s face it, I don’t have that good Christian upbringing. What I do have is a culturally diverse upbringing thanks to my father’s 21 years in the Air Force, something I believe has made me more open-minded and accepting. I was prepared for the onslaught of ignorance and crude remarks, the name calling and bible quoting. What I wasn’t prepared for was the acceptance and love of this insignificant little county. My fellow RHS graduates stood strong behind their beloved teacher. They stood together, ready to combat the small-mindedness of the place they call home. They stood like gladiators, uniting under Spartacus to take on all of Rome, and I was one of them.

I’m not proud of the small lynch mob that has formed against Mrs. LaPorte. I feel ashamed to be in the same minute location as them. I am proud, however, to see the ever-growing number of supporters. Every time I see a fellow RHS grad speak out about the ludicrous allegations against Mrs. LaPorte and her assignment, I realize just how lucky I was to attend a school that taught not only acceptance and tolerance, but also the importance of standing up for what is right.

Riverheads is doing something right with their students.  This is just another test, an assessment on ethics or morals, and the graduates have passed with perfect scores.

Dana A. Jones is a 2007 alum of Riverheads High School.


augusta free press
augusta free press