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'We will not be going away'

SAYRE – Supporters of a change to the Sayre Redskin mascot were making their voices heard once again this week before the district’s school board, while also highlighting that a national group had joined the conversation.

The National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, which was behind the push to change the Washington Redskins name, joined the cause recently as the group sent a letter to the school district urging the change.

As she began her appeal to the board, Sayre resident Kimberly Firestine quoted Martin Luther King Jr., “For years now, I’ve heard the term wait, which almost always meant never. We must come to see with one of our distinguished jurists that justice too long delayed is justice denied.” Explaining the relevancy of the quote, she continued, “It’s relevant because pushing off this discussion denies justice to those that have suffered at the Native American themed mascot and imagery. It denies justice to those that have been denied the right to define themselves rather than being defined by others.”

As she explained during the previous school board meeting, she said the more than 2,500 alumni, community members, and groups such as Coalition of Natives and Allies, the National Congress of American Indians, and now the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, are willing to help make that transition to a new mascot happen.

“The National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media members have been fighting racist, degrading and insulting sports team, colleges, universities, high schools and other racist institutions for over four decades. NCARSM asks that the Sayre Area School District School Board remove the name ‘Redskins’ from everything associated with your school immediately,” the letter addressed to school board President Pete Quattrini said.

The letter from NCARSM pointed to the recent decision by the NFL team in Washington to remove the term Redskins from the organization following a 40-year effort.

“We are asking the Sayre Area School District Board of Education to remove the racist name from your school for all of the same reasons,” the letter continues. “The name Redskins is RACIST. The genesis of the name is associated with the rape and murder of Native American children, women and men. There is no place in our society for this name. There is no Honor in Racism!”

The national group ended the letter by threatening to file federal and state complaints as well as taking the fight to state officials.

“The NCARSM is asking that you remove ‘Redskins’ no later than September 1, 2020 or we will file complaints under applicable federal and state laws as well as notifying the appropriate State of Pennsylvania officials,” the letter stated.

At Monday’s board meeting, Firestine asked Quattrini if he had a response to the letter from NCARSM.

“Right now, I’m not prepared to respond to that,” the school board president said.

Back in July, Quattrini responded to the controversy by saying the district was happy to see people expressing their opinions, but school officials were focused on the upcoming school year and keeping the community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a school district, we appreciate these conversations and the viewpoints that have been expressed. However, our attention at this time, is on getting our students and staff back to school in August,” Quattrini said in a statement on July 15. “We must do so while protecting everyone’s safety and ensuring we deliver an equitable educational experience to all students.” Quattrini added that although the issue wasn’t set for any agenda in the near future, “We are committed to addressing important issues of equity and inclusivity to ensure we provide a safe and welcoming educational environment for the students and families we serve.”

Anne O’Connell-Umbrecht, a 1969 Sayre graduate, acknowledged how difficult making such a radical change must be for the school board. However, she said the district was making a name for itself even outside of the Philadelphia area, where she now lives, given that it is one of two districts in Pennsylvania still using the Redskin mascot.

“I don’t think that that’s the reputation that this wonderful community really wants to have going forward. It’s going to be very difficult for young people, especially young graduates of the school district to hold their heads proudly given the circumstances,” she said.

Firestine said the change can start simply by taking down its Redskin social media images and no longer using the hashtag #RedskinPride.

“This is not something we will allow to be swept under the rug,” she warned, “and until it is decided to make the change, we will not be going away.”

Local FFA Advisors wrestle with move to online-only 2021 PA Farm Show

The Pennsylvania Farm Show, a tradition that brings hundreds of thousands of individuals together in Harrisburg each year to celebrate the agricultural heritage and influence of the Keystone State with both competition and education will be held online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic; a move that will impact not only farmers and event goers from across the state but also high school FFA chapters.

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding announced the move to a completely virtual 2021 Farm Show on Wednesday along with the revealing of the 2021 theme, “Cultivating Tomorrow.”

“There are times in the life of a farmer when the risks are too great or uncertain, requiring farmers to make the tough decision to leave a field fallow. To protect our assets – both our people and our resources – from incalculable losses, we have made the tough decision to take a year to lie in fallow. Rather than an in-person Farm Show, we will celebrate Pennsylvania agriculture virtually for 2021 as we prepare for a productive future,” Redding stated Wednesday.

“We’ll look at our strengths and where we need to invest together in order to grow and cultivate for tomorrow. We’ll consider what has become crystal clear during the pandemic – that agriculture is essential for life; our people are resilient and innovative,” he continued. “We will focus on agricultural awareness, education, and literacy while highlighting the interconnectedness of our food chain.”

Bradford County FFA chapter advisors voiced their disappointment with the loss of one of the organization’s largest competitions and biggest opportunities for learning, as they believe an online version simply can not offer the same experiences.

“Farm Show is an opportunity to display our student’s hard work, to give them an opportunity to compete on a state level. It’s taking their classroom knowledge and giving them a change to display it in a hands-on way. Moving online takes not only the hands-on aspect away but also their opportunity to connect and meet other FFA members from across the state,” Troy FFA Advisor Brooke Ostrander stated.

“An online approach for anything is not the ideal way to experience an event in any capacity. Students as well as adults learn and have a much higher rate of retention when they experience opportunities in person,” added Athens FFA Advisor David Steinfelt. “The Farm Show is an opportunity to go to and physically experience Pennsylvania’s number one industry, while learning about its agricultural products, processes and career opportunities that are available in Pennsylvania. By attending the Farm Show, students get to see the impact that agriculture has on our state and local areas. It can be a source of encouragement for future generations of agriculturalists and a showcase as to why agricultural education is so extremely important in our schools and community.”

“Everything is impacted,” agreed Canton FFA Advisor Tom Hojnowski. “We spend days there ahead of time setting up a display and landscape. We spend half a year planning. We work with the Pennsylvania FFA in fundraising at a food booth. The personal experience of farm show influences and energizes FFA members.”

While some may question why the Farm Show has been cancelled more than five months in advance, all three FFA Advisors agreed that if the Show was to be cancelled, the length of time between the cancellation and the event was necessary as participation in the Farm Show takes months, and in some cases the entire year before it, to plan.

Steinfelt stated that given the current climate, the decision on whether or not to host the Show in person must have been difficult, and one that included multiple highly important factors.

“I see two sides. Health and safety takes precedence in the current situation we are in of course. Besides health and safety, a business decision also had to be made on behalf of the Farm Show because they need to plan well in advance for all of the events and costs for those events to happen,” Steinfelt commented, noting that other FFA events including the National Convention have been already cancelled as well. “On the other side, many state organizations and producers rely on the Farm Show for income.This will be another devastating blow to the agricultural industry and its economy.”

Though the loss of the in-person 2021 Farm Show will be greatly felt, according to Bradford County FFA Advisors, they are determined to continue forward with a goal of preserving FFA programs for the future and making the best out of this school year, some hopeful that local competition and camaraderie may still take place.

“We are putting in our time hoping FFA and 4H survive this time in history,” said Hojnowski. “The hands-on, active participation is the driving force in maintaining interest in such programs.”

“I believe that we can still convey the message about the importance of agriculture, as well as the opportunities our students can take advantage of by teaching in our agricultural programs,” Steinfelt told. “The agriculture teachers of Bradford County work very hard to get our students as many experiences as we can in the agricultural industry. Our county level career development events, farm tours, school wide education events and career shadowing opportunities help to showcase the importance of agriculture in our local area and state.

“The challenging part of this would be for the students missing the “WOW factor” to experience the culmination of our teaching at the largest indoor agricultural exposition in the US. Events such as Farm Show act as the bait for our hooks for students to become more involved in agricultural education and FFA,” he continued.

“I hope locally and state-wide we can in the near future hold other events for our members and work together to encourage them to stay active participants in the FFA,” Ostrander remarked. “These organizations build leaders of tomorrow and we don’t want to see them shatter.”

Steinfelt stated that while agriculture educators, parents, and school districts as a whole could become frustrated with the at times daily changes and potential confusion of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to remain patient and unified.

“Patience and understanding. We all need to practice it,” he said. “Schools and teachers are doing their best to prepare for an unprecedented school year. Parents are struggling to make the best decisions for themselves and children as well. It is easy to get frustrated with all of the things that are happening. Especially when things change daily. Just remember that we are all in this together and we are trying to do the best for everyone. Things always turn out better when we work together even though we don’t always agree.”

Redding stated Wednesday that more information regarding the 2021 Virtual Farm Show will be released as it becomes available.

Sayre increases substitute rates to stay competitive

SAYRE – Sayre Area School District substitute rates are going up following school board approval Monday in the interest of staying competitive with a neighboring school district.

“We’ve held our substitutes at the same rate of pay for at least two years and it might even be three years at this point,” said Sayre Business Manager Barry Claypool. “We were made aware recently that another local district had increased their rates ... it’s important (to stay competitive) when you’re in close proximity and people may be applying several places for some jobs. We want to recommend increasing our rates to be similar to what the neighboring district’s rates are.”

Sayre will increase the rate for a daily sub from $100 per day to $120 per day. Substitutes who fully commit to work for the district will now earn $140 per day.

Claypool explained to the school board that the increase in sub pay will probably increase the substitute from around $200,000 to close to $250,000.

The Sayre Area School District uses Employment Staffing Solutions for its substitutes.

Last week, the Athens School Board approved an increase to its substitute pay, bringing base substitute rates from $100 to $115 per day and pay for those who fully commit to substituting within the district from $125 to $135 per day.

Athens also uses Employment Staffing Solutions for its substitutes.