NEWS-SENTINEL GUEST COLUMN: South Side class of 1999 still exceeding expectations

Bob Rinearson

Twenty years can slip by in the blink of an eye. You don’t have to tell that to Fort Wayne’s South Side High School Class of 1999.

Beginning on Friday, June 21st, and over the course of the weekend that followed, the adults who left behind their days with Fort Wayne Community Schools two decades prior came together to celebrate their 20-year class reunion.

I was on the staff of South Side from their freshman year to the time they received their diplomas from then principal Jennifer Manth. I came to South Side under a new program started by then Superintendent Thomas Fowler-Finn. He was a believer in the power of conflict mediation, a program designed to empower students via organized communication who if left unguided might engage in acts that would jeopardize their education.

Of course, not all students found themselves in conflicts that they couldn’t work through. But South Side, like every other school throughout America, was witnessing a dramatic shift in the types of influences and behaviors that was negatively impacting those of the younger generations. As a professional conflict mediator, I was responsible to provide the needed assistance for students to find viable and peaceful solutions when such issues as bullying, fighting, drugs, rumors and even parent-student conflict arose. It is my unshakeable belief that it was a good program, made even better by those students who offered support and involvement.

I had received an invitation from former student Asia Smiley to join their celebration. And so on that Sunday, I drove to McCormick Park, where these South Side Archers would enjoy a cook out, to reminisce before returning home, whether those homes were near or far.

Appearances change over the course of 20 years, but beneath the changes in hair styles and a few pounds added on here and there, in reacquainting myself with these young people I’d known all those years ago I quickly saw that their enthusiasm and lust for life had seemingly not changed.

Many of these former students were accompanied by their own children, some already into their teenage years. From those who were parents, it was made clear to me that their expectations of their children fulfilling their potential was every bit as important as the expectations placed upon them by their own parents and educators. Excuses not accepted.

From those who spoke to me, reflecting on their years at South Side, their appreciation for the teachers and administrators who had taught and supervised them during their four years was evident. And surprisingly, when considering how educators are moved from one school to another in this modern age under the guise of a new and better way to teach, 20 years ago the staff at South Side had stayed intact. There was the Ryans, the Ehles, the Johnsons and Waldschmidts. There was Ms. Saunders, Ms. Roof, Mr. Deitsche, Mr. Flynn and all the rest.

They experienced the inspired presentations of Phyllis Bush and the patriotic devotion of a former Marine named Holmes. They knew that Assistant Principal Roberta Foust held you to high expectations, and that Eddie Nolan would always remind you to get to class on time. I guess the good old days are gone.

But this class can hold their heads up high, for they have repaid those who spent years teaching them by reaching their potential, and then some. They were the last class of the 1900’s.

The type of mediation program like I was involved in no longer exists in Fort Wayne Community Schools. But nevertheless, what a grand experience it all was.