A1 A1
East Texans remember 9/11 with memorials, tribute events
  • Updated

On Sept. 11, 2001, four United States commercial planes were hijacked in the most devastating terrorist attack on U.S. soil, to date. A total of 2,977 people were killed in New York City, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

At the World Trade Center, 2,753 people were killed when American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 were intentionally crashed into the North and South Towers.

Of those who perished during the initial attacks and the subsequent collapses of the towers, 343 were New York City firefighters, 23 were New York City police officers and 37 were officers at the Port Authority.

At the Pentagon in Washington, 184 people were killed when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 40 passengers and crew members aboard United Airlines Flight 93 died when the plane crashed into a field.

On Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, and the days leading up to the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, Americans across East Texas came together to honor the victims of 9/11.

School children dressed in red, white and blue for special memorial services, businesses and towns put up flags, museums shot cannons, parades filled the streets, and first responders paid tribute, among many others.

Several football teams, including the Rusk Eagles, paid special tribute under the Friday night lights.

Schools such as Jack Elementary, Rusk Intermediate, Bullard Elementary, Brook Hill School, and Bishop T.K. Gorman Catholic School held special ceremonies or participated in classrooms activities honoring the anniversary.

East Texas locals held a 9/11 Tribute Patriot’s Parade Saturday morning which left out of Flint Baptist Church.

First responder leaders from the Tyler Fire Department, EMS, the Tyler Police Department, Tyler ISD Superintendent Marty Crawford, Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran and Mayor Don Warren joined veteran caregivers from Christus Trinity Mother Frances Health System for remarks, prayer and a short ceremony on Friday.

On Saturday morning, Smith County held a 9/11 Commemorative Memorial Service where Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith, Tyler Police Chief Jimmy Toler, Smith County Fire Marshal Jay Brooks, Tyler Fire Department Chief David Coble, Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran, state Rep. Matt Schaefer, state Rep. Cole Hefner, and Congressman Louie Gohmert spoke to a crowd in downtown Tyler.

Smith County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Sgt. Larry Christian said ahead of the memorial service it was hard to believe the tragic event happened 20 years ago.

“It seems almost impossible that it has been 20 years since the cowardly attacks on our great nation. Thousands of innocent lives were lost and countless others have perished from residual effects from the events of that day. This has forever changed the fabric of our country, but our resolve should still be the same,” Christian said.

Despite America’s shared grief in the aftermath of 9/11, hope, resilience, and unity lifted up the nation.

Twenty years later these events are a reminder that through adversity, the nation continues to show resolve to the world, and how, in the face of unfathomable loss, America rose as one, and continues to do so.

It is a reminder that “We Remember” and we will “Never Forget.”

Moore MST Magnet School gym dedicated to former principal and coach
  • Updated

Tyler ISD administrators, along with former educator and coach Al Harris and his friends and family, gathered Friday at Moore MST Magnet School for a special ceremony to dedicate the gymnasium as the Al Harris Gymnasium.

Harris served the middle school for 27 years. He began his career at Tyler ISD as a teacher and coach at Moore Junior High in 1970.

During his career, he also served as head coach and campus athletic director.

Harris accomplished much during his time as coach, including coaching Tyler ISD alumnus, Heisman Trophy winner and former professional football player Earl Campbell.

After a successful career that included numerous Moore championships, Harris became principal of Moore Junior High until his retirement in 1997. Under his leadership, Moore Middle School’s faculty, staff, and students were recognized for having the most improved tests scores in Texas in the 1989-1990 school year.

In 1992, First Lady Barbara Bush visited Moore Junior High to recognize the school for academic excellence and as a drug-free and disciplined campus. Later that year, the campus was again recognized when a delegation of students and teachers attended a White House ceremony hosted by President George H.W. Bush. In 1993, Moore Middle School received the Governor’s Excellence Award as a Top 10 School in Texas.

At the ceremony, Harris reflected on his accomplishments.

“I had a tremendous staff. They were unbelievable. I think if I’d left campus for a week, they’d carry on. They were that caliber of people, and I appreciate it,” he said.

Harris based his administrative philosophy on high expectations for teachers and students and maintaining discipline among the students while instituting curricular and co-curricular programs focused on the skills necessary to exceed the state of Texas standards.

Tyler ISD Board of Trustees President Wade Washmon said there wasn’t anyone more worthy than Harris to have a facility named after him.

“Mr. Harris, as a principal, you had high expectations. You kept a clean campus, you believed in discipline,” said Washmon, who also attended Moore Junior High.

He said the atmosphere created at Moore was as good as it got back then.

“I know that started from the top, Mr. Harris. Thank you for that,” Washmon said.

Moore MST Principal Aubrey Ballard said Harris’ 27 years of service reminds everyone of the value of putting down roots where planted.

“We’re still reaping the benefits of that tradition today,” he said, and recognized former staff also in attendance.

“We’re so proud to refer to this now as the Al Harris Gymnasium, and we appreciate the community for providing. We look forward to many more contests within these walls and many more celebrations to come,” Ballard said.

Harris gave his closing remarks.

“I’m thankful to God that I had the opportunity to be at Moore Middle School,” said Harris as he choked back tears, and thanked everyone.

Since his retirement from Tyler ISD, Harris and his wife Pat reside on their cattle ranch near Hawkins. He is involved in community agencies and serves as a board member for the USDA Soil and Water Conservation District, Wood County Appraisal District, Upper Sabine Valley Solid Waste Management District and Sabine-Neches Resource Conservation and Development Area Council. The Harrises are also members of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, where he serves as a deacon.

Bible verse 9.12.21

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2)

top story
Brownsboro ISD increases emphasis on mental health with counseling spaces
  • Updated

Recognizing the importance of mental health in students’ lives, Brownsboro ISD this year has created counseling spaces on each of its six campuses.

Students and parents filled out surveys which showed the increased need for a space where students could feel safe.

When students returned to classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, administrators saw an increased need to prioritize mental health.

“We really wanted to broaden what we were doing with counseling with more small group interventions and whole group counseling,” Rita Gray, Brownsboro ISD director of federal and special programs, said.

With this in mind, the campus counselors got together and decided to create counseling centers at each campus.

With the help of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief III, or ESSER III, funding, which prioritized social and emotional learning, each counselor was able to create a space for students.

ESSER III funding comes from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan to help fill student learning gaps resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ami Patterson, Chandler Elementary School counselor, said she’s thankful to have the opportunity to provide a safe space for the kids both individually and as a group.

“The original idea was a campus counseling center because we knew that we had (mental health) needs that we’d identified for our kids,” Gray said. “Just going through the pandemic, a lot of kids were coming back or were scared of coming back from a home school situation.”

While counseling offices have been and still are in use at Brownsboro, the district saw a need for a space where students could feel comfortable and confident in sharing their feelings.

“We have a lot of kids that just need a spot to get away, and I have incorporated calm-down corners in every class but sometimes it’s just not enough,” Rebecca Garlington, Brownsboro Elementary counselor, said. “My office is like a closet size so I’m very excited to have a room to use.”

The counseling offices will still be put to use, Gray said. However, these offices vary across campuses and are sometimes multifunctional.

“We wanted it to be somewhere safe, somewhere inviting because there’s going to be times when we have a student that makes an outcry and we want them to feel as safe as possible,” Gray said. “They’re probably going to divulge information that is unexpected and not easy to hear. So we want them to feel like it’s safe.”

Paula Stephenson, Chandler Intermediate School counselor, said she’s excited to provide kids with a more home-like atmosphere. Spaces like this give students the opportunity to open up and share, she added.

Gray added the counseling centers also work great for other counseling services Brownsboro offers.

In the next week, nonprofit Next Step Community Solutions, based out of Tyler, will begin sending licensed counselors to each of the campuses on a weekly basis to help students, Gray said. This is a great way for students to receive counseling services without having to seek the services out, she added.

They have also recently partnered with the University of Texas System on a program called Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine. This program allows students to meet virtually with a counselor up to four times. At the end of those sessions, the student can get a referral if needed.

Gray said the addition of counseling spaces is helping counseling staff work toward being more proactive than reactive.

In today’s world, mental health is beginning to be more recognized and talked about. Many children are struggling and the Brownsboro ISD staff wants them to know that they matter and seeking help is good, Gray said.

Gray said that she has noticed that unless someone is educated in or understands the importance of mental health, they will sometimes say a person is “crazy” when they are actually struggling with depression, anxiety or another condition.

“We’re trying to shift the mindset. Instead of saying, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ it’s more of a, ‘What has happened to you? What have you endured?’ and it’s just kind of changing that mentality,” Gray said.

Talking about these safe spaces and counseling in a positive light will help counseling become more normalized for students, she said.

Gray said there have been pushes for mental health lately and she’s excited to see the change.

According to Texas House Bill 589 that went into effect at the beginning of this month, 80% of a counselors’ time is to be spent providing direct services to kids. These services include one-on-one counseling, group counseling and whole group counseling.

“I think (counselors) all want to spend 100% of their time counseling kids. That’s the goal, it’s just making time for all of the other stuff that comes up too,” Gray said.

The Texas Education Agency has also distributed Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for social and emotional learning just like the agency would for core subjects. TEKS are the state standards for what students should know and be able to do, according to the TEA.

Gray said she’s excited to see how this can correlate in the classroom. She’s working on applying this not only for counselors to implement but for teachers as well.

“We want to have everyday discussions about the counseling centers and mental health so that it’s normal, plain and simple,” Gray said.

Trial date set in case of fatal Athens ISD bus crash
  • Updated

A trial date has been set for an Athens ISD bus driver charged in connection with the death of one child and injuries to another in 2019.

John Franklin Stevens, 81, of Mabank, who was driving a school bus when it was struck by a train in January 2019, is charged with criminally negligent homicide and injury to a child. He is out of jail on bond.

Judge Scott McKee of the 392nd District Court on Thursday set Feb. 22, 2022, as the jury trial date, according to Henderson County judicial records.

Christopher Bonilla, a 13-year-old seventh-grade student at Athens Middle School, died as a result of his injuries from the crash. Joselyne Torres, a 9-year-old student at Central Athens Elementary, was injured.

The Henderson County District Attorney’s Office recused itself from the case in February of this year, according to the judicial records. Thomas O. Cloudt with the Texas Attorney General’s Office is currently serving as the prosecution for the trial.

Stevens is represented by attorneys Justin Weiner, Brian M. Schmidt and Mike Head.

“This was a tragic accident and we are looking forward to resolution,” Weiner said.

In August 2020, McKee granted immunity for two Union Pacific employees, Robert Ray and Roger Johnson, who were operating the train involved in the crash.

The state requested immunity in exchange for the Union Pacific employees’ testimonies. Under this immunity deal, Ray or Johnson would not face criminal liability if they were to testify.

According to a report from the Federal Railroad Administration, the bus driver’s failure to stop caused the crash. The bus stopped before the railroad crossing but then kept moving forward onto the tracks, where it was struck by the train.

In August 2020, Weiner said he and Schmidt and Head are proud to represent Stevens, but now they’re fighting Union Pacific and the government.