Next came a tour of the school: The library, greenhouse, band room and science classroom were only a few stops, where the Central students learned more about the rural district.
“In a place like this, the cool part about the culture of this school is that usually that leans more towards you supporting the people even though they might do things that you don’t like, or they might rub you the wrong way,” said Shawn Vomund, the band director, pausing from the podium to speak to the group of being in a small, rural community. “I think people in this school tend to support them because they know what they’re going through. They know their family situations. They know people they live with. They know the area where they live. And there’s a little bit more empathy there, at least from my perspective.”
Those were thoughts echoed by Fordland students, including junior Shelby Thomason.
“I feel like around here it’s a really tight-knit community,” Thomason said. “It’s important to see the difference and how it is in urban areas.”
Between seeing the science lab and the FFA leader trying to explain the definition of a section of land (640 acres), a surprise to some was the space. In one sense, it was the physical makeup of the building, which was more modern than some expected (and growing, said Grandel, describing a gym that’s set to rise in the coming months).
It also was seen in comparison to Central, which has many more students than the Webster County school. For comparison, Fordland High School’s 2022 graduating class was 29, while Central’s was 366. Another comparison, Central’s freshman class is larger than Fordland’s 6 –12 grades combined.
The schools, though, are similar in places that counts. According to the 2022 U.S. News & World Report, Fordland ranks fourth academically in the Springfield metro area, and Central comes in next at fifth.
“If you think about it, these schools are so different in size and a lot of things that they do, but academically, when they’re ranked, among their students, they’re number four and number five,” Johnson said.
Another similarity is seen through the teachers leading this effort: Grandel was named Missouri’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, and Johnson was a finalist for the same award in 2021. Those connections are how the teachers began discussing the concept for the student exchange, Grandel said.
“This project was one of my initiatives that I was getting ready to carry out before COVID,” Johnson said. “I didn’t know if I would ever be able to carry it out until Dr. Yvania Garcia-Pusateri, Chief Equity and Diversity Officer for Springfield Public Schools, informed us of the CFO Inclusive Opportunity Grant. I thought I’d give it a shot for the kids and the rest is a ‘step’ towards history.”
After the tour was complete, the Fordland High School student body gathered in the gym for an assembly, which began with a performance by the Step team. The dance style features synchronized percussive movements and routines, and also ties to storytelling and communication in African- American tradition and fraternities in historically Black colleges and universities.
The group of girls “strolled” onto the gym floor, where they showcased Step.
“Our motto, our saying, is ‘one family one sound’,” said Dr. Ashley Felton, student intervention administrator for Springfield Public Schools, during the assembly. “That’s why they took the last step together and strolled out together.”