Cold mornings, early sunsets, Thanksgiving time. It is the end of the high school football season this year, Central Falls High School has won the Division III state championship. This year feels special. A group of dedicated and talented coaches and athletes worked together, against the odds, to achieve this amazing feat. Winning a championship is difficult enough, but it is much harder when a team must overcome uniquely adverse conditions. I celebrate the determination and tenacity of the team, but also think it is a good time to remind the governing bodies in our state about the conditions of Central Falls.
This season, as was the case with last season, the students of Central Falls High School did not have a “home” field. Every game for the football team and the boys and girls soccer teams, were away games. The field where previous teams played—across the street from the Wyatt Detention Jail—has been condemned due to environmental factors. But even the lack of a field did not stop the team.
We have eight varsity football starters in our anatomy class and our class discussions about the human body have benefited from their presence in the class and isn’t unusual for us to connect bones, muscles, joints, injuries, and tissues to the players and the season. These boys, their coaches and their families deserve to be celebrated not as some fluke, but as yet another remarkable accomplishment in this comeback city.
Accomplishments here in Central Falls are written off too often. Whether it was the Science Olympiad win, the national chess championship, the boys’ state soccer championship, the girls’ volleyball championship, the unified basketball championship, or other countless successes that I have personally witnessed, the “the stars were aligned this time” commentary seems to be a constant. When will we push back on the good luck narrative and instead begin to see them as proof that talent and achievement can define poor communities too? Winning against so many odds is an even greater accomplishment, not some fluke or gift from the universe.
If nothing else, I hope this year’s football champions will serve as a reminder of why it is important to invest in the youth of Central Falls. If we don’t teach these children to become problem solvers who persevere through adversity and yes, injustice, problems are inevitable. The problems include but are not limited to health-related concerns, incarceration, unemployment and underemployment, and all the economic baggage that often follows low income children into adulthood.
As we celebrate the football team’s super bowl win, we must consider that the lack of a field is only one of the many injustices that our students face every day. A locker room without showers, zero music instruction—no music classes, no band, no chorus—overcrowded classes, a decrepit school building, a limited number of electives, and the hyper-segregation of students with special needs. All of this matters.
Since the state takeover of the city’s schools when I was a student in the early 1990’s, we have had opportunities to create a fully innovative school system where RIDE could invest to create model schools and where all students could reach their highest potential and discover their passion. Instead, we have a current system that falls short of the minimal requirements that any governing leader would accept for their own children’s’ schools. Yes, the football championship is cause for celebration but let it also be a flare—a reminder—that our kids deserve better. Let’s figure out how to help ALL children become the problem solvers our world needs.
David Upegui is a science teacher at his alma mater, Central Falls High School. David was selected as a state finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in 2015. He is also a recipient of the NABT’s Evolution Education Award, 2014; Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence, 2013; Latino Public Radio, Outstanding Achievement, 2013; and RIDE’s Golden Apple, 2012.