Tessa Duvall joined The Florida Times-Union as the education, children and families reporter in December 2014. She graduated with Bachelor’s degrees in journalism and sociology from Western Kentucky University in December 2013 and spent a year reporting on education from the dusty oil fields of West Texas before moving to the Sunshine State. Her reporting focuses on the issues that affect children and families living in Northeast Florida. Tessa will be giving a talk at Western Kentucky University in March at the IdeaFestival (link). Tessa also spoke at our annual 2015 conference “Into the Machine” and now Tessa’s local school in Kentucky is showing her TEDxJacksonville talk in every homeroom.

1. How did the idea for your TEDxJacksonville talk get started?

My talk grew out of a story I reported on for The Florida-Times Union. I spent four months getting to know the Leadership Schools at Eugene J. Butler, and found that what I saw and experienced at the schools had little in common with the stereotypes that surrounded them. Knowing what so many of these kids had gone through, I couldn’t stand hearing them called “bad” kids. And so I set out to challenge, and hopefully change, that mindset.

2. What updates or progress have you seen since your talk?

The response has been so positive! I’ve had many people tell me they’ve called a school “bad” and now they feel guilty for not having considered the reasons it is that way. Since my goal was to change hearts and minds, that feels like great progress to me. I’ve also been overwhelmed with the number of educators who have shared with me their stories of working with kids in challenging schools, and how they feel like by telling Butler’s story, I’ve told their stories, too. The Leadership Schools are still growing in their second year. Right now, the district plans to leave the boys and the girls in the same building for at least one more year, though the hope is that the two soon grow to have their own campuses and high school grade levels. The schools did receive an ‘F’ grade from the state for testing done in their first year, which shows that even with a lot of support, it’s still tough to turn around struggling schools, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. Mr. Moreland and Ms. Williams are still at the helm, and my friend Ahmareon is still as bright and funny as ever. I’m also excited to share that I will be giving a talk similar to my TEDx Talk at the Bowling Green Idea Festival at my alma mater, Western Kentucky University, on March 18. My audience will primarily be high school students and their teachers, including students from my old school, Warren Central High School, so I will challenge them to think about the “Butlers” in their own communities. A local rotary club member had read my series and seen my TEDx talk about Butler, and invited me to speak at the club. It looks like some amazing things could come from this, and in no small part because of the exposure TEDxJacksonville allowed me to shine on the Butler Leadership Schools. Today is one of those days where I am so appreciative of the chance to tell the kids’ stories, and feel like my “idea worth spreading” could have a tangible impact that makes someone else’s life just a little bit better.

3. What are recommended resources related to your talk (books, websites, etc.)?

To learn more about the Butler schools specifically, you can take a look at my series for the Times-Union on Jacksonville.com. I plan to follow-up on the schools, kids and educators there in the years to come, too. To better understand the challenges in schools everywhere, I’m going to defer to the expertise of educators who have also given talks. Here are a few I have enjoyed:  

4. How can people take action on your idea (volunteering, sharing the message, etc.)?

You can start by never calling a school “bad” or “ghetto” again. That’s simple enough. But, you can also be an advocate for kids by getting involved in community meetings about school boundaries, program changes, etc. Community groups are always looking for adults to mentor kids if you’re looking for a way to be hands-on.

5. Who is your mentor, or who inspires you?

I have a wonderful mentor in fellow journalist and WKU alumna Kristina Goetz. She’s at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, now, but we met in 2012 at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee, when I was still an undergrad and intern. Kristina has always encouraged me to work hard and to be fearless in chasing big stories because I am capable of telling them. In her writing, she’s always able to beautifully convey the voice of the people she features, while also driving home the bigger picture; it’s the type of storytelling I try to do in my work, too.

6. What is your favorite TED or TEDx talk (aside from yours)?

“Women Entrepreneurs, Example Not Exception” by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon was an instant favorite for me. I’d never heard of this talk before TEDx organizers suggested it to me. Gayle is also a reporter who was speaking about people she’d met through her work. I found her passion for the women she met to be inspiring. She gave the women she had interviewed a voice in her talk, and I wanted to do the same for the kids and educators I’d met at Butler.  

7. What invention/idea do you hope will come to life within the next 10 years?

I hope 10 years from now that every child goes to a school where they feel safe, loved and supported, and that every school can offer access to a high-quality education. becka_gruber Author: Becka Lee Gruber