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April Baumgarten, Press Assistant Editor

Baumgarten: A tale of two schools

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I participated in a lot of activities when I was in school. As a Belfield High School student, many of my interests involved co-oping with South Heart High School. I made plenty of friends playing golf and volleyball. We always had a good time and even won a few tournaments.

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But there was always one sentiment that lingered between the two communities: Belfield and South Heart will never share a classroom.

That’s why I was so shocked to open a letter from Belfield Public School. I thought it was the monthly newsletter, but I was wrong. A 4-by-6-inch card fell to the ground. The question I saw on it would have been enough to turn some people’s stomachs.

“Would you support a 7-12 school between Belfield and South Heart?”

The horror! Who would dare to suggest such a thing?

OK, I’m exaggerating, at least I hope I am. The two schools had a basketball game called, “The Feather Bowl.” It was all about competition, but sometimes it turned into more. The game personified the feelings of the two towns toward each other.

So to get that letter was a surprise, but the question seemed so familiar.

When I was in school, there were talks of joining the two schools. This was approximately 10 years ago, when the area was experiencing dramatic drops in enrollment. Schools were closing left and right. The only sport Belfield and South Heart hadn’t joined hands on was basketball. It made sense to build a school together, right?

There was a catch. The school needed a location. The taxpayers had to choose between the two cities.

And that’s when feathers flew. People made their arguments, claiming Belfield was too old — the tower was built 80 years ago — and South Heart is too small — that’s debatable since the level of the student’s academic ability, size of class and special needs come into play, South Heart Superintendent Riley Mattson said. They also did not want to ship their children to another town. No matter what students from one school would have to drive 20 miles to and from the other city. Parents were not happy about that.

And who could blame them? A school is the heart of any town. It pumps children into society. Without a school, a once thriving city becomes a bedroom community on its deathbed.

In the end, the taxpayers said no and the issue died. The schools continued to co-op for activities only.

But the question came back. The gap was narrowed in 2007 when Belfield and South Heart said goodbye to their respective birds and hello to their new team name and mascot, the Heart River Cougars.

As the last of the Bantams, I was a little disappointed to see the miniature chicken fly the coop, but I knew it had to happen if we wanted to keep our sports.

Now Belfield and South Heart face the same question but with similar circumstances.

The schools have outgrown their facilities. The buildings need several updates. This project is going to cost a lot of money, especially with an oil boom driving up the price of land and construction. There is no reason the state can’t allocate funds to the project but, more than likely, residents are going to see a mill levy increase.

When it comes down to it, the two schools have to look at all their options, but they can’t do it without each other. If this process is going to work, the boards, administrators and parents are going to have to work together to find the best solution.

It looks like they are off to a good start. Belfield residents showed support during a meeting at their school. The schools are working together to collect input. That’s a start.

But it doesn’t stop with a comment card. The two schools need to work on a game plan. We won’t know what the solution is for a while. I would like to think since all sports have joined together that the feud between the two towns has dissipated. Sharing schools seems like a reasonable answer, but is it the right one?

The boards are working together. The students are playing together. Now it’s time for the communities to help each other. Stand together or fall apart.

Baumgarten is the assistant editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at abaumgarten@thedickinsonpress.com. Read her past posts on her blog at baumsaway.areavoices.com.

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April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined The Dickinson Press as the assistant editor in January 2014 and was named news editor in October 2014. She helps lead a team of top-notch news reporters and plays a role in coordinating design for western North Dakota's award-winning newspaper. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican, where she helped the two newspapers win numerous awards.   
(701) 456-1210
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