The parallel tragedy

Normally tranquil Jonesboro was rocked in the first minutes of Mother’s Day when gunfire erupted at a private party in a popular downtown venue. Two suspects are in custody, accused of killing one person and wounding six others when they fired into the crowd.

In smaller communities, violence like this hits close to home for just about everybody.

Local teachers know a lot of the kids involved in Sunday’s tragedy, as do local police. Countless local residents have been inside the location of the shooting, since it was a longtime restaurant setting before becoming a rent-out space for events and organizations.

A local church group had to cancel its weekly Sunday night services hosted there, but members still congregated outside to pray.

Young Monterio Barnes lost his life in the shooting, which forever changed the honor and recognition of the maternal holiday for his family into heartbreak and desolation.

“You don’t know which is worse, the shock of what happened or the ache of what never will.” The words of English author Simon von Booy resound with relevance and poignancy, although the magnitude of grief in such moments defies literacy or description.

As expected, the main suspect is no stranger to entanglements with law enforcement. Kalius Lane is only 20, but his brief stint as an adult is already peppered with a lifetime’s worth of police run-ins and arrests.

In addition to being out on bond for a kidnapping and armed robbery charge in Osceola, a local news outlet detailed no fewer than 12 incidents reported by the Jonesboro Police Department involving Lane from April 2015 to January 2017—including one in which Lane was allegedly seen in a local hospital with a gun in his back pocket.

In an unusual twist, Lane began posting about the shooting investigation on his Facebook page about 10 a.m. on Sunday.

He shared the press release about the crime from the Jonesboro Police Department and then posted, “This [expletive] sad [expletive] slandering my name frfr 100 Case beat.”

About fifteen minutes later, he added another post: “Feds wanna lace put me on murders tryna case,” which was followed by a middle-finger “bird” symbol, a police officer emoji and a palms-up shrug emoji.

An hour later, this: “The rest of my life just gone over some [expletive] Ian do. [Expletive] wanna cover up for the next [expletive] 100 Dirty world frfr,” followed with another bird.

Around noontime, a barrage of posts included this: “[Expletive] I’m shooting for and Ian get touched,” followed by laughing-to-tears emojis.

That indecipherable mess is a compounding, parallel tragedy.

It’s worth remembering that the state of Arkansas committed approximately $130,000 in resources to the suspected shooter’s education, including English classes every year.

That is not said in mockery. It’s posited in the spirit of pondering aloud the prudence of that investment in its current form as part of the far-flung public education system.

Maybe we should reconsider the one-size-fits-all approach funneled into schools, in terms of whether it truly serves kids coming from neglected, parentless, impoverished or other at-risk situations.

Rather than funding one large system, would that money be better invested in individual children at a younger age when home circumstances throw up early red flags?

It’s too late once a kid pulls a gun at a party.

But this shooting suspect was once an elementary student. Probably in class with 25 other kids. Possibly in a school with high free-lunch counts and low test scores.

Money spent that permits a child to slip through the cracks is more than mere waste. It paves the way for greater losses later on: damages caused by crime, court and incarceration costs, unrealized earnings and tax revenue. Not to mention the incalculable loss of individual potential, and what might have been.

We see this pattern over and over. It’s time we open up discussion on what has to change to alter it, with a willingness to slaughter some sacred cows if necessary.

Who’s to say that front-end loading the same $130,000 on private tutoring and mentoring through junior high wouldn’t produce better English? Maybe better behavior? Then as an alternative to traditional high school, provide an accelerated technical school path to a practical career. There might even be federal financial aid available for that. Or maybe lottery money.

Heaven knows we need resurgence in the skilled trades. Good plumbers, electricians, carpenters all stay busy.

The difference in cost to society between a kid launching a lifetime of productive work at 20 and a kid going to prison for life at 20 is literally in the millions.

We’re already spending significant money on every child’s education. It’s not too much to insist on equally significant results, or at least sufficient vigor to demand exploratory change when status quo inertia produces failure.

Uneducated kids who can’t communicate are tragedies unto themselves. Instead of being surprised when they beget further tragedies, shouldn’t we be trying more innovative things to prevent that first tragic deficiency?

Tomorrow’s violent criminals are in primary school today. Their paths can be changed. But not if nothing else changes first.


D.O. done right

This morning, the inaugural class of the New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University held its first White Coat Ceremony in Jonesboro.

The celebratory ritual marked more than just a rite-of-passage student transition from pre-clinical study to clinical health sciences. It also highlighted the first Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) medical school in the state, born of a unique private-public partnership that not only saved as much as $50 million in development costs, but also launched the school without additional tax-fund requirements.

Most importantly, the NYIT and A-State joint venture creates a crux at which health education investment aligns directly with an area of great medical needs. The counties bordering the Mississippi River in Northeast Arkansas have some of the highest incidences of chronic illness in the state—and their population is woefully underserved by doctors.

On Monday I got a chance to tour the new D.O. school, which is housed in the spectacularly renovated and updated Wilson Hall on the A-State campus.

The juxtaposition is just amazing: the circa-1932 stately facade and original art deco architecture, sporting an ultra-advanced, state-of-the-art interior that looks like the sick bay in Star Trek‘s Enterprise starship. It splendidly marries past and future, legacy and modernity.

Interior walls were removed, and the electrical and forced-air systems reworked, to transform traditional classroom spaces into specialized simulation emergency and operating rooms, clinical learning rooms, an anatomy lab and much more.

The training of M.D. and D.O. students is essentially the same, but the osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) lab highlights the additional principles and practices taught in D.O. schools, which regard the body as an interrelated, dynamic unit of function and structure with an innate healing ability.

The OMM lab is visually stunning when empty; in a few days it will be teeming with enthusiastic physicians-in-training who will transform the region’s health-care landscape much like their school has transformed Wilson Hall.

It’s fitting that the first new medical school in the state in over a century, unveiled in an historic university landmark, is also among the most technologically advanced. Every student is issued a souped-up iPad on which lectures, textbooks and myriad other class and study information is housed. In lounges, break rooms and study areas all over the school, large HD televisions are embedded with Apple TV connectivity and “airplay” so students can wirelessly congregate and collaborate.

The classrooms are marvels of modern advancements, with touchscreens driving large TV monitors that can display incredibly detailed anatomical data in the highest-definition resolution.

I fondly remember watching plays in the old Wilson auditorium, with its theater-red velvet seating. In its place now is an expansive lecture hall, laid out with sleek workspace tables facing an enormous screen (not as big as those seen at the recent political conventions, but close) onto which live links with instructors in New York can be streamed real-time.

The basement section where students used to eat and gather near the jukebox in the old Wigwam is now a gleaming, uber-connected example of innovative renovation. It’s a second lecture hall, sizable enough to accommodate all the students in an entire medical class, which will be a necessity when the next wave of students enrolls in 2017. Thanks to strategic HDTV placements, every seat has a great view even though structural support columns had to remain in place.

The debut D.O. class is a full-slate 120 students, with a waiting list of 150 more. Even more notably, half of those students hail from Arkansas. And osteopathic school statistics are definitive: students from non-urban areas who attend medical schools nearby tend to stay and practice in the same areas.

Digital connectivity is the enabler of remote learning, and walking through the new D.O. school and hearing about the cascading tiers of connection, it became clear this is a seminal education event. Major telecom providers collaborated to provide a direct fiber-optic line to link the Jonesboro and New York campuses, and the latest wireless and touchscreen integrated technology connects students with classrooms, lessons, training and textbook data.

A couple of decades ago, all this would have been little more than a wishful dream. The fact that it’s now a highly functional reality—that rural Arkansas medical students are hard-wired to Manhattan physician-professors in a full-service post-graduate program—indicates the potential to also transform rural K-12 public education.

A couple of decades from now (maybe sooner), schools in small towns could be using the same digital connectivity to link to urban campuses, and sharing specialty teachers and courses instead of having to expensively replicate them for smaller student populations.

State investments in education could be spread further among all districts, creating more access to better curricula while also preserving small schools—and their towns.

Imagine harnessing the most ardent education advocates in each small community behind a new, innovative vision of learning technology that erases geographic isolation as a barrier.

Vision, teamwork and community built the fabulous new D.O. school in Jonesboro. The same ingredients can also build a fantastic rural education system in Arkansas.