By Rebecca LaFlure and Rebecca Hertz
Killeen Daily Herald
Mahogany Moore was always a shy child. The 12-year-old from Live Oak Middle School said she used to avoid talking with other students as she walked up and down her school's halls.
But Moore has since opened up to her peers. She enjoys going to class now.
Moore was one of hundreds of students who packed the Manor Middle School building Saturday for the NAACP's Back 2 School/Stay in School rally and symposium.
The annual event was created 10 years ago to build self-esteem in local students and motivate them to stay in school.
Moore, who first attended the rally three years ago, said the event's friendly and inclusive atmosphere is what encouraged her to get involved in her community.
She's now a member of her school's band, the local Boys and Girls Club and assistant chaplain for the NAACP youth council.
"I've opened up," Moore said. "I'm more mature, and I like to get involved at school. … I used to be too shy to say hi to people. Now I meet new people all the time."
The campus was abuzz with activity as parents, educators, students and community supporters braved the rainy morning to attend Saturday's rally.
Its theme, "Let us not forget knowledge is power," was displayed on T-shirts and on signs posted throughout the building.
The four-hour event was open to the public and included guest speakers, games, exhibits, local entertainment and door prizes.
Interactive breakout sessions were led by volunteers and educators to help students learn in a fun and interactive way.
Some sessions focused on math and science activities to help students improve on their TAKS exam while others prepared students for life after high school.
"These kids deal with a lot of peer pressure from drugs to teenage pregnancy," said TaNeika Driver, the rally's coordinator. "We encourage the students to be a leader and not a follower."
Killeen Independent School District Superintendent Robert Muller, one of the event's speakers, encouraged students to take advantage of the education offered to them.
"This economy is truly a knowledge-based economy," Muller said. "The income you receive when you try to enter the workforce … is substantially more if you finish high school."
Copperas Cove ISD Superintendent Rose Cameron expounded further on Muller's comments, and illustrated the financial benefits of an education.
She said a high school graduate earns an additional quarter of a million dollars compared to those without a diploma, and a bachelor's degree will increase lifetime earnings by $2.1 million.
"Our world is in a mess and it didn't get there in the last six months," Cameron said. "You guys have the knowledge and the power to fix it."
In 2008, 85.7 percent of KISD students graduated high school, compared with 84.9 percent in 2007. The CCISD high school completion rate decreased from 91.2 percent in 2007 to 86.4 percent in 2008.
Ann Farris, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University-Central Texas, co-executive director for the Food Care Center in Killeen and campaign chairperson for the United Way, said the future is a gift from God that has yet to be defined.
"God will give us hope in the future," she said, "We have some work to do to make it happen."
Not all students attended the rally to be inspired. Cherisse Delgado, a senior at Harker Heights High School and vice president of the NAACP youth council, said she's attended for the past four years to inspire other students to reach their full potential.
She said a couple of her friends considered dropping out of high school because of bad grades.
"I told them to keep going, and we are almost there," she said. "I like keeping people positive."
For students like Moore, the annual event helped motivate her to achieve her goals. She has big aspirations for life after high school. She wants to join the Navy and become a nurse and doctor, she said.
"You can become whatever you want to become," Moore said.
Contact Rebecca LaFlure at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548.
Contact Rebecca Hertz at email@example.com or (254) 501-7469.