BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
A powerful message was delivered to South Greene High School students during Wednesday's "See You at the Pole" ceremony at the school.
"Let's forgive -- I've forgiven."
Those words were reported back to fellow classmates from the hospital bedside of Daniel A Birchfield Jr., a 15-year-old student who was stabbed multiple times by another student at the school on Tuesday morning.
Birchfield was airlifted to an area hospital, where he is recuperating from the stab wounds. The other student, whose name has not been released as yet because he is a juvenile, has been arrested and is facing a charge of attempted first-degree murder.
According to South Greene's principal, Dr. Cindy Bowman, one of the school's teachers volunteered to spend the day at the hospital with Birchfield on Tuesday, and, when that teacher was able to speak with him, the message of forgiveness was what Birchfield wanted to send back to his school.
Bowman said on Wednesday afternoon that there were probably twice as many students in
attendance for the voluntary "See You at the Pole" ceremony Wednesday morning than has been the case in recent years.
"You could feel the presence of the Lord here yesterday," Bowman said in a telephone interview. "A lot of people said they were praying for us; you could tell it."
'WE HAD ANGELS HERE'
Not only are South Greene's students making cards for Birchfield and their "hero," the female student who tackled the student who was stabbing Birchfield, but also other schools are working on gifts and sending flowers and food to the school, Bowman said.
"It's just a unique community. We take care of each other. We might want to beat each other at basketball and football and [end-of-course exams], but we take care of each other," she said.
She was delighted to hear on Wednesday afternoon that Birchfield is expected to be able to return to school next week.
"That's why we know we had angels here [Tuesday]," she said. "There was no doubt -- there were angels here. Not only real angels, but [also] the staff and the students of South Greene."
Bowman had high praise for the action of her faculty, staff and students immediately following the stabbing incident.
"It was amazing to me how well our faculty worked to secure the scene, to take care of our kids. It's just amazing," she said.
"The kids today told me that they were angry because they love their school; they have such pride in their school.
"You feel violated; I know our school felt that way," she added. "I was honest to the kids from the moment it happened. We talked, we let the kids talk, and I think it helped."
The principal praised the efforts of Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk in getting counselors to South Greene immediately to help the students, and in coordinating all the media contacts, etc., so that Bowman herself could be with the students.
Bowman also praised Sheriff Steve Burns for helping the school regain normalcy by placing extra squad cars at the school just so the students and parents would feel secure.
"You reflect back, and you never want to live through something like this. You just don't," she said. "It just seems like, when it happens to you, you're in such shock."
SEE YOU AT THE POLE
"See You At The Pole" is a national, annual event established some 20 years ago by interested citizens as a time when students and others who wished to do so could gather at their school flagpoles for a few minutes before the beginning of a school day to pray together for their school, their families, their communities, and the nation.
The event is student-led and entirely voluntary. The gatherings are often organized by Christian clubs at the respective schools, such as a school chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Over the years, a number of local schools,, including South Greene, have participated at their respective campuses.
Kimberly Shelton, a teacher at the school, described Thursday morning's events at South Greene in an email to The Greeneville Sun.
"The students are saddened by yesterday, but agree that they must carry on," Shelton said.
According to Shelton, SGHS senior Chelsea Bowers read scriptural passages from Matthew 17:20 and Isaiah 40:31 and talked about Tuesday's stabbing.
"'Prayer moves mountains,'" Shelton quoted Bowers as saying. "'Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. So trust in the Lord and we will soar high above this tragedy.'"
Shelton said that students gathered first in the gym, and then out at the flagpole, dividing into underclassmen and upperclassmen groups.
Each group had a devotional leader: Todd Neas and Caleb Shaw led the juniors and seniors, while Jared Casteel and Jeffrey Zavaleta led the freshmen and sophomores.
South Greene's Jr. ROTC cadets raised the flag as the students sang "Amazing Grace."
Pastor E.J. Swatsell, a former South Greene student, concluded the morning with a prayer asking blessings on the students, faculty, staff, community and families.
The South Greene "See You at the Pole" ceremony is sponsored by Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Soldiers for Christ.
Mosheim Elementary and Middle School also met at the pole, with approximately 250 or more students, parents, and teachers participating.
The student-led event included a brief message, as well as a time of song and prayer, according to attending parent Carla Ramsey.
"Even though God brought us rain this morning, it was perfect to go along with the national message of this year's theme: "If -- Then," Ramsey said in an email. "As the student that led the message today told us, if God delivered rain, then we find somewhere else to meet!"
According to Ramsey, the Scripture to match the theme was 2 Chronicles 7:14. She summarized this Scripture as, "If we pray/seek/turn, then God hears, forgives and heals."
Students then prayed in small groups before praying the Lord's Prayer all together.
"It was an amazing start to an amazing day," Ramsey said. "God is in our schools through our kids!"
Other participating schools included Greeneville High School and Chuckey-Doak High School.
At Greeneville Middle School, between 100-200 students participated in the gathering on the "front porch" of the school, according to teacher Holly Click.
"Three FCA students led in prayers for our school, community and state, and our nation: Sydni Lollar (8th grade), Hannah Leonard (8th grade), and Gabriel Seaton (7th grade)," Click said. "They also read quotes from notable historical figures."
Coach James Buchanan led the event at North Greene High School, where the approximately 30 students in attendance gathered in the gym because of the rain.
At West Greene High School, Principal Steven Tunnell said that rain decreased their attendance to about 25 students.
Coach Reece Baughard, Mark Greenlee and Mark Bowles joined students for a time of prayer, much of which likely focused on what the students at South Greene High School have gone through with the recent stabbing, Tunnell said.