What it Means to Be a Dragon
Aug 02, 2016 03:14PM ● Published by Ashley Pape
By Audrey Sellers
Dragon Nation is a place all its own. From the outside looking in, it may seem like a town bustling with devout super-fans who have custom license plates and Dragon flags adorning their SUVs. And actually, it is. When you’re a Dragon fan, you’re proud to tout your devotion to the green and white. Whether your family is new to the community or you’ve lived here for decades, there’s no denying it: Being a Dragon is unlike anything else. It’s not just a school mascot; it’s part of who you are. It’s in your blood.
Those who aren’t Dragons often don’t understand SLC. Just consider D Magazine’s venomous 2007 cover story, “Why You Should Hate Southlake.” The feature didn’t just infuriate an entire population (and trigger mass subscription cancellations); it shattered records for the magazine. It’s D’s No. 2 top-selling issue, second only to the 2014 issue featuring famed local radio DJ Kidd Kraddick.
When D Magazine published that article nearly a decade ago, the staff knew it was going to, at the very least, rile up our city. They also knew what the people of Southlake have known all along: Dragon culture is something truly special. If it wasn’t, most D readers wouldn’t care about our traditions, Friday night lights or anything we’re doing in the ’burbs of Northeast Tarrant County. And D’s publisher wouldn’t have heard the cha-ching from all those magazine sales.
Southlake Carroll certainly evokes intense feelings on both sides of the Dragon den, but what does it mean to be a Dragon, really? For the answer, one must first take a look back.
FIRING UP THAT DRAGON PRIDE | How does a school district settle on a mascot? By listening to the students. In the 1950s, a student named Tony Eubanks thought “The Dragons” would make a good name for Carroll’s co-ed softball team, which happened to be in need of a moniker. The name stuck. Fast-forward nearly 70 years, and though there are new administrators, teachers, students and campuses, Dragon pride is as strong as ever.
One reason is because camaraderie is naturally built in. Unlike other districts, everyone in Carroll is a Dragon. Beginning in preschool and kindergarten classrooms, students are raised as Dragons. Stop by an elementary campus, and when teachers roar “Carroll!” students respond with a resounding “Dragons!” With each year in the district, Dragon pride only grows fiercer. When students are taught to protect the tradition, they take it seriously. Have you ever seen someone step on the Dragon mosaic in the entryway of Carroll Middle School? Don’t bet on it. It’s tradition for eighth graders to teach seventh graders to protect the dragon.
Leslie Elkins can vouch for it. She teaches language arts at CMS and is the recipient of Carroll’s 2015-16 Secondary Teacher of the Year Award. Elkins appreciates the tight-knit bond that exists between Dragons—even more now that she’s part of it. She’s been a teacher in the district for five years and, after growing up in the area (she attended Grapevine High School), Elkins is proud to be a member of Dragon Nation.
“I always knew Carroll was a great district. It’s a huge honor to work here,” she says. “I love that every school is a Dragon. I feel like I’m connected with teachers I might not ever teach with. And students feel connected to each other even if they don’t go to the same school.”
Amy Evans, a first-grade teacher at Old Union Elementary School and Carroll’s 2015-16 K-6 Teacher of the Year, agrees that when everyone’s a Dragon, it breeds loyalty and unity. Schools within Carroll ISD aren’t just places of learning; they’re places of bonding under the shared experience of being a Dragon.
“There’s an overwhelming sense of family here, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that every campus is Dragons,” she says. “In other districts, there is competition and rivalry between schools. Here, we grow up as one big family. We support each other and root for each other.”
This sense of community and Dragon pride is recognized well beyond the bubble. Evans remembers wearing a Carroll T-shirt 1,500 miles away in New York. Someone recognized the Dragon logo and struck up a conversation with her. When you’re a fan of the green and white, it’s hard to remain anonymous. It seems everyone knows about Dragon Nation and SLC.
LIVING UP TO HIGH EXPECTATIONS | This recognition is due to Carroll’s success—on and off the field. Carroll ISD is the largest exemplary school district in Texas. This spring, Carroll Senior High was named one of America’s smartest public high schools, coming in at 49 out of more than 23,000 public high schools across the United States, according to research firm Niche.
The Dragon football program has won eight state titles—more than any other school in Texas. Carroll ISD has racked up nearly two dozen state championships and accrued six UIL Lone Star Cups, an award that began in the 1997-98 school year that recognizes Texas high schools for their achievements in a variety of academic, athletic and music championships. These accolades are just a few of many.
Students in Carroll ISD not only have across-the-board talent, but they also have a spirit to achieve at the highest level. Dragons are taking AP exams in record numbers—and more than half receive college credit as a result. In 2015, 2,369 students took an AP exam, a number that’s nearly double the 1,277 students who took the exam in 2010. When it comes to the ACT test, Dragons soar well above their state and national peers. Carroll averages a composite ACT score of 26.4, while the average Texas score is 20.9 and the average national score is 21.0.
Carroll’s expectation of excellence begins early and is fostered every day. A district doesn’t achieve the kind of ratings and distinction as Carroll byresting on its laurels. Though the classes, homework and extracurricular activities can stack up fast, Elkins encourages students not to get overwhelmed by the day-to-day duties of upholding the Dragon tradition of excellence. “Focus on the bigger picture and know that this rigor is building each student to be better,” she says.
If being a Dragon means they have to study a little longer and work a little harder, students in Carroll ISD are up for the task. They like being Dragons and everything it encompasses. Evans says this passion is unique to Carroll. She’s been a teacher for 13 years— five years in Southlake. But before she taught here, she and her husband, Adam, moved here. They wanted to give their two children the best possible education. The fact that Evans got hired into the same elementary school that her daughters attended was just an added bonus.
“Because I’ve taught in different districts,” she says, “I appreciate that the kids want to be here. There’s such energy and excitement. They want to come to school, and it’s fun for me to see that.”
THE SPIRIT OF A DRAGON | When you’re a Dragon, there’s always one constant you can count on: Excellence. “Setting high expectations encourages students to do more, to push themselves and to achieve more than they thought they could,” says Elkins. “We hold everybody to the expectation. That’s what makes us great.”
But there’s more to being a Dragon than simply doing your personal best—being a Dragon means watching out for others. Dragons are taught to not only protect the tradition, but to also protect each other.
“I know I’m always going to have somebody to be there for me,” says Evans. “I feel confident my daughters will get what they need. I feel confident I’ll provide my students what they need. The whole community is a family.”
In her first year in Carroll ISD, Evans worked as a long-term sub. When a teacher was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Evans covered for her during the spring semester. She recalls walking into the classroom of third-graders whose beloved teacher had just taken a leave of absence. “Those precious kids were looking at me,” Evans remembers, “and I knew I had to love on them while they were going through this situation.”
At the end of the school year, a student wrote a letter to Evans explaining that she didn’t want to go to school if her teacher wasn’t going to be there. But after having Evans as a teacher, the child changed her mind. She wanted to go to school again.
“That was very powerful for me,” says Evans. “To meet her academic and emotional needs was huge.”
It’s a testament that being a Dragon isn’t just showing up in the classroom; it’s a responsibility that comes with a sense of duty, pride, achievement and excellence—and most definitely some swagger, too.
“Being a Dragon is a duty that one needs to uphold,” says Elkins. “We’ve made a name for ourselves, and it’s up to us to live up to that name and keep it going.”