texasmonthly.com: How did Barbara Critchfield become the main character in your feature story about Shoemaker High School, in Killeen?
Mimi Swartz: It was obvious. The guidance office is the school’s emotional center, and she runs the guidance office. The kids clearly love her, and she has been moved by all that has happened to them.
texasmonthly.com: What was your first impression of Critchfield? Did your assessment of her change through the course of your reporting?
MS: My first impression of her was that she was very tough. As I reported, I saw more layers to her—she’s like a lot of people who have tough exteriors but who are very soft inside. She really cares about those kids.
texasmonthly.com: Was Shoemaker High what you were expecting? Why or why not?
MS: I thought Shoemaker was fascinating. What I thought was especially interesting was how much of a bunker mentality pervades there—people get along, people like each other, and they’ve all drawn together because of the enormous stress they are under. They understand each other because their experiences are so common to one another.
texasmonthly.com: Were most of the students willing to be interviewed? Were they suspicious of you, a reporter?
MS: Most teenagers are suspicious of adults who want to ask them questions, and the war brought up a lot of anxiety. Most of the students were willing to talk, but I thought Jessica Blankenbecler and Rohan Osbourne were exceptional in their ability to articulate everything that has happened to them.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most difficult aspect of working on this story? Why?
MS: The most difficult aspect of working on the story was having to inflict emotional pain on people—asking questions that I knew were very hard to answer, especially on the kids. On the other hand, as Barbara Critchfield said, people have no idea what these kids are going through, so it felt