When Joao Pedro Lopes came to Hendersonville High from his native Brazil this year as a foreign exchange student, he held a stereotype of Americans that was, well, not very flattering.
“I was surprised when I got here and didn’t find many fat people,” 16-year-old Joao said in his thick accent, explaining that Brazilians picture America as a “fat country” full of busy people with poor diets.
JP, as Joao is known at school, has learned a lot about Americans since he has been here, and they, at least the ones at HHS, have learned a few things about Brazilians.
For one, they don’t speak Brazilian.
“You’d be surprised how many people ask me to speak Brazilian,” he said, which “is funny because we speak Portuguese.”
JP is from the state of Parana, in the southern part of Brazil. Both of his parents are accountants, and he has a 10-year-old sister. “The hardest thing is that you don’t see your friends and family,” he said of his time in the U.S., though he keeps close contact through phone calls, texting and FaceTime.
In Hendersonville he stays with the family of junior Clay Richards, the same family his uncle stayed with when he was an exchange student years ago. Clay’s grandfather hosted JP’s uncle.
“I always wanted to go to America because my uncle went and he told me stories about it,” JP said.
He hasn’t been disappointed. “I like it here, it’s very different from Brazil,” he remarked. A few of his observations: Tennessee teens go to church more, spend more time in school (the school day in Parana runs from 7:30 to 11:30) and attend fewer parties, but they have safer streets and better police protection than in Brazil, which he calls a “crazy country.”
JP is one of 966,000 students from abroad studying in the United States, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but he is the only one in Sumner County. Pamela Harrison, high school coordinator for Sumner County Schools, said the county’s foreign exchange program is coordinated through the Rotary Club and is purposely kept small because it is “designed to make sure exchange students have the support they need” while in the county.
The few problems JP has encountered here have mostly involved communication. He knew some English before he came, but it hasn’t been easy keeping up with teachers and peers.
“His communication skills sometimes make it hard for him to relate to other people and fit in, but I think it’s a great experience for JP to learn and understand our culture,” Clay Richards said. “It is fun teaching him our culture but also learning his.”
JP has made several new friends here, some also with the same heritage. He met freshman Lucas Silva, whose family is Brazilian, in the Engineering and Architecture class they take together. JP said the class is his favorite.
“He’s very quiet,” said Brandy McCarter, who teaches the class. “He had an interesting time trying to convert measurements (Brazil is on the metric system), but overall his quality of work is really good.”
Even though he will be leaving Hendersonville after the school year, JP said, “I do plan to return and visit my host family and some friends I made while I was here.”
Article by Jalen Sands, Matthew Robinson, Kelsey Dotson, Koy Skinner and Frankie Small
One bad decision can cost you your future, Blake McMeans, a former world class tennis player who was confined to a wheelchair after a drunken driving accident, told Hendersonville High students Thursday (Oct. 29).
“A picture is worth a thousand words, and I am a picture of what happens when you drink and drive,” McMeans said to the packed auditorium, which watched in silence while he slowly, painstakingly made his way from his wheelchair to the podium.
McMeans’s speech was slow and slurred as he told the students, “I made one bad decision.”
It happened on a November night in 1994 when McMeans, who was ranked nationally in tennis and attending the University of Tennessee in Knoxville on a full scholarship, drove home after a night of drinking with friends and careened off the two-lane road into some woods.
He was only a mile and a half from home.
“I was one of the top 10 tennis players in the country, now I have to struggle to button my shirt and tie my shoes,” remarked McMeans, who said he was sneaking liquor from his parents’ cabinet when he was 12 and drinking with friends on the weekends in high school.
Doctors gave him slim chance of survival after the crash. He was in a coma for several months. Even after it became apparent he would live, he was paralyzed and couldn’t speak. It took him a year just to swallow on his own and seven years to stand up on his own. He credits his faith in God with helping him get through the experience.
Before the crash, McMeans never considered his drinking a problem. He was up by 5 most mornings to practice tennis, maintained his status as a star player and kept his scholarship to UT.
“I think the main thing is who you surround yourself with,” said McMeans, who travels the state sharing his story with young people. “If I hadn’t of surrounded myself with drinkers, I wouldn’t have been drinking.”
He urged students who do drink or use drugs to get help. “There are people who can help you. I will help you.”
The auditorium was quiet during the presentation. Students’ eyes were locked on him, and a half dozen or so students raised their hands to ask him questions.
Afterward, many said they benefitted from McMeans’ message.
"I'm not going to risk my life," said senior Austin Gatlin. "My life has gotten better from hearing Blake's story."
Sequoyah Yardley, also a senior, said, "I think it has impacted the students by teaching them the consequences of their actions and who to associate themselves with.”
Article by Nick Kieser, Seth Griffith, Cyrus Gaumer, Frankie Small and Kelsey Dotson
If you want to get folks talking at Hendersonville High, just mention Advisory.
This is the third year for the program, which seeks to draw students closer together, and many continue to have strong opinions about it.
While the biweekly, 40-minute sessions have their supporters (“I love it,” one student remarked. “We watch videos and talk about them and chill”), they also have their detractors (“My class doesn’t talk, and my Advisory teacher doesn’t do anything,” said another).
Changes are in the works or already under way. Debbie Sheets, the school’s STARS (Students Taking A Right Stand) specialist who also helps coordinate Advisory, said a recommendation was made recently to Principal Bob Cotter to shorten the classes to 25 or 30 minutes because students and teachers felt 40 minutes was too long.
"He is working on adjusting the bell schedule to make this change although we don't know yet exactly when that will occur," Sheets said Thursday.
In another development, biology teacher Phil Colling with help from students and other teachers is making videos that highlight pep rallies, sporting events and other activities that go on at HHS. The first one (37-minutes, 17-seconds) was available for the Wednesday (Oct. 21) Advisory session and drew positive reviews.
“My 10th graders were engaged the entire time,” math teacher Connie Ernsberger said. “After the video we were able to talk about school climate and how to be more involved.”
Another idea under review is increased oversight of Advisory classes.
“One thing we thought of was putting one of the administrators in charge of Advisory to kind of walk around the halls,” said English teacher Carmen Watts, one of nine educators on a committee that meets regularly to discuss Advisory (the other members are Sheets, Colling, Ernsberger, Sam Gilbert, Samantha Sebestik, Jessica de Araujo Jorge, Carole Ann Everson and Susan McDaniel).
“It’s not just to catch people not doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Watts added of the oversight proposal, saying there has been confusion with attendance and other procedural issues that could be cleared up by an administrator. “Maybe having one person in charge of Advisory could alleviate some of it."
Watts thinks most resistance to Advisory stems from misinformation.
“There’s a misconception that turns kids away and it’s that you go in there and talk about your feelings,” she said.
Advisory was created to help students bond with peers after surveys found they did not always feel connected to their school and to each other. A major goal is for students to interact with peers they wouldn’t normally interact with, and classes are grouped deliberately with that in mind. Organizers also want every student to have at least one teacher they feel they can turn to with a problem, be it a scheduling glitch or a personal issue.
Consequently, some of the classes, especially the first year or two, were heavy on team-building and sharing exercises (“share one high and one low” remains a popular ice breaker).
The Advisory committee is working to make the classes less awkward, more fun, and easier on teachers with things like the videos and preplanned lessons, but what the classes probably won’t become, at least this year, is academic time. A number of suggestions have been floated about using Advisory for tutoring, reading, studying, enrichment, and even for things like contests, polls and other school business functions.
Watts said she would be reluctant to convert Advisory into a study hall or a homeroom-style class.
“I don’t think we necessarily want to go that direction because I feel like it defeats the purpose a little bit of what we’re supposed to be doing, you know … touching base with kids and really interacting,” she said. “I can see the benefit of that in a way, but I would never want to see it turn into a complete study hall.”
Similarly, Sheets doesn't support making Advisory strictly academic, adding that, as currently structured, the program already enhances learning.
"Studies on school climate show that being connected to teachers and other students has a direct impact on academic performance," Sheets said.
Article by Matthew Robinson, Genevieve Corson, Sarah Larson, Koy Skinner and Nick Kieser
One couldn’t help but be moved during the recent rededication ceremony for Hendersonville High’s Memorial Garden.
Dozens gathered in the crisp morning air Oct. 7, their heads bowed to the solemn melody of “Taps” in honor of the teens who died while students at HHS.
“It was a beautiful day,” said HHS principal Bob Cotter. “There was a nice turnout of family and staff.”
The Memorial Garden was relocated from the west side of the building to make room for the new addition. Paul Decker _former HHS principal and now an assistant principal at the school _ was in charge of the safe movement of the garden and all the stones to its new home outside the library.
“I think the garden is better than it was; I think the construction team did a really good job,” said Decker, who was principal when the Memorial Garden was originally dedicated 14 years ago.
The founder of the garden, a citizen named Drew Maddux who is the grandfather of one of the deceased students, Ansley Batey, met with Decker and others last school year to begin planning for the new Memorial Garden.
They put in a pea gravel walkway that snakes its way through the garden and around the “forever in our hearts” stone that contains the names of 21 deceased students.
They also added a bench that wraps around a tree and a white two-rail horse fence that semicircles the grounds.
The new garden is between two sections of the building, separating it from other parts of the school.
“With this garden being set off, with the walls of the school surrounding it, I think it makes it more special,” Cotter observed.
During the rededication ceremony, several families of students memorialized in the garden showed up to hear the select chorus sing “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Sing Me to Heaven” and HHS’s Alma Mater.
Many teared up to HHS band member Andreas Alba’s performance of “Taps.” Student body president Erica Seastrand spoke about the former students and their families, and vice president Megan Charles read a poem, “I’m Free,” that was also read at the first dedication ceremony in October 2001.
“I think it was a very nice, intimate setting,” Cotter said.
Article by Genevieve Corson
Students in Kim Coyle's creative writing class are taking to heart the adage "write what you know."
Each has created a blog that fits his or her own interest and, they hope, the interest of others. There is a blog for bicycling, for photography, for Shakespeare, for mythology, and for many other subjects. Some are personal (crazy experiences), some funny (how to be a queen), some practical (math help) and some dark (apocalypse).
Colorful fliers promoting the sites are popping up all over the school. A list of the blogs and the URLs are posted outside Coyle's room in the English hall.
"It's all about the publication - how do I put myself out there?" Coyle explained recently.
Coyle blogs with her students. She has one about traveling called "This year I am Traveling." Blogging, she said, "isn't about keeping up with a journal" where you confess feelings. Rather, she sees blogs more as vehicles for sharing stories and advice - a space where you are the expert in your field.
Inspiration for the project comes from her own experiences with blogging and from the 2009 movie Julie & Julia, which depicts blogger Julie Powell's challenge to cook the 524 recipes in chef Julie Child's book Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year.
Coyle wants students to publish their work and get feedback - but not only the kind of feedback everyone welcomes. "I want the kids to have a comment that hurts so they understand what it feels like to be rejected."
So far, students seem on board. During a recent class, they sat hunched over laptops, the room quiet enough to hear the soft tapping of the key strokes.
The hardest part? "Finding inspiration," answered Timber Beltran, who blogs about life's firsts - things like first dates, first jobs, first kisses. "I once destroyed my brother's computer to give me inspiration, but that didn't work out very well," Beltran cracked.
Students post to their blogs once a week, which might not sound like much, but, as Beltran explained, can be grueling when you're facing a deadline and a serious case of writer's block.
Sometimes, just paying closer attention to your surroundings can yield a post. One student noticed the skinny store mannequins at the mall and came up with an insightful piece about body image.
Students can track the number of "pings" or views their blogs receive, but the ultimate barometer of success, Coyle said, would be a book deal.
That hasn't happened yet, but the prospect is enough to whet any writer's appetite.
Article by Kelsey Dotson, Abby Hostettler, and Matthew Robinson
Bullying can take many different forms and anyone can be a target, leaders from HHS's student support group STARS told Ellis Middle School students recently.
"Sometimes it seems like a joke, but it's not always taken that way," HHS senior and STARS peer leader Alex Tate told the middle schoolers Oct. 2.
STARS peer leaders support prevention and education in middle schools with regards to bullying, alcohol, drugs and suicide. During the 90-minute program at Ellis, they shared testimonials about bullying.
The Ellis students were very attentive, and the stories seemed to affect some of them. In the back of a cafeteria room, an eighth grader teared up as junior Natalie Gallon told of her middle school experience.
"Be aware of what you are saying," Gallon said. " I know what it's like to be bullied, and I don't want that to happen to anybody else."
The STARS group also performed a skit showing that all students play a role in a bullying situation. Eight people were involved in the skit: the student being bullied, the bully, the bully follower (known within STARS as "henchmen"), the supporter, the passive supporter, the disengaged onlooker, the possible defender and the defender.
Afterward, Ellis faculty members were invited to come up and stand in the role they identified with in middle school. Several of them shared personal stories about how it felt to be in that role and said that, in retrospect, they could have done things differently to help other students.
Bullying is defined by the National Education Association as "systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt and/or psychological distress on another." It can be as direct as teasing, hitting, threatening, destroying property or forcing someone to do something against their will, or as indirect as rumors, exclusion or manipulation.
Bullying occurs once every seven minutes, and one in three students report being bullied weekly, according to the NEA.
Senior Carter Billingsley told the Ellis students that what really matters is how they treat others, not how many friends they have or to which social group they belong.
"I wanted a lot of people to like me, but it doesn't matter how popular you
are. Be confident in yourself," Billingsley said.
Article by Frankie Small