Students watched from the bleachers at a pep rally with mixed emotions - curiosity, horror, amusement - as English teacher Richard Zajac cut his hair. His long hair was an identifying feature that was famous throughout the school, so students couldn’t help but wonder why exactly he would cut the long locks.
The answer? First impressions only happen once, he said, and he was about to have tons of them.
Zajac taught at HHS for six years before he left to join the Peace Corps in 2017. He wanted to “do something a little adventurous and try something new,” he said during a recent interview with the HHS journalism class. The Peace Corps seemed like the perfect opportunity: travel and help others along the way.
He applied and was accepted, so he began preparing - most notably, the pep rally. He decided that the Peace Corps might like it better if he had shorter hair and a cleanly-shaved face.
With his last year teaching at HHS over, he was ready to go wherever the Peace Corps deemed fit to send him, which turned out to be the Philippines.
The Peace Corps is a government-funded organization that sends volunteers into developing countries all over the world to help promote and encourage social and economic development and an understanding between the people of the two cultures.
The Peace Corps is currently active in over 60 countries, with the largest operation currently in Zambia with 279 volunteers. Each volunteer must go through a three-month training period; the actual volunteer mission clocks in at about two years.
However, volunteers are not typically stationed close to each other, and once a volunteer is set up in a community, there is very little additional instruction given. “You’re living by yourself without other Americans,” Zajac explained. “It was up to me to learn about what the community needs and how to help.”
He was placed in the university in his community, a town called Agoo City in the La Union Province. At the university, he was an English literature teacher. Most of his students were juniors and seniors studying to also become English teachers.
But teaching students wasn’t his only project - he was also there to instruct the teachers. “I was able to help teachers expand the material they were teaching,” Zajac said. He spent a lot of his time updating the reading lists of these teachers - inserting more diverse and modern books into the curriculum.
Originally, he was a bit disappointed in his assignment. He was expecting a dirt hut in the middle of nowhere but was instead given a nice home that had access to WiFi most of the time and a toilet seat (a higher-class commodity in the Philippines).
Eventually, though, he came to realize that he was where he needed to be; what the community needed was exactly what he could provide.
Zajac settled into the routine, even learning a fair amount of Tagalog, one of the 180-plus languages spoken in the Philippines. One of the major goals of the Peace Corps is cultural immersion: Volunteers live with a host family and are compensated enough to support a lifestyle on the same socioeconomic level as the others in the community, usually around ₱6,000-8,000 (Philippine pesos) a month, or $119 USD, along with an allowance of about $4,000 a year volunteers can’t access until after their tour is over.
With little financial gain and an abundance of uncomfortable situations that accompany being thrown into a foreign culture, it may seem like there wasn’t much benefit to being in the Peace Corps, but Zajac would disagree.
“Living in another culture will test things about you that you didn’t know needed to be tested,” he said. “It has really changed my worldview - the way I look at culture, world events.”
However, it wasn’t all sunshine and life-changing experiences. There were times when he would question if this was what he really wanted to do -what with the culture shocks, disconnect and lack of deli sandwiches (his most-missed luxury from home) - but in the end, Zajac stuck with it and had a really enjoyable experience.
It takes a special kind of person to be a Peace Corps volunteer. “You have to be willing to try new things. You can’t be timid about being uncomfortable. If you like to travel, that’s a plus, but the most important skill is being able to understand what people are saying to you and to make yourself understood,” Zajac explained.
The Peace Corps is not for everyone, but Zajac, who has grown back his flowing dark hair, found a place amongst its ranks. He applied for an extension to his service in the Philippines and was granted a one-year extension, rounding out his volunteer experience to roughly three years.
His next adventure? He wants to tackle the great outdoors, perhaps working for the National Parks.
Story by Sara Amis
Here we go again.
The first flakes are in the forecast, and everyone wants to know if we’ll have school tomorrow (Nov. 12).
No one knows that for certain yet, but even the possibility of snow this early in the season raises questions about what Old Man Winter has in store.
A quick search turns up the venerable Farmer’s Almanac, which, according to The Tennessean newspaper, “is warning that this winter is likely to be frigidly cold and full of rain, sleet, and snow.”
The national Climate Prediction Center swings the other direction, citing a 33 percent chance of above-average temperatures for our area and equal chances for either above or below-average participation.
The National Weather Service in Nashville also predicts warmer-than-normal temperatures.
“That doesn’t mean it won’t get cold from time to time, but overall it’s probably going to be warmer than normal,” lead NWS forecaster Sam Shamburger told WKRN.com last month.
“It’s also looking like we’ll see average amounts of precipitation, whether that’s rain or snow,” Shamburger added. “And we know here in Middle Tennessee, it’s mostly going to be rain.”
But if the flakes do fly, the process for calling off school in Sumner County works this way: An inclement weather team checks the roads and reports conditions to the transportation director who then contacts Director of Schools Del Phillips, who makes the final decision.
The county has a stockpile of 13 snow days for the year. If it runs over the 13, the school calendar could be extended, which has happened before but not often.
Story by Hannah Mailander and Alorah Fridley
The turkey and ham were delicious, the sweet potatoes superb and the spice cake heavenly.
The 20 minutes to gobble it all down? Not so good.
Several students and teachers were still eating when the bell rang during last Thursday’s Thanksgiving lunch (Nov. 7).
Granted, there were more people than usual eating, and the lines were really long because of it. But even on a typical day, 20 minutes is pushing it.
“By the time you get through the line and get your food, you only have like 10 minutes to eat what you’re given,” said one HHS sophomore.
The Washington Post recently reported that with school districts under pressure to raise test scores, many are minimizing recess and lunch to allow more time for instruction.
But some nutritionists, doctors and parents say rushing kids through lunch is not the answer. They are calling for a federal standard on lunch periods so kids have enough time to finish a meal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is pushing for at least 20 minutes of seated eating time, not including the time it takes them to wash their hands, walk to the cafeteria and get their food.
AAP spokesman Robert Murray told The Post that there is no way for kids to get enough nutrition for the day in less than 20 minutes.
“It’s really important for these kids to eat the whole meal,” Murray said.
HHS Principal Bob Cotter and Assistant Principal Lisa Jaskot said students have ample time to eat under the current schedule.
“I think it’s natural that the lunch lines are long seeing as we have many kids, but typically (I timed it early in the year), it takes MAYBE 7 or 8 minutes max for everyone to get through the line,” Cotter said.
Chorus teacher Elizabeth Evans thinks a more generous lunch period would benefit students in the long run, even if it did cut into instructional time.
“When I was in high school, we had our 25-minute lunch, yes, but after that we had like 20 minutes to just hang out,” Evans said. “I wish that we had something like that because it was just such a good opportunity for the kids to just go and socialize and get [talking] out of their system. By the time kids get to fourth block they are just mentally done because they never got a mental break throughout the day.”
Story by Corrine Mitchener and Zach Pearson
Seventy HHS students attended the 39th Annual Tennessee YMCA Model United Nations conference over the weekend (Nov. 8-10) in Murfreesboro.
This year was the largest conference yet with over 1,000 attendees.
Social studies teacher Amanda Elmore has been the HHS Model UN sponsor for the past 16 years, and English teacher Carmen Watts has helped her for the last seven years.
Elmore said her role for the conference is to be “the surrogate parent” for all HHS students. Some of her most memorable moments from the past few years include two freshmen having their first date at the Model UN dance, a room of boys buying Betta fish and watching them fight in the sink bowl, and decorating her hotel room to celebrate Watts’ birthday, which often falls on Model UN weekend.
There are several components that students can lead and participate in, including the 12 committees, the General Assembly, Secretariat, the Security Council, the International Court of Justice and the Department of Public Information.
Most HHS students are assigned a country to represent and are tasked with writing mock resolutions to combat worldwide issues concerning those countries. Then they present their resolution to a committee.
If the resolution is ranked well, it advances to General Assembly. The same process then occurs in Plenary, where the group will present their resolution to the entire conference.
HHS had one conference officer this year, senior Bailey Guy, who served as the Social Media Director for the Department of Public Information (DPI). Senior Cailsey Scott also worked in the DPI, and junior Tristan Brown was a member of the Security Council. All other HHS students were members of the General Assembly groups.
Senior Peter Livesay has attended the conference the past four years. Livesay stated that last year he represented the country of Chad, and his resolution was a plan to solve the poaching problem there.
“Our idea for getting rid of poaching in Africa was for the United Nations to give us $65 million to hire David Copperfield to perform a magic show and make all the poachers disappear,” Livesay said.
His idea was not approved, however, so his group was forced to revise their resolution.
This was the last year for seniors, but it was definitely one of the best conferences yet. Anyone who is interested in attending next year can direct all questions to Elmore.
Story by Bailey Guy and Cailsey Scott, who both participated in the Model UN conference
A memorial service will be held Sunday (Nov. 10) for former HHS student and U.S. Marine Carter Ross, who died last December in a mid-air collision during a training exercise in Iwakuni, Japan.
A monument in Cpl. Ross’ honor will be unveiled under the flag poles at the JROTC Compound at HHS.
Everyone is invited to the service, which will begin 11:30 a.m. with a ceremony in the HHS fieldhouse followed by the unveiling of the monument.
“We’re super excited that we’re making the whole school part of this,” said Laurie Smith, president of the school’s JROTC booster club and a manager of the event. “Our band is going to participate with the music. One of our band members is going to be playing taps at the end of the service.”
Chorus Director Elizabeth Evans will lead the select chorus and provide some vocals, and Band Director Dr. Jeffrey Phillips, who is also a pastor, will lead the Lord’s Prayer.
The Nov. 10 date was chosen because it is the Marine Corps’ 344th birthday. It also seems fitting that Monday (Nov. 11) is Veterans Day.
“You may not have known Carter Ross, but he was providing a blanket of protection while you were sleeping in bed at night,” Master Sgt. Tim Clenney, who leads the JROTC program, told The Ville News.
Clenney remembers Ross, a 2015 HHS graduate, as a “good kid” who had an “eagerness to learn something new” and to apply it.
Ross served in JROTC all four years and excelled as a member of the Raider, Drill, and Marksmanship teams.
After graduation, he went to college for a year but was undecided on a major and chose to do what he knew best and enjoyed most: he joined U.S. Marine Corps Aviation.
Friends say Ross was a good Marine and an even better person.
“He always had a smile on his face, and he could make bad days good and good days great,” recalled HHS sophomore and family friend Ian McCoy.
At a time when so many young people’s heroes are athletes, singers or actors, Ross should be remembered as a true hero who like many soldiers don’t always get the credit they deserve.
Story by Owen McClister, Cailsey Scott, Zach Kochan,, Gabriel Williams and Cynthia Maravilla
The Commandos will play Cookeville at home Friday (Nov. 8) in the opening round of the state Division I Class 6A high school football playoffs.
The winner will advance, while loser will be done for the season.
This is the third year in a row HHS (4-1 in the district, 5-5 overall) has made the playoffs. The Commandos secured the spot after beating Mr. Juliet last week to capture the region championship.
Cookeville (4-3 in the district, 5-5 overall) and their mobile quarterback will be a big challenge for HHS, head coach James Beasley told The Ville News this week.
“Cookeville plays really hard and they like to run the ball with their quarterback,” Beasley said. “Their quarterback is really good, too. He’s a very talented player, so he’s going to be tough for us to defend.”
Commando cornerback Talamas Almonord says the team is up to the test.
“The only thing we have to worry about is executing our plays properly and not messing up on special teams,” said Almonord, a senior.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Be sure to bring your school spirit AND your warm clothes because with temperatures in the 30s and maybe even the 20s, it’s definitely going to feel like football weather – football weather in Green Bay or in Cleveland!
Story by Corrine Mitchener and Zach Pearson