Writing

This is my most recent print story: a feature covering the new cell phone policy at our school. It is a highly controversial topic among students and teachers because it was enacted halfway through the year and everyone had become accustomed to using phones in class for educational purposes. I interviewed people from all perspectives and got to consider viewpoints I hadn’t previously realized when forming my own opinion of the policy.

Bzzt! Bzzt! Throughout the room, an insistent, muffled buzzing sounded from a multitude of backpacks. Heads turned as students took surreptitious looks at their bags, their hands twitching as they resisted the urge to check the notifications. 

Although the message in question had come from West Henderson administration through Remind, students knew the consequences they would face if they pulled out their phones. 

“I got this notification on my Apple Watch that we got a Remind from Mrs. (Shannon) Auten about the bell schedule and I thought it was really ironic,” senior Ashley Drake said. “I didn’t want to get ISS or anything to see what the message was from my principal. It was just kind of funny.” 

On Dec. 20, 2019, West Henderson administration sent a letter home with students detailing the new phone policy, which went into effect on Jan. 22. According to the letter, the main goal of the policy is consistency throughout classrooms to avoid student confusion. 

“When we were going classroom to classroom, whether it was our observation time or we were coming through with county office walkthroughs, or planning period walkthroughs, we were finding that a lot of students had their phones out doing something that was not related to the class,” Principal Shannon Auten said. “The phones were a distraction in the classroom, and we wanted to make sure that we were taking away all possible distractions and kids were actually able to learn. I’ve had a lot of students come up to me and (tell me they) actually appreciate it because (they are) paying attention in class now.” 

According to the letter, classrooms are to be completely cell phone-free at all times. Some students, such as senior Caesy Hernandez, said they were confused because the letter did not include information about smart watches. Hernandez was written up by a teacher for using her smart watch in class. 

“As soon as I got in(to Mrs. Ashbrook’s office), my eyes were watering already,” Hernandez said. “It was rough. (Mrs. Ashbrook said smart watches were) a grey area, and next time to not be on it. (My teachers) said we could check (our smart watches). I’m obviously not going to be on there and scroll; you can’t really do much (on them).”

Although smart watches were not detailed in the letter, regulations are posted on the school’s website under the Student Expectations handout. Smart watches and other Bluetooth devices are not allowed to be used during classes.

Another issue students have taken with the policy is the lack of ability students have to use safety apps designed to report threats to the school.

“The ‘Say Something’ app is pretty counterintuitive since we aren’t allowed to have access to our phones even if we wanted to report something,” junior Miles Bryant said.

Because the policy was implemented at the start of second semester, many students said they feel they were being punished.

“I think it was kind of unfair how it was put into effect in the middle of the year,” sophomore Jackson Carrington said. “Sometimes it takes away from classroom activities. We can’t do Quizlet Live anymore on our phones, and we can’t use our calculators on our phones if we need them.”

Although students said they do not like the timing of implementation, Auten said the policy was a necessity.

“We made the decision in October (2019) and then decided not to roll it out until the start of second semester,” Auten said. “A lot of the walkthroughs that we were doing (during) first semester were when we were seeing (problems), so we were like, ‘Alright. All the other schools have the same policy. We really just need to start it up in second semester because it is getting bad.’ And it was. Students were not paying attention to what was going on.”

Other students, such as freshman Gracie Todd, said they think the policy was not needed at all; the problem was classroom control, not students.

“Teachers should crack down on their own,” Todd said. “I think it’s something to help the teachers do something they should be doing. I feel like they’re kind of punishing us for teachers not doing their job.”

Many teachers said they definitely saw a problem with phone usage before the policy. However, some teachers, such as civics teacher Frank Gerard, said they miss the ease and mobility phones brought to the classroom.

“Given the kind of current events class that it is, invariably, questions would come up where I didn’t have the relevant data right there at my fingertips, and (having students use their phones) was simply a quicker way than booting up the Chromebooks,” Gerard said. “It takes too much class time to boot (Chromebooks) up and shut them down and put them up. We could have them booted up the entire time, but then that might present other issues, like people going on Netflix. We’re just adapting.”

Another class negatively affected by the phone policy, according to senior Julia Gerrer, is the honors dance class. Each student is tasked with choreographing a dance of their own, and while they formerly used their phones with headphones as to not disturb other students with their music, they have had to find alternatives.

“We have to use our music and we can’t do that with a Chromebook because we’re constantly moving around,” Gerrer said. “Holding a Chromebook with headphones in would be terrible because you would have to dance holding (it), which is extremely dangerous for yourself and the safety of the Chromebook because it could fall and smash.”

Students and teachers alike have had adjustment issues with the policy, but science teacher Amy Zalevskiy said she has seen many benefits.

“I try and be as entertaining as possible, but I cannot beat out a YouTube video on some other random subject that particular student finds interesting,” Zalevskiy said. “I find that kids would not go into it with the intention of totally blocking me out for large periods of time, but they get caught up in it.”

Another positive effect of the policy, according to science teacher Beth White, is the mitigation of cyberbullying. Many studies have shown a correlation between phone usage and higher rates of depression and other suicide risk factors in teens, and some studies attribute the rise in the risk factors to cyberbullying on social media. White said she has seen this firsthand.

“I’ve had students come to class upset because someone posted something on social media about them,” White said. “It happened about once a week (before the policy was implemented).”

Although many students said they dislike the policy, senior Megan Huske said she has seen her peers happier overall.

“It allows us to focus in more without worrying about who’s texting us and what’s going on in the outside world,” Huske said. “It allows us to be in the present moment. I’ve seen a lot more interaction between students and people talking to each other more.”

Last year, I was given the opportunity to be a correspondent for my local newspaper, the Times-News. I wrote a news article about a Veteran monument dedication at my school. Although the editors at the Times-News changed my lede that I was really proud of, I am still very grateful for the experience.

The rough stone of a new monument at West Henderson High honors those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Students, teachers and community members gathered around it in silence as it was dedicated Tuesday morning.

The memorial honors fallen soldiers and emergency services workers who attended West Henderson High. Under the cover of the American flag, families huddled together, crying as Principal Shannon Auten held back her own tears Tuesday and thanked them for their sacrifice.

“I was so thankful that so many families showed up and so many people in the community came,” Auten said. “It was really powerful. You saw how many people there were, and how emotional the families were getting, so that is what led me to become emotional at one point, too.”

The monument currently displays the name of Chief Warrant Officer Terry Lee Varnadore II, but Sgt. Stephen Baynard, Cpl. Sean Mark Timmons and Pfc. Christian “Kade” Michael Warriner will be added soon. All were honored during the dedication.

Varnadore, class of 1999, served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Timmons, class of 1985, served in Okinawa, Japan and was killed during a training accident. Warriner, class of 2009, served in Afghanistan. Baynard, class of 2006 at Heritage Hall High School, served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Community members Ray and Ramona Bryson spearheaded the construction of the monument as well as the dedication process.

“We have decided that we would honor anyone who was killed while working in the act of duty,” Ramona Bryson said. “When we designed the memorial, it was really important that we had an American flag and a North Carolina flag. It was those flags that encompass your law enforcement, your military, your rescue personnel – all these are people who put their lives on the line every single day.”

According to the Brysons, one of the most important parts of the monument is that all fallen soldiers and emergency services workers are included on it.

“When I was in school, (students) left school by choice to go (serve in the military) and they lied about their age because it was such an important cause to defend our freedom,” Ramona Bryson said. “That can seem to be such a flippant reason, but it’s not flippant. It’s very serious to defend what freedoms really are. If you didn’t graduate (West), you still get the honor. If you only went for one quarter, you are still worthy of (being remembered).”

Part of the dedication involved the flag-folding ceremony, performed by West Henderson’s Army JROTC battalion under the command of Lt. Col. Randy Lytle and Command Sgt. Maj. David Massullo. Former battalion commander, senior Seth Taylor, explained the meaning of each fold.

“It gave me a lot of self-awareness,” Taylor said. ”(I understood more of) the real meaning of Memorial Day because a lot of people go into it like, ‘Oh, we get a three-day weekend; we get to cook out with families,’ but (talking about the flag folding ceremony) shows you the real meaning of Memorial Day.”

West’s dance teacher, Elizabeth Creamer, was Varnadore’s sister-in-law. She tells her classes about her memories with Varnadore and has a space in her classroom dedicated to him. She said she is excited to see another place on campus honoring his life.

“It’s pretty cool, especially working here now and coming back home, to know that even so many years later, we’re still keeping his memory alive and inspiring other students,” Creamer said.

Junior Alec Baynard also had a family member being honored: his brother, Sgt. Stephen Baynard.

“I felt honored to be able to have (my brother’s) name put up there on the plaque,” Baynard said. “I was sad during the dedication, but at the same time I was happy that the community was doing this for us and other people who have had family members who died in the service.”

History teacher Daniel Holbert emphasizes the importance of monuments and remembering sacrifices in his curriculum, and said he was looking forward to the dedication.

“It’s important that the kids understand that the freedoms they have were bought with a price, and that price was the life of the young men and women who serve our country,” Holbert said. “Some of those lives that paid that price were people who walked these halls and went to the same place they did. I think it’s important that they understand that sacrifice.”

West Henderson is also home to another monument, which honors former students who were killed while serving in Vietnam: Larry Lance, class of 1964; Richard Waycaster, class of 1967; James Bailey, class of 1967; and Billy Strickland, class of 1967.

Virginia Waycaster is the mother of Sgt. Richard Waycaster, who was killed in Vietnam. She attended the dedication and said she is grateful for the community and everyone who has assisted in building it.

“I appreciate it so much, and I think it’s the greatest thing that’s been done so far since Richard got killed, and all the others,” Waycaster said. “I feel for all the mothers and dads since they’ve lost their family. I really treasure this.”

The Brysons are seeking information on other West Henderson students who served. They can be contacted at bryson1949@gmail.com.

This was a profile I wrote for the yearbook, Westwind, last year. I met with a freshman who participated in competitive water skiing, which is something the newspaper would not typically cover since the competitions were not affiliated with the school. I enjoyed dipping my toes into the yearbook waters and getting to write a more creative human-interest piece.

Wind whipped through the girl’s long brown hair as she squinted her eyes to see through the mist spraying up in her face. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the handle of the rope to maintain her balance. As she turned a corner, her world was literally turned upside down and her face smacked the water.

It was the end of her second run in the water skiing competition last September. Though she could not immediately get back up and try again, she entered her third run with an attitude of determination.

“I hit a buoy on the outside, and then my ski slid off the buoy. I hit my face on the water when I landed on my chest and face,” freshman Ava Kilpatrick said. “I was happy even though I wiped out because I had just gotten my personal best. The time before I fell still counted, so I was trying to stay positive (during my third run) and keep going.”

Kilpatrick participates in water skiing competitions at Mystic Waters Lake, near Lake Lure. She practices every weekend in the summer with Abel Ski School.

“I haven’t really been to that many (competitions). I’ve only been to two or three,” Kilpatrick said. “There’s just a group of people and one person goes, and we take turns. You do a certain amount of passes and try to do your best. There weren’t a lot of people in my age division, but I got first place at the (competitions) I went to.”

Kilpatrick was 9 years old when she first stepped into a pair of water skis. Her father, Jeff Kilpatrick, took her out on the lake and began a summer tradition.

“She started with a ski that was taller than she was, and she learned on that,” Jeff said. “She used it for several years until we figured she really knew what she was doing. Then we actually spent money on a real ski.”

In addition to water skiing, Kilpatrick is a three-season athlete during the school year, competing in cross country, swimming and track. She plays the violin in orchestra, and orchestra teacher Tiffany King said she has noticed the hard work Kilpatrick puts into her sports transferring over to her instrument.

“Ava is a great student,” King said. “After the first nine weeks, she moved from a second violin part to a first violin part, and she took on the challenge. I don’t usually have freshmen that play first violin parts.”

Her teachers have noticed her dedication in the classroom.

“She’s an overachiever, which is a good thing,” math teacher Jodie Baker said. “She doesn’t like to miss one problem. She has an A on the practice test we did for the Math II final, and she was like, ‘I want to know which one I missed. Which one did I miss, and why did I miss it?’”

This was a sports feature that I wrote as a junior for the second print issue. I am not well-versed in sports at all, but I learned a lot from writing this story. Writing about sports is not too different from writing about anything else; you just need to find your angle and go with it.

The girl squatted down, hitting her knees on the soft green floor. Her legs burned with adrenaline as she stood up, took a deep breath and began to shake out her arms and legs, a semi-superstitious ritual she completes before every match.

Fear and excitement rushed through her veins as she stepped onto the mat, facing the final match of her first season, the one every wrestler dreams of: the state final. She got into her stance. She let out the breath she had been holding. The whistle sounded. The final match had begun.

“It was a really big experience since it’s only my first year wrestling,” sophomore Destiney Cairnes said. “I used all of the tactics I could remember. I didn’t even know all of the tactics. I just worked with what I had.”

The 2018-19 season was Cairnes’ first time stepping on a wrestling mat, and she finished it undefeated by taking first place at the state meet in Greensboro, North Carolina on Feb. 2.

“I had (my teammates) cheering me on and when I came off I hugged Coach (Mike Connelly) and started crying, and I gave Mickey (Allen) and Marissa (Connelly) a hug,” Cairnes said. “All the girls were surrounding me, and I felt really proud and loved. I was also really proud of them too. It was just really emotional.”

Along with the team, Head Wrestling Coach Mike Connelly said he was moved by Cairnes’ win.

“As a coach, you always just want to see every kid you have win and do the best,” Mike Connelly said. “Winning’s not everything, but you want to see them perform to the best of their abilities, and (Cairnes) did. It’s a great feeling knowing those kids worked that hard and you’ve been behind them and seeing them achieve goals that they’ve set out. That’s what coaching is about.”

Not only was this Cairnes’ inaugural wrestling season, this was the first year West has ever had a female wrestling team. The team is comprised of three wrestlers: freshman Mickey Allen, sophomore Cairnes and junior Marissa Connelly.

“We are working our way to make it more of a female sport,” Marissa Connelly said. “It’s just in the beginning so at the moment it’s hard to push through anxiety when wrestling boys or accepting that you aren’t always going to win all your matches. Unless you’re a really buff female, most of the guys out there have done this for years, or they do other sports, so they are more fit. As a female, there are some things you can’t control. You can’t really control your muscle weight, but you can control what you learn and how hard you work.”

Throughout the season, the team competed in many meets and tournaments with schools from across the state, but one in particular stood out to Cairnes.

“My favorite memory was wrestling a Pisgah guy,” Cairnes said. “My lip started bleeding and his nose started bleeding. It was really tough. I almost pinned him, but he came back somehow and managed to pin me. But it was good anyway because I didn’t give up.”

While the team said they have had a lot of good memories during their first year, they have also experienced difficulties because of their gender in the predominantly male sport.

“The most difficult part is that guys think they can take advantage of you in bad and good ways,” Cairnes said. “Some guys exclude us because they think that we’re not supposed to be on the team, but other people are really nice and tried to include us. They think they can beat you because you’re a girl, and I don’t believe in that.”

Despite facing occasional physical and mental limitations, Cairnes and the team said they keep their thoughts positive and put their best effort into each match, which is sometimes more impactful than a win.

“You’re not going to win every match, or beat all those experienced boys,” Cairnes said. “You’re going out there to show them what you can do and what you’re making out of yourself. Wrestling is a contact sport; you have to go out there and show them you can and that you will (do your best).”

I wrote this news story for the first print issue as a sophomore about Henderson County’s report card ranking, and it won a national Gold Key award. It was straight news, no fluff. I thought it was boring when I wrote it, but as I have learned more about journalism, I have come to respect straight news and its lack of bias.

Henderson County Public Schools (HCPS) ranked sixth out of the 115 public school districts in North Carolina for academic proficiency in the 2016-2017 school year, according to a recent report from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. 

Seventy percent of Henderson County students showed proficiency in subjects on the required district report card, in which schools are graded 80 percent on test scores and 20 percent on growth. HCPS now has one A+ school, one A school, 13 B schools and seven C schools. 

From the 2015-2016 school year to 2016-2017, high school Math I scores improved by 7.2 percent and English II by 3.6 percent. ACT scores went up 2.4 percent and WorkKeys scores by 5.6 percent. The overall Henderson County high school end-of course (EOC) exam scores improved by 3.2 percent. 

Twenty schools in Henderson County met or exceeded their growth expectations. According to blueridgenow. com, North Henderson had the highest growth index of 11.64. West was one of the three schools that did not meet expectations with a growth index of -4.72. 

“I think we just have to make little refinements,” said Dr. Jan King, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “We know that what we’re doing is working for most students. Our goal now is to get it working for all students. Do we differentiate for every student? How are we using technology? How do we make sure that an assignment we give using technology is of high rigor? Those are the kinds of questions we’re asking and those will get us to the next level.”

Hannah Edwards, a new English teacher at West, had high English II scores at one of her previous schools, but does not believe in teaching solely to the test. 

“Test scores are really important to teach students multiple ways to grow. You always hope the test scores will grow, but my goal is to make sure the students are growing as individuals,” Edwards said. “I’m not just teaching to the test. I’m teaching to help the students so they know how to write, how to read and how to think critically. Teaching these skills will naturally help the test scores improve and hopefully send them off the charts.” 

Not only will teachers at West strive for higher scores this year, but student body president Parker-Paige Boline believes the students will be pushing themselves. 

“I think we will all work harder this year since we didn’t meet growth last year,” Boline said. “We will be more motivated to get higher scores because we’re a competitive school. We want to be at the top.” 

While Boline and the faculty are focused on fostering the growth of West, King and other central office employees are working on maintaining excellence in the county. 

“HCPS is in the top 20 for every indicator except for one. We made significant gains in our lacking subject, so that is exciting,” King said. “To ensure that we move to the next level, we need to be tighter on some of the things we are a little looser on. We need to be reflecting on how we spend every minute of instructional time, the quality of assignments we give, the quality of the assessments we give, and how we use those assessments for learning. Does that assessment result drive the next piece of learning? Those are the things we have to tighten up.” 

The full NCDPI school report cards containing more detailed school information, were released on Nov. 29

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