The Transylvania Times -

Everyday Education: Students Learn To Lead For Today And Tomorrow


Last updated 3/30/2020 at 4:39pm

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Entirely student-run, the BHS Thespian cast and crew of "Escape to Cancel" brought home honors from the North Carolina Theatre Conference.

Candice Burchill, a graduate of Rosman High School, now teaches theatre at Brevard High School and sponsors the school's Inter-national Thespian Society chapter.

"I love seeing the passion in students thrive," Burchill said. "Students have such wonderfully creative minds, and when given the space, they can create some of the most beautiful art I have ever seen."

Burchill and other high school teachers in Tran-sylvania County Schools not only perceive but also cultivate the possibilities and potential they see in their students. Their outlook and work promise benefits for the future of our community by shaping our future leaders.

Burchill's relationship with students is best described as mentoring. By having students call her "Candice," a common practice among theatre teachers, she invites them to rise to be her peers. From there the challenges continue, culminating with using industry-standard equipment and creating and running a show that is wholly their own.

"Once any of our shows go up, they are completely student-run," said Burchill. "Adults help students pre-pare, but the students are responsible for the exe-cution."

In a different vein, technical theatre students build skills that often lead them to work with professional companies such as Asheville Community Theatre before they graduate.

On stage and off, mentorships like these develop students' ambition by instilling the idea that they can attain meaningful achievements with dedication and hard work. This belief is inherent in the value of tradition, one of the essential characteristics of rural identity, according to Stambaugh and Wood, co-editors of "Serving Gifted Students in Rural Settings."

Students who produce the BHS yearbook also take part in tradition, in both senses of the word. Dating back to 1944, The Brevardier has grown to be a 220-page book compiled by dedicated students whose hard work mirrors that of a commercial enterprise.

From the editor to business manager, from writers to photographers, the annual $30,000 publication contract is almost exclusively student-run, says sponsor and teacher Josh Tinsley, who is himself a Brevard High School graduate.

Tinsley's students gain experience interfacing between the school and the larger Transylvania business community as they establish and fulfill the advertising contracts which sustain the yearbook.

In addition to these public relations and business skills, yearbook staff use industry-standard design and publication software.

"The students learn real world skills like few other high school programs can offer," said Tinsley. "Students can participate in and lead in similar roles wherever they go after they leave."

Along with the value of tradition, the Rosman High School Alumni Hall of Fame exemplifies the essential rural values of sense of place, differing definitions of success, and community.

Teacher Julie Queen, whose students launched the Hall of Fame in 2012, hails from Howard, Ohio, population 242.

"It's important for young adults to see that they can serve and lead, and for them to realize that attitude, perspective, support systems and goals help them leave lasting legacies," said Queen. "Rosman's Senior Service Day grew out of a Character Education class project, and the Alumni Hall of Fame did too. Students come to see that their actions have a trickle down effect."

For the Alumni Hall of Fame, student-led com-mittees annually induct members in five categories: public service, career success, athletic achievements, inspirational experiences, and contribution to RHS.

While only Rosman alumni and former teachers may be nominated for the first four categories, the final category exists to develop and extend a broader sense of appreciation for those who contribute to the school.

"We hope to bring the relationship of our school and the community together as one," wrote the founding class when framing the Hall of Fame bylaws.

Units of study within Queen's Character Education class range from research on contemporary humanitarian crises to interviewing and active listening skills. The effects of Queen's curriculum and the class's ongoing work with the Hall of Fame are clear from this course evaluation: "After this class, I am going to enjoy taking every opportunity I get to do for others."

BHS graduate Katrina Smith shares Queen's passion for shaping future leaders' characters within the specific context and rural value of community. As a teacher in her alma mater's Exceptional Children's Department and sponsor of the Unified Club, she brings social inclusion into students' daily lives.

According to the Special Olympics' Project UNIFY factsheet, traditional public schools nationwide are implementing physical and instructional inclusion for students with intellectual disabilities, yet social isolation, negative attitudes and rejection by peers compromise their social and emotional well-being.

In contrast, the BHS Unified Club's president and vice president organize weekly activities which help raise awareness about students with intellectual disabilities and which increase opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to get involved in the school.

"Unified Club allows all students to interact and participate in a community of acceptance," said Smith, "and I like watching the relationships develop and grow between students."

Nationally, nearly 74 percent of Project UNIFY participants reflected that it was a turning point in their lives: they reported becoming more patient and learning to compromise. Two-thirds said they learned they have things in common with their peers with intellectual disabilities.

This compassion ripples out more widely as Unified Club members with and without intellectual disabil-ities engage in advocacy and leadership to promote Project UNIFY activities.

"Holding our com-munity wide events requires all club members to develop and use a lot of teamwork and leadership skills," said club founder Sara Plum, now Exceptional Children Department chair. "Planning, organizing, working with a diverse group of people, differentiating activities to meet varying ability levels, collaborating with teachers who sponsor other clubs and administration – those skills make possible our annual R-Word Campaign, St. Patrick's Day Dance, Field Day, and the Polar Plunge."

Craig Pritchett, head football coach at Brevard High School, recognizes that by providing leadership opportunities he is developing values in his students as well as in others.

On the field, of course, teamwork and communi-cation contribute to leader-ship, but Pritchett has expanded the arena for players to develop and use these skills by establishing a leadership council, with players elected by their teammates at the end of the season. Off the field, Pritchett has developed a servant-leadership initiative for athletes, giving them several opportunities to engage with elementary students through-out the year.

"Serving others should be an emphasis in any program, especially where you are trying to build role models for younger people," said Pritchett. "It encourages students to give back and not expect anything in return." Annual service events include reading to elementary classes, the Brevard Elemen-tary color run, and the Pisgah Forest Elementary field day.

Stambaugh and Wood recommend that educators respect and develop rural students' talents, especially when the students, their families and the community connect those talents to a higher purpose. They list spirituality, a focus on the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things, as an integral part of many rural communities.

Shannon Allison, execu-tive director of Transylvania County Schools Educational Foundation (TCSEF), shows how pursuing career interests not for wealth but for higher motivations reflects local values.

"My personal passion is helping children connect with their passions and purpose," muses Allison. "I believe it helps a child get more out of an educational experience when they see where they are now and what they are learning now builds to get them to where and who they want to be."

One specific TCSEF program being piloted in Rosman area schools, called the Tiger Impact Group, seeks to develop leadership skills in students and give them opportunities to explore career possibilities while instilling work ethic, self worth and dreaming big. Once established, TCSEF plans to expand and customize it for all schools in the district.

TCSEF has renamed its Washington, D.C., CloseUp scholarship as the Exper-iential Learning Scholarship, reflecting its new goal of sending a rising high school student in Transylvania County Schools to explore a career field/area of study. Examples include Design Camp at N.C. State's College of Design, PARI Space Camp, Camp MasterChef, Savannah College of Art and Design Summer Seminar, or Economics for Leaders at Wake Forest University.

"If a student has an interest in a specific career," said Allison, "we want to support them as they explore it further. We want to help children develop a vision for their futures and have a clear view of what is possible if they are willing to show up and work hard. The ultimate goal is to empower them to turn their passion into a successful future as impactful adult leaders in their careers and the communities where they choose to live."

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The Rosman Alumni Hall of Fame committee is led by students and includes teacher representatives. This year's committee, left to right: Meadow McCall, Madison Henson, Chesney Perry, Tammy Hall (teacher rep), Julie Queen (teacher, committee chair), Callie Owen, Grant Reese and Nathan Mahoney.

Students can apply online at Fdx4widViL1vRb338.

There is an expectation in rural schools, claim Stambaugh and Wood, that students will have to function well biculturally, meaning that they may move back and forth between city and country, perhaps many times. By contrast, there is no expectation placed upon urban schools to prepare their students for anything beyond city life.

Transylvania high school teachers like Burchill, Tinsley, Queen, Smith, and Pritchett and TCSEF foundation supporters understand the necessity of preparing students to succeed in any context. Metaphorically, they use windows of opportunity and perspective and mirrors of tradition, sense of place, differing definitions of success, spirituality and community to shed light on students' passions and prepare them to use their passions to lead.

(Heidi Bullock has taught in Transylvania County Schools since 1999.)


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