Raising awareness and money for autism

Louis and Debbie Perrone, owners of Frankie’s Italian Trattoria in Maggie Valley, have dedicated the past three years of their lives to raising money and awareness for autism.

During the month of April, Frankie’s, along with dozens of other local restaurants and businesses, raised nearly $60,000 for Richie’s Alliance, a non-profit the Perrones established in honor of their son, Richie, who has autism.

Of the $60,000 raised, Richie’s Alliance donated $12,000 to the Haywood County Schools Foundation, with the remainder going to the Olson Huff Center at Mission Children’s Hospital.

The donation to the Haywood County Schools Foundation will be used to support children requiring assistance in the Exceptional Children’s (EC) department and to create scholarships for two graduating seniors.

“Richie has assistance in the classroom, and we wanted to ensure that any child who needs help gets it,” Debbie explained. “Richie could not have been as successful in school without his aide.”

Richie, who just finished up fifth grade at Jonathan Valley Elementary School, will enter sixth grade at Waynesville Middle School in August.

“The staff at Jonathan Valley have been amazing to Richie, and I’m kind of sad that he will be leaving a place that he loves so much,” Debbie said. “We’ve seen such great support for him in school, and I know that all my children are receiving a good education in Haywood County.”

The scholarships from Richie’s Alliance will each be worth $1,000 and will be open to any Haywood County Schools senior who has special needs. Haywood County Schools Foundation’s scholarship application will be available in January 2018 at each high school’s guidance center.

“I want the scholarships to be for those students who otherwise feel like college might be out of their reach,” Debbie explained. “I hope that these scholarships will be an incentive for them and encourage them to follow their dreams.”

The fundraising events for Richie’s Alliance are held in April each year in conjunction with National Autism Awareness Month and Richie’s own birthday.

In 2015, Frankie’s and a few other restaurants raised about $5,000 for the Olson Huff Center with a Dine out for Autism event.

“After that first year, I knew that this could be something really big,” Louis explained. “We created Richie’s Alliance the next year in hopes to grow the event and raise more money for autism services.”

The Perrones succeeded and raised $23,000 in 2016 and more than doubled that this year.

Dozens of local restaurants from Maggie Valley to Dillsboro donated 10 percent of their revenue on April 12, 2017 for Dine out for Autism. That same day, 64 golfers hit the greens at Maggie Valley Country Club for the Casino Royale Autism Awareness Golf Tournament presented by Ken Wilson Ford. The final event, Taste presented by Biltmore Estate, featured dozens of restaurants, breweries, and wineries. Just the live and silent auctions alone at the Taste event raised nearly $30,000.

Louis said his family is setting their sights even higher for 2018.

“Our board is working to make our events bigger and better for next year,” Louis said. “It’s amazing to see the support our local community has shown Richie’s Alliance, autism, and our family.”

“I want people to know that autism is not scary,” Debbie said with a smile. “Richie teaches me so much every day, and I love seeing things from his perspective.”

Next year’s Richie’s Alliance fundraisers will be held the week of April 9, 2018. For more information, visit www.richiesalliance.org.

For more information about the scholarships available through the Haywood County Schools Foundation or to make a donation, contact Jenny Wood Valliere at 828-452-2400 ext 2117.


May 2017 Excellence in Education winners

This month, teachers Erica Smiley, Karen Hopkins, and Sharon Cagle were recognized with Excellence in Education awards.

The Excellence in Education program recognizes teachers from Haywood County Schools who exemplify a commitment to innovative teaching practices and show dedication to student success. The program is sponsored by Jack Bishop of Edward Jones and the Haywood County Schools Foundation (HCSF).

“This program is a just a small way that we are able to recognize teachers of Haywood County Schools,” Bishop said. “The instruction these teachers provide every day is laying the groundwork for our students to become successful.”

Over the past 13 years, Smiley has taught Haywood County’s middle and high school students. She currently teaches American history at Tuscola High School, where she has worked the past three years.

Smiley describes her approach to teaching as one of laughter and joy.

“I know history is not everyone’s favorite subject, but I really want my students to at least appreciate what history has done and how it affects their lives,” Smiley explained. “In order to keep them focused, I try to throw in humor and fun stories to get the point across.”

Besides cracking jokes, Smiley is known for the care and love she shows each of her students. At the end of each semester, she handwrites notes to every student in her class.

“I love teaching, and it is so rewarding to see students understand history and even come to love it,” Smiley said. “I want all my kids to know they are special and valued, no matter what their grade is or how popular they perceive themselves.”

Across the county at Bethel Elementary School, fourth grade students are learning new lessons in reading, math, writing, science, and social studies in Hopkins’ class.

“My heart is blessed each day as I help children realize their value and potential,” Hopkins said with a smile. “My students know that I have high expectations, and they rise to meet those expectations every day.”

Although Hopkins has been teaching for a long time, she says that each day is different, and she loves watching her students learn and grow together academically and socially.

“My classroom is a place where students are encouraged to collaborate with each other across every subject area,” Hopkins said. “They know that we learn best by teaching and sharing with others.”

Down the road at Junaluska Elementary School in Coach Cagle’s gymnasium, students practice motor skills and overall movement.

Cagle, who has been teaching PE for 19 years, says her teaching style is best described as real.

“I am very straight forward and honest with my students, and I treat them the same way I would treat my own kids,” Cagle explained. “I have high standards for them and expect their best; but most of all, I care deeply for them and I love them very, very much.”

While competing in games or sports, Cagle emphasizes the importance of winning gracefully and losing with character. When students prepare to enter middle school, Cagle said she hopes that they have learned how to work together to achieve a common goal and discovered ways to push themselves as individuals inside and outside of the gym.

“Ms. Smiley, Ms. Hopkins, and Coach Cagle are three examples of the great teachers that are working for Haywood County Schools,” Haywood County Schools Foundation Executive Director Jenny Wood Valliere said. “We are so happy to publicly recognize their efforts with the Excellence in Education program.”

Each month, up to three teachers from the 15 Haywood County Schools are recognized with an Excellence in Education award. Award winners are presented with a certificate and a $100 check sponsored by Bishop.


BMS students print and build prosthetic hand

Bethel Middle School students are using their school’s 3D printer to build prosthetic hands for children in need.

Last fall, BMS Media Coordinator Kendra Plemmons received a Duke Energy STEM grant through the Haywood County Schools Foundation.

She used the grant to purchase a 3D scanner to use in coordination with the school’s 3D printer.

As Plemmons researched ways to incorporate the 3D printer and scanner into her curriculum, she found the Prosthetics Kids Hand Challenge. Over the past two years, more than 800 classes from 41 different countries have worked with the organization, which was started by a middle school teacher and his students in Irmo, S.C., to build prosthetic hands for children in need.

“The Prosthetic Kids Hands Challenge allows our students the chance to collaborate, design, and print something while also changing the life of a child,” Plemmons explained. “For something to be printed, that means they have spent a great deal of time and patience designing, correcting, and printing their product.”

The STEM-based project blends science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and prepares students to be the next generation of innovators.

“STEM is so important because I not only want my students to be successful in school, but I also want to help prepare them to become productive members of society,” Plemmons said. “In order for our students to be globally competitive, we must engage them in class and encourage learning and exploration.”

Plemmons said the 3D printer and scanner have given students the opportunity to learn about new technology, from the design software, to the scanner, to the actual 3D printing process, that allows them to interact in real time while using their imagination.

“In 3D design and printing, nothing is ever perfect the first time,” Plemmons said. “The process allows students to ease their fear of failure and think critically to problem solve and gain confidence in their ability to do so.”

While in class, Plemmons functions as a facilitator while guiding students through the problem-solving process of creating the prosthetic hand. Students engage in questioning, problem solving, and collaboration while they address the design and construction of the hand.

The prosthetic hand is meant for a child who has basic wrist function but is missing fingers, Plemmons said. The wrist function allows the person to move a hinge that allows the hand to grasp. The hand is padded and attached to the forearm by Velcro straps.

Each piece of the prosthetic hand takes anywhere from four minutes to several hours to construct, and there are many pieces.

“It’s really cool that we are getting to print some kid a hand who has never even been able to pick up a cup before,” Lucas, a seventh grader said. “I like getting to design and build the different projects in class.”

The 3D printer works like a high-tech hot-glue gun Plemmons explained. Rolls of filament that come in different colors snake into the print head, where it is heated to 410 degrees Fahrenheit. The melted material comes out of a nozzle and is swirled onto the print bed. Fans then blow on the design, which make it immediately harden. Software tells the printer what coordinates to use in the design while the object grows layer by layer.

Once all pieces of the hand are printed, students will assemble the hand using everything from Velcro to fishing line. Plemmons will then ship the completed 3-D prosthetic hand to Enable the Future, where it will be inspected to ensure it functions properly, and then displayed alongside other hands created from around the world.

Once the challenge has ended, the prosthetic hands will be sent to children in need at no cost to their families.

Once the Hand Challenge has ended, Plemmons plans to incorporate the 3D printer and scanner in the media center’s Makerspace. The Makerspace is an area set up in the library that provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent. As a Makerspace fixture, the school’s 250 students will have the opportunity to design, create, and build prototypes using the 3D scanner and printer.

“I’m so thankful for the grant I received because it’s going to touch every student in our school,” Plemmons said. “My goal is to make the media center the central hub of our school and the place where students enjoy spending time reading, working, and being creative.”


BMS students build prosthetic hand

Bethel Middle School students are using their school’s 3D printer to build prosthetic hands for children in need.

Last fall, BMS Media Coordinator Kendra Plemmons received a Duke Energy STEM grant through the Haywood County Schools Foundation.

She used the grant to purchase a 3D scanner to use in coordination with the school’s 3D printer.

As Plemmons researched ways to incorporate the 3D printer and scanner into her curriculum, she found the Prosthetics Kids Hand Challenge. Over the past two years, more than 800 classes from 41 different countries have worked with the organization, which was started by a middle school teacher and his students in Irmo, S.C., to build prosthetic hands for children in need.

“The Prosthetic Kids Hands Challenge allows our students the chance to collaborate, design, and print something while also changing the life of a child,” Plemmons explained. “For something to be printed, that means they have spent a great deal of time and patience designing, correcting, and printing their product.”

The STEM-based project blends science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and prepares students to be the next generation of innovators.

“STEM is so important because I not only want my students to be successful in school, but I also want to help prepare them to become productive members of society,” Plemmons said. “In order for our students to be globally competitive, we must engage them in class and encourage learning and exploration.”

Plemmons said the 3D printer and scanner have given students the opportunity to learn about new technology, from the design software, to the scanner, to the actual 3D printing process, that allows them to interact in real time while using their imagination.

“In 3D design and printing, nothing is ever perfect the first time,” Plemmons said. “The process allows students to ease their fear of failure and think critically to problem solve and gain confidence in their ability to do so.”

While in class, Plemmons functions as a facilitator while guiding students through the problem-solving process of creating the prosthetic hand. Students engage in questioning, problem solving, and collaboration while they address the design and construction of the hand.

The prosthetic hand is meant for a child who has basic wrist function but is missing fingers, Plemmons said. The wrist function allows the person to move a hinge that allows the hand to grasp. The hand is padded and attached to the forearm by Velcro straps.

Each piece of the prosthetic hand takes anywhere from four minutes to several hours to construct, and there are many pieces.

“It’s really cool that we are getting to print some kid a hand who has never even been able to pick up a cup before,” Lucas, a seventh grader said. “I like getting to design and build the different projects in class.”

The 3D printer works like a high-tech hot-glue gun Plemmons explained. Rolls of filament that come in different colors snake into the print head, where it is heated to 410 degrees Fahrenheit. The melted material comes out of a nozzle and is swirled onto the print bed. Fans then blow on the design, which make it immediately harden. Software tells the printer what coordinates to use in the design while the object grows layer by layer.

Once all pieces of the hand are printed, students will assemble the hand using everything from Velcro to fishing line. Plemmons will then ship the completed 3-D prosthetic hand to Enable the Future, where it will be inspected to ensure it functions properly, and then displayed alongside other hands created from around the world.

Once the challenge has ended, the prosthetic hands will be sent to children in need at no cost to their families.

Once the Hand Challenge has ended, Plemmons plans to incorporate the 3D printer and scanner in the media center’s Makerspace. The Makerspace is an area set up in the library that provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent. As a Makerspace fixture, the school’s 250 students will have the opportunity to design, create, and build prototypes using the 3D scanner and printer.

“I’m so thankful for the grant I received because it’s going to touch every student in our school,” Plemmons said. “My goal is to make the media center the central hub of our school and the place where students enjoy spending time reading, working, and being creative.”


Book makes classroom connection

Students at Canton Middle School are learning that great minds do not always think alike.

After reading Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree over spring break, seventh grade teacher Kaleigh McAlister knew that the book would provide much needed inspiration and self-confidence for her students to finish the school year.

“The book has so many elements of what we teach in language arts, but the book’s overall message for students is why I really wanted to share it with my class,” McAlister explained. “I think the book does a good job of showing them that they are more than the pieces of themselves.”

The book’s main character Ally, is finally learning to read after struggling with Dyslexia her whole life. Her past teachers labeled her as a trouble maker who would rather disrupt class and crack jokes than do her assignments. When she gets a new teacher, he shows Ally that nothing is impossible and that her life has endless possibilities.

“I want my students to know that their dreams are within reach, and that I believe in them just like the teacher in the book,” McAlister said with a smile. “The book is really about having a mindset of personal growth.”

When McAlister returned from spring break, she found out that she had just missed the April 7 deadline to request school funds. Principal Todd Barbee encouraged her to reach out to the Haywood County Schools Foundation for assistance.

Within hours of sending an email to Foundation Executive Director Jenny Wood Valliere, McAlister was writing a grant for $205 to purchase the books.

“The Haywood County Schools Foundation has allowed me to share a book that I love with my students, foster an environment for open discussion within my classroom about the various conflicts that students face, and openly discuss different learning abilities and disabilities that impact my students’ daily lives,” McAlister said. “The lessons around the book have helped me connect with my students on a deeper level than before, study our content through a new and exciting piece of literature, and prepare them for the rest of their school careers.”

Each day when students enter McAlister’s class, she gives them a topic to focus on and then asks them to pull text evidence from the book. So far, McAlister has used the book to discuss symbolism, internal and external conflict, character development, sensory details, imagery, figurative language, as well as the author’s purpose.

It is not often that teenagers admittedly relate to the characters in the books they are assigned to read.

“I like the book because it is relatable, and I feel like I can connect Ally’s story to real life,” Kendall, a seventh grader, said. “Ms. McAlister is always upbeat and positive, which inspires us all to do more.”

McAlister is hopeful that the lessons from Fish in a Tree about annotating text, answering higher-level thinking questions, and other language arts subjects will help her students as they prepare for end-of-grade tests (EOGs).

“Teachers like Ms. McAlister are what make Haywood County Schools a top performer in the state,” Valliere said. “The Foundation is proud to be able to support grants that benefit our students’ education.”

The Haywood County Schools Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding educational opportunities for the students and faculty of Haywood County Schools.

Each fall, the Haywood County Schools Foundation offers teacher and faculty grants from First Citizens Bank, Evergreen Packaging, Duke Energy, HomeTrust Bank and QuickDraw. Last November, the Haywood County Schools Foundation awarded more than 170 grants to teachers and faculty totaling more than $35,000 for the 2016-17 school year. Grants will open for the 2017-18 school year late summer/fall.

For more information about sponsoring classroom grants, contact Haywood County Schools Executive Director Jenny Wood Valliere at 828-456-2400 or email jwood@haywood.k12.nc.us.


Book makes classroom connection

Students at Canton Middle School are learning that great minds do not always think alike.

After reading Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree over spring break, seventh grade teacher Kaleigh McAlister knew that the book would provide much needed inspiration and self-confidence for her students to finish the school year.

“The book has so many elements of what we teach in language arts, but the book’s overall message for students is why I really wanted to share it with my class,” McAlister explained. “I think the book does a good job of showing them that they are more than the pieces of themselves.”

The book’s main character Ally, is finally learning to read after struggling with Dyslexia her whole life. Her past teachers labeled her as a trouble maker who would rather disrupt class and crack jokes than do her assignments. When she gets a new teacher, he shows Ally that nothing is impossible and that her life has endless possibilities.

“I want my students to know that their dreams are within reach, and that I believe in them just like the teacher in the book,” McAlister said with a smile. “The book is really about having a mindset of personal growth.”

When McAlister returned from spring break, she found out that she had just missed the April 7 deadline to request school funds. Principal Todd Barbee encouraged her to reach out to the Haywood County Schools Foundation for assistance.

Within hours of sending an email to Foundation Executive Director Jenny Wood Valliere, McAlister was writing a grant for $205 to purchase the books.

“The Haywood County Schools Foundation has allowed me to share a book that I love with my students, foster an environment for open discussion within my classroom about the various conflicts that students face, and openly discuss different learning abilities and disabilities that impact my students’ daily lives,” McAlister said. “The lessons around the book have helped me connect with my students on a deeper level than before, study our content through a new and exciting piece of literature, and prepare them for the rest of their school careers.”

Each day when students enter McAlister’s class, she gives them a topic to focus on and then asks them to pull text evidence from the book. So far, McAlister has used the book to discuss symbolism, internal and external conflict, character development, sensory details, imagery, figurative language, as well as the author’s purpose.

It is not often that teenagers admittedly relate to the characters in the books they are assigned to read.

“I like the book because it is relatable, and I feel like I can connect Ally’s story to real life,” Kendall, a seventh grader, said. “Ms. McAlister is always upbeat and positive, which inspires us all to do more.”

McAlister is hopeful that the lessons from Fish in a Tree about annotating text, answering higher-level thinking questions, and other language arts subjects will help her students as they prepare for end-of-grade tests (EOGs).

“Teachers like Ms. McAlister are what make Haywood County Schools a top performer in the state,” Valliere said. “The Foundation is proud to be able to support grants that benefit our students’ education.”

The Haywood County Schools Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding educational opportunities for the students and faculty of Haywood County Schools.

Each fall, the Haywood County Schools Foundation offers teacher and faculty grants from First Citizens Bank, Evergreen Packaging, Duke Energy, HomeTrust Bank and QuickDraw. Last November, the Haywood County Schools Foundation awarded more than 170 grants to teachers and faculty totaling more than $35,000 for the 2016-17 school year. Grants will open for the 2017-18 school year late summer/fall.

For more information about sponsoring classroom grants, contact Haywood County Schools Executive Director Jenny Wood Valliere at 828-456-2400 or email jwood@haywood.k12.nc.us.


Legacy lives on in scholarship

The impact of Clara “Lee” McLean’s life did not end on January 27, 2017 when she passed away.

McLean’s infectious laugh, glowing smile, and generous spirit live on in the Tuscola Class of ’73 Lee McLean Memorial Scholarship Fund.

In 2013 at Tuscola High School’s (THS) class of 1973 40th reunion, the group of alumni, including McLean, decided they wanted to do something to give back to their old high school and its students.

“In planning the 40th reunion, the idea to create a scholarship came about and we decided to promote it to our fellow classmates,” Rick Webb, THS ’73 class president and scholarship co-chair, said. “Coming out of the reunion, the scholarship was launched and there was immediate acceptance and excitement.”

McLean, along with Webb, served on the scholarship steering committee since its creation three years ago.

The first year, the committee raised enough money amongst their classmates to give $1,000 to one graduating female and male from THS.

Webb said each year since, they have continued to raise money to offer the two scholarships every spring at the Haywood County Schools Foundation Partners in Education Scholarship Celebration.

Over the course of three years, the Tuscola Class of ’73 Scholarship Fund has assisted six THS seniors attend college. The scholarship fund continues to grow, and Webb said the committee is considering increasing or expanding the scholarships.

Last December, Webb received a call from McLean.

“I thought she was calling me to tell me that she was sending in her annual donation to the scholarship,” Webb said. “Unfortunately, she was calling to tell me that she was gravely ill.”

Webb immediately contacted other members of the scholarship steering committee to share the sad news. The group decided it wanted to honor McLean’s life and contributions by renaming the scholarship in her honor.

“It was clear to all of us that Lee’s involvement in the creation of the scholarship was deserving of special recognition,” Webb said.

Webb drove from his home in Cary, N.C. to visit with McLean the following weekend.

“During my visit with her, I was able to ask her for her blessing on renaming the scholarship in her honor and ultimate memory,” Webb said. “The scholarship has always been close to her, and she was very happy with our decision to rename it.”

Applications for the Tuscola Class of ’73 Lee McLean Memorial Scholarship Fund are now open through the Haywood County Schools Foundation. Tuscola seniors can download an application online at www.hcsf.haywood.k12.nc.us or pick up an application from the guidance center. The deadline to apply is Monday, March 13.

“I think that the class of ‘73 has done a great job to make this scholarship available, and I know that Lee would be so proud,” Webb said. “We want to give young people a chance to continue their education, and the scholarship is a way for all of us to give back in Lee’s honor.”

In May 2016 at the Foundation’s Partners in Education awards ceremony, 97 high school seniors from Pisgah, Tuscola, Central Haywood, and the Haywood Early College received scholarships totaling $176,450.

The Haywood County Schools Foundation currently manages more than 60 scholarships that have been established by businesses and individuals in the community. Scholarships may be endowed or funded annually. Criteria for awarding the scholarship are designed by the donors and the Foundation Board of Directors. Endowed scholarships are generated through the investment of permanently-held principals, so that only the income from the principal is used for scholarship awards.

For more information about donating to the Tuscola Class of ’73 Lee McLean Memorial Scholarship Fund or setting up a scholarship through the Haywood County Schools Foundation, contact Executive Director Jenny Wood Valliere at 828-456-2400 or visit www.hcsf.haywood.k12.nc.us.


Media centers create maker stations

School libraries are no longer simply a holding area for books, they now serve as a learning hub for schools. More often than not, the time it takes to teach curriculum in the classroom leaves little extra time for teachers to plan lessons that fuse their students’ creativity and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

In many of Haywood County Schools’ media centers, including North Canton Elementary School, media specialists are working with teachers to create maker stations for students. Maker stations are areas set up in the library that provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they engage in STEM-related activities.

“Our maker stations gives students a place to explore STEM-related projects while also being creative,” North Canton Media Specialist Valerie Guyer explained. “The students love the independent activities and using the technology.”

Through the Haywood County Schools Foundation, Guyer applied for and received one grant from Duke Energy and one grant from Evergreen Packaging last fall. She used the money to purchase materials for two maker stations.

One maker station is centered around virtual reality (VR). Using VR headsets, students can ride through the eye of a tornado, explore systems of the human body, and tour Egyptian pyramids. Teachers use the VR station to connect the subjects students are learning about in the classroom with interactive 3D experiences.

“The VR headsets give our students a chance to experience things they would never have access to normally,” Guyer explained. “It’s been a great tool to get students excited about working together, conducting investigations, and learning about subjects that are typically hard to teach.”

The other maker station Guyer received funding for is home to the school’s Dash and Dot Robot duo.

The robots present students with hundreds of projects, challenges, puzzles, and freeform play while making computer science education fun and effective. Students learn to code while they make the robots sing, dance, and navigate the media center.

“Without the Foundation grants from Duke Energy and Evergreen, these maker stations would not be possible for our school,” Guyer said. “These maker stations will give our students even more exposure to STEM, which is so important in education and beyond in today’s world.”

Each fall, the Haywood County Schools Foundation offers teacher and faculty grants from First Citizens Bank, Evergreen Packaging, Duke Energy, HomeTrust Bank, and QuickDraw. Last November, the Haywood County Schools Foundation awarded more than 170 grants to teachers and faculty totaling more than $35,000 for the 2016-17 school year. Grants will open for the 2017-18 school year in the fall.


February Excellence in Education

This month, veteran teachers Harold Shepard and Rhonda Wester were recognized with Excellence in Education awards.

The Excellence in Education program recognizes teachers from Haywood County Schools who exemplify a commitment to innovative teaching practices and show dedication to student success. The program is sponsored by Jack Bishop of Edward Jones and the Haywood County Schools Foundation (HCSF).

“Our Edward Jones office is honored to be able to recognize Haywood County’s outstanding teachers,” Bishop said. “Our students are receiving a world-class education from some of the most talented teachers in the state.”

Over the course of 16 years, Shepard has taught Haywood County Schools students everything from middle school English to high school biology. He currently teaches science and history courses at Pisgah High School, where he has worked the past nine years.

Shepard’s teaching approach is hands-on, and his students have become accustomed to walking in the classroom and hearing Shepard say “let’s take a field trip.”

“On any given day, we may go outside to get into revolutionary war skirmish lines or to the river to test water or spend time conducting junior archaeology to discover pottery in local fields,” Shepard explained. “I am constantly looking for ways to help my students relate to the subject matter better.”

Shepard said one of the best learning experiences he planned for his students was retracing the Rutherford Trace Trail, the 1776 campaign of Gen. Griffith Rutherford whose army marched from Old Fort through the Bethel community, burning 52 Cherokee towns.

“Because of my ‘drop-what-we-are-doing-and-lets-go-look’ style, to the untrained eye my room looks like an unstructured mess, but I have been very lucky to have principals and administration to allow me to develop and grow as a teacher,” Shepard said. “More importantly, it has made students enjoy coming to class and learning something new.”

Just across the river at Canton Middle School, sixth grade students are learning reading and English skills and solving math problems in Wester’s class. Wester, who has been teaching for 18 years, challenges her Exceptional Children (EC) students to become better students and community members.

“I love teaching because my work has a purpose,” Wester said with a smile. “I get the opportunity to touch the lives of students and contribute to making their future one that is bright and productive.”

Although Wester has been teaching for a long time, she says that each day is different and never boring with her students.

“When you love what you do, not only will you make a difference in your students’ lives, but you will make a difference in your own as well,” Wester said.

Wester said she works tirelessly to ensure that her classroom is a safe harbor for students and that they are loved and accepted.

“Mr. Shepard and Ms. Wester are two examples of the great teachers that are working for Haywood County Schools,” Haywood County Schools Foundation Executive Director Jenny Wood Valliere said. “We are so happy to publicly recognize their efforts with the Excellence in Education program.”

Each month, up to three teachers from the 15 Haywood County Schools are recognized with an Excellence in Education award. Award winners are presented with a certificate and a $100 check sponsored by Bishop.

 


HEC student attends leadership summit

Among the thousands of people who were in Washington D.C. for the 58th Presidential Inauguration was Abi Bleakley, a first-year student at Haywood Early College.

As political activists and advocates from both parties flooded the streets of the nation’s capital, Bleakley’s attention was focused on immersing herself in leadership talks and getting to know students from across the country at the Envision Leadership Summit.

“Politics seems to get messy, but I believe in educating myself,” Bleakley explained. “This was a good opportunity for me to gain leadership skills and learn about the political process in general.”

During her five-night trip, Bleakley took in all the sights before diving into leadership-based seminars.

Bleakley, along with the hundreds other students in attendance, got to hear from two former presidential candidates, Governor Martin O’Malley and Carly Fiorina. They shared stories from the campaign trail, insights on what it is like to run for president, and even debated a few current issues facing the United States.

“They really set a good example for how a debate should be,” Bleakley said. “They kept their arguments respectable, and I really admired them both for that.”

Governor O’Malley and Fiorini were just a few of the famous and influential speakers Bleakley heard from. She attended lectures delivered by General Colin Powell, film maker Spike Lee, soccer star Abby Wambach, and human rights activist Ziauddin Yousafzai.

“All the speakers made good points,” Bleakley said. “The overall theme from each of them was that you have to know who you are and what you stand for to be a good leader.”

Bleakley also worked in a group with other students in a breakout delegation about access to clean drinking water. Her group generated solutions and presented their findings at a final presentation in front of judges.

“Our students learn how to build relationships and become successful in college and outside of school,” Haywood Early College Principal Jeff Haney said. “Abi, like many of our other students here, is out doing great things and seeing herself as someone in this world who can bring about change.”

Although the focus of Bleakley’s trip was about the political process, she says she has not determined her career path yet.

“I’ve gone back and forth about my political aspirations,” Bleakley said with a smile. “I think I might be interested in majoring in political science, but I know I’ve got some time to figure it out.”