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SCHOOL SCENE

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A Look at Activities in the Wayne Highlands School District

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SECTION H • SEPTEMBER, 2017 • CALLICOON, NY

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HONESDALE SCHOOL SCENE

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At start of school, a staff assembly with music and kid-wisdom STORY AND PHOTOS BY KATHY DALEY

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he back-to-school convocation for staff at Honesdale High School began with the thrilling thunder of the marching band’s drums. Wayne Highlands School District teachers and staff, 400 strong, first filtered into the auditorium, gabbing and welcoming one another after the respite of summer. The lights went down. The drums rolled, and down the aisles rushed the high school’s marching band in full uniform, sashes across chests, shoulder capes in place and plumed hats atop heads. The crowd roared as the band kept up a staccato pace of tunes from the 1980s, breaking into a pure drum number that featured the other band members dancing on stage. The adults took to their feet in a standing ovation. “When people started to clap, I was overwhelmed,” said drum major Stephanie Matlaga afterwards. “I was so happy that people were excited.” “What better way is there to focus on the human spirit of what we do beyond academics?” added Superintendent of Schools Gregory Frigoletto. The District has much to celebrate this year. Once again, Wayne Highlands learned it had surpassed the state and national average for 2016 SAT scores. The Pittsburgh Business Times, which ranks districts academically each year, placed Wayne Highlands 76 out of 500 districts in the state, scoring the district in the top 15 percent, statewide, for academic achievement. Then last May, Wayne Highlands accepted the Best Communities for Music Education designation from the not-for-profit National Association of

Music Merchants (NAMM). The district was one of 4% of districts across the nation receiving the prestigious award. Celebrating its population of 830 high school students and re-focusing its teachers on their all-important role provided the focus of the staff assembly. First, Frigoletto introduced a districtproduced video with the words “Kids say the darndest things,” a reference to the classic TV show hosted by Art Linkletter. The superintendent explained that, over the summer, school principals called in students to be filmed answering questions about schools and teachers. “What do you like about your teacher?” the youngest students were asked. “She’s always funny.” “She teaches us new things.” “She teaches us how to say please and thank you,” they responded. Older students offered rich reflections. “A good teacher is someone who treats you with respect and has high expectations of you,” said one student. “A good teacher likes to keep an open classroom, open to discussion, and likes to learn from you as well,” responded another. “I like a teacher who lets you speak your own mind and talk your own thoughts,” declared a high school student, while his classmate added, “A good teacher can be silly, not always 100 percent serious.” Frigoletto went on to share the wisdom of Dr. Rita Pierson, a 40-year teacher from Texas who received nationwide recognition before she

A look at Activities in the Wayne Highlands School District

School Scene Published by

Catskill-Delaware Publications, Inc. Publishers of the

(845) 887-5200 Callicoon, NY 12723 September 12, 2017 • Vol. CXXVII, No. 26

To a packed auditorium of teachers and other staff members, the Honesdale High School marching band prepares to play at back-to-school convocation on August 22.

died in 2013. During a PBS production of TED Talks, Pierson addressed what she called the bond that is missing between educators and students. “Every child deserves a champion,” Pierson said, “an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and who insists that they become the best they can possibly be.” “Teachers become great actors and great actresses,” she added. “And we come to work when we don’t feel like it, and we’re listening to policy that doesn't make sense – and we teach anyway.” Frigoletto himself spoke about the opportunity teachers have to profoundly impact the lives of kids. Nowadays, students often arrive at school with great challenges and great needs, “the result of unbelievable circumstances (such as economic or family problems),” he said. Often, teachers may feel that with Publisher: Editor: Sports Editor: Editorial Assistants: Advertising Director: Advertising Coordinator: Advertising Representatives: Special Sections Coordinator: Business Manager: Business Department: Telemarketing Coordinator: Monticello Office Manager: Classified Manager: Production Associates: Circulation & Distribution:

some students they are taking two steps forward and one step backward. “But that is still forward progress,” stressed the superintendent of schools. “Every day, let’s move our kids two steps forwards.” The convocation ended on an electrifying note – a performance by members of the High School choral group of a scene from the award-winning Broadway musical “Hamilton.” The play focuses on the life of Revolutionary War hero and statesman Alexander Hamilton and is a hit with teenagers and adults. The district sent a video of the Honesdale take on “Hamilton” to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which then invited the Wayne Highlands kids to perform at their annual convention in Hershey, PA in October. “Why are we here?” asked Frigoletto. “We’re here for the kids. It’s that simple.”

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Lessons from the musical ‘Hamilton’ – and that the show must go on STORY AND PHOTO BY KATHY DALEY

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he high school choral students knew the bit from the Broadway smash hit “Hamilton” to a tee. They'd staged the powerful poetic piece to acclaim at the high school’s spring concert and had practiced this summer as well. But what the kids didn’t expect on August 22, when they were due to perform it at the District staff’s back-toschool convocation – was that lead soloist Kirsten Gager would that day fall, twist her knee and suffer a bad sprain in the aisle of the school auditorium. It all happened fast. Kirsten was running down the aisle toward the stage along with other members of the high school marching band. Boom! She went down. “I tried to get back up and stand, but I couldn’t place my leg on the floor,” she said. “(Assistant Band Director) Ginger Stanton grabbed my arm and helped me hobble out the door.” But Kirsten was needed moments later for the planned singing of the National Anthem by four students, with Kirsten as soprano. “Mrs. Stanton held me up on stage and we did it. I don’t remember much, but I think my determination and stubbornness came into play. At one point, I almost passed out.” Set to sing and dance in the “Hamilton” piece, Kirsten was told in no uncertain terms by the school nurse that she was not to perform again. On a moment’s notice, fellow choral singer Melody Feustel stepped into the lead role. Melody had choreographed the student version of the

song for her fellow students. “I love ‘Hamilton,’” said Feustel. “It sheds new light on history, highlighting Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and Lafayette, people we only read about but know little to nothing about their personal lives.” She knew all the lines, spoken and sung in rap style on Broadway by playwright and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda and others. The piece includes the following: I am not throwing away my shot I am not throwing away my shot Hey yo, I’m just like my country I’m young, scrappy and hungry And I’m not throwing away my shot I’ll get a scholarship to King’s College

I prob’ly shouldn’t brag, but dag, I amaze and astonish The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish I gotta holler just to be heard With every word, I drop knowledge I’m a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal Tryin’ to reach my goal my power of speech, unimpeachable Only nineteen but my mind is older These New York City streets get colder, I shoulder Every burden, every disadvantage I have learned to manage, I don’t have a gun to brandish I walk these streets famished The plan is to fan this spark into a flame But damn, it’s getting dark, so let me

spell out the name I am the A-L-E-X-A-N-D-E-R we are meant to be. At Honesdale High, the audience of teachers gave the performers a standing ovation. “Hamilton as a piece resonates with a lot of people,” said student performer Emma Messersmith later on. “It's because of what’s going on in our country now. There are a lot of lessons in Hamilton – especially that we are all together and that communication is crucial.” Young people also find the play compelling, added student Michael Kirk, because, with Alexander Hamilton at age 19 as the curtain opens, “it's about finding yourself and growing up.”

Play-acting some moves from the musical 'Hamilton,' are, from left in high school, students Stephanie Matlaga and Emma Messersmith, band teacher Betty Ann Robson, student Kirsten Gager, choral teacher Martha Curtis, and students Melody Feustel and Michael Kirk.

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SEPTEMBER, 2017

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eacher Kayla Hack describes her new high school program as an academy, that is, a place of study or training in a particular field – and Hack’s specific field is agriculture. Yet the comprehensive Agriculture program-in-the-making is not just the plows and cows type, but rather the study of plant and animal sciences, forestry, horticulture, mechanics, and leadership and business skills. “Agriculture is important to this community,” said Hack. “There’s so much farm-to-table here,” she said, referring to the penchant to buy at farmers’ markets and eat at restaurants where food comes directly from a farm. “Today, people want to know

where their food comes from.” “We are starting the only agriculture program within a 1.5 hour radius of us,” Hack added. The program’s goal is to meet every level of student and every interest including kids who want to move right into a job after high school; those who plan to continue their education at a two-year college or trade school; or those who want to earn four-year degrees at colleges and universities. This year, 120 Honesdale High School students have signed up for Agricultural Science 1, Forestry, and Food Processing. Next semester, Hack will teach Animal Science and Horticulture. In the future, students will study Aquaculture and move on to two upper-level Ag Science classes. Students may take the classes as electives or they can attend the pro-

gram all four years of high school. After studying in the Ag program, a student might go to school to be a nutritionist or work in a lab. Some might go on to veterinary school, or get a job working with a logger, or begin their own business. Locally, less than two percent of the population actually works on farms, said Hack, “but agriculture is everything from the food we wear to the clothes we wear.” The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture estimates that 15 percent of the total workforce in Pennsylvania is connected in some way to agriculture and that 75,000 new and replacement jobs in the field are expected in the next decade. Hack, who graduated in May from Penn State University, grew up in dairy farm country in Wisconsin. “Farming was always in my blood,”

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HONESDALE SCHOOL SCENE

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One of Wayne Highlands' newest educators, Kayla Hack, brings expertise and excitement to the classroom as she builds an Agricultural program from the ground up.

she said. “I grew up going to tractor pulls.� In high school, Hack enjoyed the wisdom and passion of “an awesome Ag teacher� and also worked at a therapeutic riding center. Later, she served as vice president and then president of the Wisconsin FFA, once called Future Farmers of America, which now offers student pathways

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to achievement in leadership, personal growth and career success through Agriculture Education. Honesdale High School students will also join the FFA, advised by Hack. Connecting with the needs of the wider community has been key to building the new program, said the Ag educator. She is in frequent contact with Wayne Tomorrow, a county-wide initiative to create a vision for the future; and the Wayne Pike Workforce Alliance, which helps provide educational opportunities that build the workforce and support lifelong learning. She’s also networked with the Wayne Pike Farm Bureau and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, along with farmers and others in the area, all of whom are eager and supportive of the high school ag program. And she’s hearing from agriculturerelated businesses that particularly want and need local workers. Those include Honesdale's Alpine Restaurant, Calkins Creamery, Fox Hill Farm, the Cooperage, and Dunn's Sawmill and Logging. Students will benefit from supervised agriculture experiences with such businesses in internships or job placement. “Or they can create their own entrepreneurships – for example a student might seek a grant in order to start raising chickens.� Agriculture as a course of study is not unheard of at the high school. From the early 1900s until about 1960, an Ag program flourished, then went downhill and finally disbanded. But things are different now. “It’s cool to be in a county and a community that really values agriculture education in the school,� Hack said. “I’m telling students that we – ‘them and me’ – get to create this program. They are so excited.�

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Wayne Highlands School Scene 2017  

Take a look at some of the great programs and activities at the Wayne Highlands School District in our first school scene of 2017-18.

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