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‘Focus’ key to new school year at NHHS

‘Focus’ key to new school year at NHHS
‘Focus’ key to new school year at NHHS
Heather French Henry, the 2000 Miss America, visits Monday morning with students at North Harrison High School after speaking to students in grades six through 12 about honesty, integrity, making choices and overcoming circumstances. (Photo by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor)

North Harrison High School Principal Kelly Simpson had some pre-selected students lay on the gym floor Thursday morning to spell out the word F-O-C-U-S.
‘It’s the only F word we’re going to allow to be used all year,’ he told the student body as they gathered for the first day of the 2006-07 school year.
Administrators at North Harrison have implemented a character education program, which is designed to reduce school tardies by 20 percent; improve school attendance by 98 percent; reduce the number of failures by 20 percent; reduce the number of discipline referrals by 20 percent; and increase the school’s ISTEP passing percentage by 73 percent.
Public Law 221 now places schools in one of five categories, based mostly on their annual ISTEP exam results. Using the 2005-06 exam, North Harrison High School, as well as the whole school corporation, has been placed in the ‘academic watch’ category, which is the next to the worst. (The other four categories, from best to worst are exemplary progress, commendable progress, academic progress and academic probation.)
‘We were struggling with ideas about how to turn this thing around,’ NHHS Assistant Principal Doug Dodge said about the ‘plateau’ the school seemed to be stuck at. There are about 740 students at NHHS this year.
‘We’ve set goals of where we want to go,’ said Dodge, who, along with educators from schools in 22 other states, recently attended a character education conference in Chattanooga, Tenn.
As Simpson explained the five categories to the students last week, he told them, ‘The answer is not me. I can’t do it.’
He also said the staff can’t change North Harrison’s status, and ‘it’s tearing them up.’ The answer, he told the students, is with each of them.
‘We’re focusing on it’s a choice,’ Dodge said. ‘It’s choice, not chance, that determines their destiny.’
The high school students, as well as those from the middle school, heard more about choices Monday morning when Heather French Henry, a former Miss Kentucky and the 2000 Miss America, echoed what Simpson said last week.
‘My mother instilled in me that no matter who we were and where we were, we could meet our dreams,’ Henry said. ‘We have a choice.’
The petite brunette told of growing up in the small towns of Augusta and Maysville, both in Kentucky. She was in Girl Scouts for 12 years, and was a member of the art club, tennis team, school orchestra and marching band (she plays flute, xylophone, trumpet and violin).
At home, her father, a wounded Marine Corps veteran, was her ‘problem.’
Although her father was labeled as ‘crazy’ by many in their community, and he was addicted to medication he had to take for his injuries and suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, Henry persevered. Not only did she become Miss America ‘ a dream she’d had since she was four years old ‘ she was the first in her family to obtain a college education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in fashion design and her master’s in fashion illustration, both from the University of Cincinnati.
‘Your circumstances don’t have to overcome your character,’ Henry told the students more than once.
She told the students they have two choices: to live in a negative manner, blaming others or to be a better person.
‘You choose to live your life the way you want,’ said the mother of two girls, a three-year-old and a five-year-old. ‘Your education and your character are the two things no one can take away from you.’
Henry, who is now recognized by some as ‘the milk lady’ because of the Dean’s Milk commercials she does, encouraged the students to ‘treat others the way you want to be treated.’
During her reign as Miss America, Henry traveled the country to talk about her platform, which was the nation’s ‘forgotten heroes,’ those whose served in the military. She briefly talked about the military Monday, and told the students of a man she met who had 213 pieces of shrapnel in his body from being wounded in Iraq. That man shared one of his Purple Hearts with Henry, who showed it to the students.
She also showed them her Miss America crown which is missing three of its stones. She said she gave the stones to three women ‘who are mentors in my life. I wanted them to know the impact they had made in my life.’ Her two traveling companions while she was Miss America each received a stone, as did the executive director of the Miss Kentucky pageant, which Henry won on her fourth and final try.
‘It’s your choice’ what you do, Henry said. ‘Now you’ve got more than one reason to focus.
‘Any time you can win a car, that’s awesome,’ she said.
A $1,500 grant from the Harrison County Community Foundation and another $1,000 from school counselor Pam Pittman’s drug education money funded Henry’s appearance.
‘We wanted to get somebody really big,’ Dodge said.
Following Henry’s presentation, seniors had the opportunity to sign the ‘honor code’ banner, while underclassmen signed pledge cards sponsored by Corydon Instant Print.
High school staff members were given shirts sponsored by Harrison County Hospital in Corydon, that, on the front, state: ‘You know what’s right; just do it.’ Listed on the back of the shirts are the 10 character traits: school pride, responsibility, self control, dependability, honesty, cooperation, perseverance, trustworthy, respect and punctuality.
Dodge said those traits were narrowed down from 50 possibilities suggested last spring by students and staff. When the list was ranked, six were the same ones recommended by the students as well as school personnel. Then the student council chose two more, and the staff picked two, to make 10.
NHHS staff will continue to award students with ‘character coins’ this school year. The use of the wooden coins, which can be redeemed for items from teachers or in the cafeteria, was started last year.
Students who buy into the character education program will have the opportunity to win incentive prizes at the end of the school year. The grand prize is a Ford Focus donated by Heritage Ford in Corydon; other prizes include a laptop computer provided by Matrix Integration of Jasper.
One chance is given each six-week grading period for each of the following that are met: zero tardies, 100 percent attendance, no discipline referrals and passing all class subjects. Students who pass both sections of the ISTEP exam receive two entries. They can get two entries for making the A-B Honor Roll, and they earn three chances if they make all As.
In May, 10 names will be drawn from all the entries. Each of those students will receive a key; one of the keys will start the Ford Focus; the lucky student becomes the owner of the car. The nine other students’ names will go back into a new drawing for the consolation prizes.