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Finding inspiration in Haywood Early College wolfpack

Leaving Watami Sushi & Noodles on Main Street in Waynesville, I smiled at the hostess, a girl named Hannah. She responded with an expression of recognition and we chatted. Hannah is a senior at Haywood Early College (HEC). I’d met her the previous week when I taught a session on blogging. Though we’d only been together a short time, we remembered each other. 

Hannah was in the first class I visited that day. Their teacher, Mrs. Beth Hooper, had taught a few preliminary lessons on blogging so the students were already curious about the topic and had a knowledge base. They’d been asked to create a theme for their blog. 

Student and teacher blogs have to be created within the Haywood County Schools IT infrastructure, and the process to request their blog permissions hadn’t been finalized. Anxious to get started, Hannah created a blog on her own time using Wix, a web development site accessible via the internet. Her theme is K-pop, which stands for Korean pop music. I wasn’t sure if she knew enough information to create an entire blog about an obscure topic like K-pop, but after conversing with her, I assure you she does. 

When Mrs. Hooper asked me to teach about blogging, I got nostalgic goose bumps. As I planned the lesson, I was reminded of my own days standing in front of a group of students day after day at Waynesville Middle School. The last group of seventh-graders I taught are now sophomores in college, so it’d been a while since I executed a lesson in front of young, expectant faces. 

Before this experience, I’d never been to HEC, which is a National Blue Ribbon School. The first thing I noticed when I entered the building was the positive vibe. Yes, the rooms were bright and well equipped for 21st century learning but more than that, the students and teachers were smiling and everyone was engaging with one another. The principal, Mrs. Lori Fox, was popping in and out of classrooms saying hello. It felt like a commercial highlighting the early college concept, but there was nothing fake about it. 

Both of my sessions on blogging went well and were a lot of fun. The students were inquisitive and involved. In fact, students who weren’t even enrolled in that particular course voluntarily joined us so they could learn more about blogging. That was very telling to me. 

At the end of the class, we asked the students to offer a quote about what it means to attend HEC. Here are some of their thoughts: 

“Going to HEC is the best thing I could’ve done for my future. It’s preparing me for college and how to do things in the real world that will benefit all of us. We have a shared goal here, and that’s to live successful adult lives. The amazing teachers we have make the atmosphere so much better and safer. It’s my home away from home.” 

— Hannah 

“The smaller class size leads to a much more personalized learning experience.”

— Aaron 

“Haywood Early College is a unique school. I’ve never felt so close to my entire class before. As cliché as it sounds, we are a family here. We stand up for one another. Even if we don’t know each other, we are always up to protect. We hype up our teachers, and we do all we can to respect and help them. To us, our teachers are more than just teachers.” 

— Riley 

“HEC is full of positive, motivated and determined students and staff. Success is our ultimate goal. The staff will help your goals and put you on the right path for your future; even if you’re unsure where you’re going.” 

— Tasha 

“Being at the Early College is truly a one-in-a-million experience. I am so grateful that I’m able to be somewhere where I can express myself, but also somewhere where I have all the resources I need to be successful.”

— Sarah 

“HEC may be a school, but more than that, it’s a family. This school has given me so much support, and I’m very grateful to experience this opportunity.”

— Sam 

I asked Mrs. Hooper to tell me about the wolves displayed throughout the building. She said that HEC’s mission involves the mentality of a wolfpack with shared goals and a protective nature among one another. One of the murals offers the Rudyard Kipling quote, “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.” 

I find it serendipitous that had I not visited HEC, I would have walked by Hannah at Watami without a thought. Instead, I left thinking about K-pop and bragging to my dinner dates about Hannah’s drive and gumption to create a blog on her own. 

There is a lot of negative commentary about the fate of our society, but being around teenagers will change one’s opinion quickly. They are not naïve or lazy as some people assume. No, it’s the quite the opposite. Many are smart and aware, ready to dive headfirst to better humanity.   

Mrs. Hooper said, “Working at HEC gives me hope for the future. These kids take care of each other, and they love to learn. They are going to change the world.”

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor and marketing specialist for The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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