Building a Sense of Community at John F. Kennedy
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
SEPTEMBER 5. 2017 – Senior Anson Rogers is glad that he chose to go to John F. Kennedy High School.
“I like the teachers,” Rogers said. “They help us out a lot. My English teacher is awesome.”
His English teacher is Kristen Kennedy.
Students appreciate Kennedy and the school’s other teachers so much that, when Principal Keisha Gabriel asked each of them to introduce themselves at the high school’s class meeting on Friday, students clapped and shouted as one after another spoke.
Gabriel started the class meetings last year – her first as principal at Kennedy, a magnet school for middle and high school that offers four career academies – as a way of helping everyone connect. The high school has about 250 students, and the middle school has about 100.
“The school is so small,” Gabriel said. “We really wanted them to build a sense of community.”
For the first class meetings – the middle school met later in the day – Gabriel had T-shirts made for students and teachers and other staff members to wear.
“We’re really trying to have some school pride,” Gabriel said.
The T-shirts featured a logo created last year by two Kennedy students. Bobby Williams graduated last year. Mirka Medel-Crispin – known to many as Alpha – is back this year as a senior. It felt good seeing everyone wearing T-shirts with the logo they designed, she said.
“I’m proud,” Medel-Crispin said. “It’s something of me out there.”
What does she like about the school?
That it’s small and has good teachers and that she has good friends there.
After Gabriel opened the meeting by having everyone join in shouting the school’s initials – “J...F...K!,”she said, “I cannot tell you how happy we are to have you all here.”
After covering such basics as rules for using smartphones and having staff members introduce themselves, she said, “Each and every one of you chose to be here. You really wanted the extra opportunities we provide.”
The students inspire the teachers, she said.
“We can’t help but work twice as hard when we know you’re working so hard,” she said.
After covering some other topics, it was time for the big finish. Gabriel invited science teacher Kyle Luth to step forward. Apparently, Luth is quite the whiz when it comes to the hand game Rock-Paper-Scissors in which two players simultaneously reveal the shape of a rock, paper or scissors.
In case anyone was unfamiliar with the game, Luth invited senior Nicholas Shepard to come forward so that they could demonstrate it for everyone. Up next, Luth announced was tournament in which everyone would compete in a series of two-out-of three competitions to determine the champion of the high school.
As a bonus, Gabriel announced the winner would walk away with a $25 gift card from Chick-fil-A.
Someone hearing about such a tournament might predict that hubbub would ensue. And so it did. But it was fun hubbub.
After senior Shane Adelson was eliminated, he had a moment free to say what he likes about Kennedy.
“The people,” Adelson said.
After a few minutes, all of the students who had not yet been defeated were invited up on the stage. There were 12 of them. They competed against each other until it was down to two – Bryan Mills and Cinthia Vazquez-Segovia.
After their two-out-of three, Mills was the winner and proud owner of the gift card. His reasons for liking Kennedy were in keeping with others’ thoughts about what makes it a good school.
“The friends, the teachers,” Mills said.
When Mills and Luth had a just-for-fun competition, Luth won.
After the tournament, everyone returned to their classrooms so they could get on with their learning.
“They are energetic and positive,” Gabriel said as she watched them go.