Teachers reflect on their high school experiences


Ms. Barrow
Ms. Rizzuto
Ms. Robinson
Ms. Scioli
Dr. Stone

As seniors prepare to graduate, reminiscing about the last four years becomes inevitable. Leesville teachers relive their high school memories every year, witnessing it through the eyes of their students. We asked several of them to share their personal, unique high school experiences. Here are their responses.

Ms. Barrow:
I am from a dying community in eastern North Carolina; there were several factories in the area that closed while I was in high school which prompted an exodus. There were a total of 500 students in my high school, which was the largest in the county. I graduated 3rd in a class of 138.

Before I entered high school, I knew going to college was the only way for me to escape my dying town. I was aware that my parents could not afford to send me to college (my mom is a licensed physical therapist assistant and my dad is a retired bus mechanic) so I needed good grades to earn scholarships. I always knew I wanted to teach, so I focused on obtaining NC Teaching Fellows.

For the most part, I enjoyed high school. I was a member of the marching (color guard co-captain) and concert band (flute section leader with a solo at contest). Obviously, I am very proud of my band nerd status! When I turned 16, I started working 20 hours a week at a dry cleaners. I kept this job throughout high school and continued to work at dry cleaners through college. I took all 3 AP courses offered at my high school and all but one honors course; I had to take a stupid technology course to meet a graduation requirement while my friends took Advanced Biology. Since my high school was so small, we did not have a drama department; I was involved with the community theater. I performed in every spring musical while I was in high school. (I was an ensemble member of a cast where no one was ever cut. Haha.) I was involved in clubs: Beta then NHS, Library Club, Spanish Club, and Math Club. I only held office in the Math Club because the teacher sponsor knew I wanted to be a high school math teacher and pushed me to run.

In a high school of 500 people, I knew just about everyone; 100 of them were in band. However, I had a very small friend group. I kept to myself and avoided drama to the best of my ability.

I learned how to manage time and stress through taking challenging courses while being involved in band and theater and working. Those skills were probably as important to my success in college as was what I learned in my classes.

High school was a vehicle to get me to college, which was a way to get me here: teaching. I worked hard to be a teacher, and I have never regretted that decision.

Ms. Rizzuto:
I went to high school in the late ’80s early ’90s in South Florida. I can remember some of my high school courses very well. I mostly remember the teachers that impacted my life. I think of them often and are now friends with many of them. Some of my favorite memories are those associated with Color Guard. We had a lot of fun competing on weekends in competition across the county and state. I experienced my first out of state trip my senior year with color guard. My time in high school felt like it took forever. But when we sat at graduation it seemed as though it flew by. My high school friend’s talk about where our local hang out was and how cool our music was then compared to now. Music definitely helped classify which social group you spent time with. We had true metal head with mohawks and skateboards. I personally was a hair band groupie I loved (and still do) Poison, Def Leppard, and Bon Jovi. I often refer to my high school experience as I speak to students on how to keep everything in perspective. High school was fun because I made it fun. Being an active member of the school allowed me to feel as though I was part of the community.

Ms. Robinson:
People always told me I would find myself in college. That I’d figure out who and what I wanted to be, what was important to me, and make friends that would last a lifetime. Some of that was true — my college roommates are still some of my best friends, I fell in and out of love for the first time but a lot of it I figured out in high school. I started high school in Virginia Beach and graduated from Northampton County High School-West (NCHS-West) in Gaston, NC. This move shook up my world so much that I had to figure some things out about myself quickly or risk being shaped by what was happening to me.

NCHS-West was a very different place compared to what I was used to. The school was predominantly African-American; [in Virginia Beach] I went to schools that were similar in make-up to Leesville. There were only 400 students in the Gaston school: we had four hallways, 1 computer lab, no art classes, and only four AP courses. I passed cotton, corn, and tobacco fields on the way to school instead of the beach that I had grown so used to.

Everyone was related in one way or another; my aunt was my P.E. teacher and my boyfriend’s aunt was our English teacher. I talked differently, dressed differently, and had a completely different life experience from the people I was to spend the next three years with. Culture shock was probably an understatement.

I got to know people quickly because there were about 25 of us taking all of the honors courses, so we were together pretty much all day. I quickly realized how many things they had shared. You would think they were more like brothers and sisters, remembering things from 2nd grade and when so-and-so set the woods on fire. I loved it! They were a real community, not just a clique. Yes, there were your jocks and your band kids, but everyone knew and was close with someone from another group. I was in a place that appreciated differences, [something] I would carry with me.

The core group of students I was around were competitive in the best way possible. Everyone pushed the next person and everyone was willing to help. We all wanted our class to be successful. Homeroom was always a tutoring session and when we got interims or report cards, they were passed around and discussed with no judgement. There were three teachers that still impact me to this day: Mrs. Turner, Ms. Clark, and Ms. Byrd. These teachers went above and beyond to make sure students did well in the classroom and in life. Ms. Turner made sure we didn’t get out of line, Ms. Clark was the first teacher to suggest I go into education, and Ms. Byrd just did not play. In Virginia these might have been four out of as many as 20 teachers but at NCHS-West they were four of the maybe 10 teachers I had throughout high school. We formed deep connections, and they knew more about us than a lot of people.

Education is essential — you are never done learning, take your education seriously. These things weren’t said to me directly, but it’s what I took away.

It wasn’t all books and papers; we had fun! Football/basketball games were the only thing to do on Friday nights, so we cheered on the team during the game and everyone stayed in the stands to watch the band during half-time.

Everyone went to homecoming and prom and stayed most of the time. Our senior week involved 3 days of planned field trips, a field day, and of course skip day (we spent it a Pizza Hut and then had a water balloon fight at the park). We dressed up like old men/women and the opposite sex during Beta Club induction. There were laughs and memories that we still talk about when we get together.

In the end, I am much like the girl I was then. I appreciate what makes us different and enjoy interacting with all types of people. I believe that education, traditional and non-traditional, opens doors. I think everything we do can be made a little bit better if we try to have fun while we do it.

Mrs. Scioli:
It was 1989, and the “college industrial complex” was just getting rolling. It was suddenly clear to every middle class striver that you needed to go to college to get a “good job”. Luckily, we had some reputable state schools, but you had to know how to gain admission. Paying for it was your next concern, but less of one; UNC was $5000 a year (tuition, fees, room and board). I was a little behind the ball but caught on quickly.

In the beginning of my sophomore year, I discovered what a GPA was. I was the first generation of my family to attend college, so it was an uphill battle on several fronts navigating “the complex”, but I persevered. We only had about a few AP classes you could take at Millbrook High School (thank goodness), but we had just adopted the 7 point grade scale. The SAT was just a random thing you did on a Saturday; I shudder at the lack of preparation I brought to that task.

It all looked good on paper at the end of senior year: I gained admission and a full scholarship to UNC-Chapel Hill, was voted “Most Likely to Succeed”, and was selected to be a speaker on Senior Night. But now, looking back on it, I was a big fraud. In my senior night speech, I dared my peers to do great things, but I was unwilling to even reveal to my parents my doubts about my faith or the ways I disagreed with them politically. I feared I wasn’t actually that smart and so I managed risk like a pro. I didn’t take Physics or Calculus – I might get a B! My (inflated) grades did not compensate for the fact that it seemed no one wanted to date me.

I secretly feared no one would ever pick me, even though I spent inordinate amounts of time on my voluminous hair, makeup and clothes. I showed up at all the parties, just like my friends, but I had no idea what to do with myself once I got there.

Some people look back on high school as the best time of their lives. If that’s you, you are not my intended audience. If you identify with something I wrote up above, listen up and have hope. It gets better. Not easier, mind you, yet better.

Dr. Stone:
I graduated from Lumberton High School in 1964. The significance of the date is that my county, Robeson, was still segregated. In fact we had 4 separate school systems. That all changed the very next year as Lumberton opened a new, consolidated, integrated school system. My school had some great teachers and some weak teachers. AP or honors classes did not exist. Your parents had to make sure you got the best teachers or you were unlikely to be prepared for college. Your parents had also better not EVER talk to one of your coaches. Not even to say “Hi.”

The sports teams were really strong during my 4 years of high school and we played for many championships. Those teammates are still some of my closest friends today. Some of my fondest memories come from practices and games and the dances that followed games. I was not a good dancer and wish I had developed those skills as well as being able to throw, shoot, catch, and kick. Fortunately, I had tolerant girl-friends.

My favorite teachers were the hardest and my favorite courses were algebra II and solid geometry. I still have nightmares about Latin and French and not being prepared for vocab quizzes or translating aloud in class. Every theme I wrote was about sports and was always covered in red ink. My English teacher was a former college professor and tore me up every single précis or paper. We always got a content grade and a separate grade for skills and at first mine were lacking. She finally wore me down and I finished strong. My proudest moment in high school came not from a state championship, but from a perfect score on my last theme. It had a sports theme, of course, but it had no red marks.

I guess the best thing about my high school career was that I didn’t have a cell phone or a car and as a result the drama in my life was very mild. We all piled into the 1951 Ford that my next door neighbor owned and we would usually have 4 couples for dates or 4 guys for just driving to the E & R Drive-in for a milkshake and burger, all for less than a dollar.

I didn’t know much and for that I am grateful. It was a great time! I was very lucky.


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