Inspiring Environmental Awareness One Student at a Time

story by Katrice Williams          photos by Sheila Scott

Zeal can be defined as a substantial amount of energy or enthusiasm when pursuing a goal or objective. Interestingly enough, Jessica Lyons is an impressive reflection of that definition. She has been teaching at South Effingham High School for nearly 13 years.

     Jessica has always maintained a noteworthy passion for education and strives to be a meaningful inspiration to all of her students. She currently teaches Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science, though she has also taught Physical Science and Biology I and II.

     Jessica has lived in the area for about 13 years along with her husband David and 16-year-old daughter Laila. The Illinois native grew up in Rhode Island prior to receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from Savannah State University and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Armstrong State University.

     “I love learning. I really love science and studying the world around us and how things work. My goal is to try to find out what works best; there are a lot of things to try but not everything works. I wanted to be able to share that with students,” Jessica reveals.

     Jessica always wants to make a significant impact on her students, as she also persists to show them the necessity of being responsible citizens and the true relevance of environmental consciousness. That said, Jessica feels privileged to see the growth and success of each individual student.

     She remarks, “I think that it’s very rewarding when you form relationships with your students and see that they’re excited–to see that they’re succeeding…to see who they are and what they’re doing in their lives. I learn from the students; they teach me a lot also.”

     As Jessica’s love for science was a big factor in her deciding to be an educator, she is always eager to pass that passion along to her students in hopes that they might embark upon new and exciting scientific interests of their own.

     “I hope to inspire a love for science in my students. I hope they appreciate the environment as well. My goal is to make the information relevant and rigorous. I want to challenge them.  I’m giving them a good foundation. I hope they go on to be global leaders…community leaders. I hope they go on to make the world a better place; I hope to contribute to that,” Jessica states. She feels that all teachers should be concerned with helping to properly connect with each student while motivating them to reach their highest potential.

     She comments, “Everyday good teachers are trying to solve the problems: How can I reach the kids? How am I making this interesting for them today? How am I going to get their attention today? You’re definitely competing for their attention sometimes.”

     Environmental science is probably Jessica’s favorite scientific field thus far. Actually, she has long been an avid nature lover.

     “I grew up in a family that was always outdoors—we camped, we hiked…went to the beach. Environmental science is just a good fit for me. I’m really passionate about the environment. A lot of times, people think of the environment as something to exploit. I want to pass on to my students that it’s associated with human health. I think there are more sustainable ways to meet our needs. I don’t think we’re there yet; I think we need to go in that direction. It starts with being aware and being educated on the issues,” she asserts.

     In order to educate her students in the most interesting and impactful ways possible, Jessica uses a variety of approaches. Her students may watch documentaries, complete Internet-based labs, do projects or even travel to Skidaway Island to participate in workshops. They have also been able to visit the island’s Institute of Oceanography to enhance their researching skills in that area. In addition, Jessica allows her students to participate in open and thought-provoking educational debates on vital issues like the Georgia-Florida Water Wars and the construction of dams. She has found that many of them “really enjoy the debate format.” Some of the kids appreciate the “hands-on aspect” of some of the nature-based studies, like Tree Frog Studies, that Jessica incorporates into the curriculum. Jessica wants to steadily promote a dynamic and exciting learning environment for each of her students.

     “If you’re doing what you love and teaching topics that you love, it’s easy to be enthusiastic in the classroom and spread it to the students,” she insists.

     With such a remarkable perspective and enthusiasm, it is no surprise that Jessica recently won an international scholarship, the Key Issues Institute Scholarship offered by Georgia Pacific. The scholarship is “geared mainly towards science teachers.” After completing an extensive application process last school term, her qualifications and overall field acumen were reviewed and accepted by sponsors. Jessica learned of her phenomenal accomplishment just before school ended. The scholarship allowed Jessica along with other select international scholars to participate in the week-long Keystone Institute Program. The program, titled “Bringing Environmental Issues to the Classroom,” was held in Keystone, Colorado and began on July 11, 2017.

     The program relied a great deal on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) related approaches to educational development and enhancement. Many of the tasks and objectives of participants involved “investigating and reviewing STEM issues and topics.” This incorporated a substantial focus on environmental issues. Whether tangible or intellectually-based, educators were “provided with tools to help students be good leaders” in order to “inspire student problem-solving, broaden perspectives and encourage them to be engaged citizens.”

     Jessica declares, “STEM areas are so important. I feel that students will really benefit from them in today’s world.” She is excited to take beneficial tools acquired during the program “back to the classroom to increase academic vigor.”

     Some areas addressed involved incorporating environmental sustainability and proper research and data analysis into the class curriculum. Jessica appreciates the “amazing opportunity.”

     In her spare moments, Jessica loves spending time with her family. Whether traveling, relaxing at the beach on Tybee Island or attending music festivals, she feels that their time together is priceless. Moreover, Jessica coaches the boys’ soccer team at South Effingham High, as she does “love soccer” and being able to work with the athletes on their skills. What’s more, she enjoys being outside with her four dogs that she adores. In fact, Jessica volunteers some of her time at the One Love Animal Rescue. Further, she likes gardening and yardwork, though she is quick to admit that her husband David is “better at it” than she is.

     By doing what she enjoys in a field that she loves, Jessica Lyons encourages students to have a sincere interest in their education while developing a healthy appreciation and responsible attitude towards the environment. She is making a real difference in and out of the classroom.

Mary Warner Boss Lady

Sitting on an end table in Mary S. Warner’s home is a large, glittery pink mug that reads “Boss Lady.” It was a gift from a friend at Effingham County High School, where Mary worked for almost three decades, and it sums up the way everyone at ECHS — from preschoolers to principals — feels about her. For the past 28 years, that’s exactly what Mary has been – the boss. As head custodian at ECHS, she led a team of coworkers and “checked to make sure everything was okay to begin the day” every morning before school started.

     Mary is a lifelong resident of Effingham and began her career at the original ECHS, working as a substitute custodian for two years before becoming one of the first employees to enter the current ECHS in 1987. After only a year, she became head custodian and maintained her leadership role until she retired in early June.

     Every day, Mary awoke at 5:30 AM to get ready for work. Throughout the years, her schedule shifted to later hours, but she always rose before the sun. Since retiring, Mary hasn’t set a single alarm and doesn’t plan on doing so any time soon.

     At one point a few summers ago, Mary jokingly hinted to Dr. Yancy Ford that she was approaching retirement. The next day, she arrived at work to find a sign with her name marking a parking spot at the entrance of the school.

     “Mr. Ford put my reserved parking space right at the front. He gave me that so I could come back to work, but I wasn’t quitting anyway!” She laughed. “I was just messing with him, but I got my own parking spot!”

     To this day, Mary remains the only custodian to have a designated spot. Though she no longer needs to park at ECHS, Mary is relocating her sign to her home for safekeeping.

     During her time at ECHS, Mary formed a special bond with colleague Gloria Davis. The two did everything together, including Mary’s favorite task: waxing floors.

     “I love waxing floors,” she said. “At the end of the year after the teachers and the kids leave, they take out all their desks for us, and we wax the classrooms.”

     The two women were partners on the job until Gloria passed away last January, and Eric Warner, Mary’s cousin, joined her team. In addition to Eric, Mary recruited some seasonal assistants to help tidy the school when the hallway traffic was light.

      Every summer, she took two protégés, Jim Ford and Graham Mongin, under her wing. While the classrooms were empty, Mary taught her apprentices how to clean floors and operate scrubbing machines. Together they ensured the school would be sparkling by the time teachers and students returned in August.

     Over her 28 years with the Rebels, Mary experienced multiple changes. She worked with every principal who passed through the current ECHS and witnessed multiple additions to the school’s architecture, but one thing always remained the same: her adoration for the students.

     “All the kids love me, and I love the kids. Pre-k…that’s my heart. They know Mrs. Mary. ‘There’s the boss! That’s Mrs. Mary!’ That’s what they’d say,” She laughed.

     The students were not alone in their admiration for the Boss Lady. When Mary tied the knot with her “wonderful husband” Frank Warner three years ago, many ECHS employees attended the ceremony, including her summer pupil Jim, who was a member of the wedding party.

     From attending prom and grad bash to gaining the respect and appreciation of every student who walked the halls, Mary certainly left her mark on ECHS. But all things must come to an end, and Mary felt it was time to close the curtains on her stint at ECHS.

     “I really enjoyed working at the school all these years,” she said. “That was everything to me, but it’s all about Mary now!”

     In the past, Mary has taken breaks, temporarily retired and made surprise returns to her position at ECHS, but she doesn’t think she will be reprising her role as head custodian any time in the future. For now, she is looking forward to the simple pleasures of retired life, including “watching her soap operas and sitting on the front porch with her cat!”

The Josh Reddick Foundation Lending A Hand In Effingham County

story by Tessa DeMeyer     photos by Nelson LaPorte

For most of the year, Josh Reddick is 954 miles from home, but due to an organization he created that strives to give back to the county, Effingham residents feel like the hometown hero never left. Since its inception in 2014, the Josh Reddick Foundation has been on a mission to advocate for the youth of Effingham County with a focus on supporting students, preserving recreational parks and helping those in need. These efforts are spearheaded by Josh and the foundation’s president, Trey Saxon. With the help of a knowledgeable board of directors and countless volunteers, the two organize multiple events every year that improve various aspects of the county.

“We try to do all the events here in Effingham, and all the money raised is given back to the county,” Trey said. Portions of all proceeds acquired go toward the rec departments as well as “the fire department, K9 Units, the animal shelter, the Manna House and the Treutlen House.” The foundation is a “platinum level corporate sponsor” for Effingham County High School and South Effingham High School with future plans to make $250 donations to the physical education programs of every elementary and middle school in the Effingham County School District.

Perhaps the most well-known of all the foundation’s functions is the charity concert held annually at Freedom Park. The family-friendly mini country music festival, which has featured food vendors, face painting and inflatable attractions in the past, will return for a fourth year in late January or early February 2018, and the foundation plans to continue its tradition of working collaboratively with other nonprofit organizations in order to disperse the profits around the community.

In addition to the highly-anticipated concert, the foundation hosts a home run derby which directly benefits Effingham. The derby will remain at Sandhill Ballpark for the seventh consecutive year, and though the event always welcomes anyone who wants to step up to the plate, Josh hopes to see some new faces at the seventh installment of the competition. “Girls can participate in the derby! It’s always [been open to] boys and girls, but we never have girls show up. We would love to have females in it as well.” In the past, an annual charity golf tournament was held at local courses, most recently Lost Plantation Golf Club, but will not return in favor of more inclusive events.

In late July, the foundation began accepting nominations for their “Athlete of the Month” contest with the first winner being recognized in August. Open to Effingham athletes in the sixth grade and older, the winner will be presented with a certificate and a gift card from one of the organization’s local sponsors. Another new event set to make its debut later this year is a 5K.

“Run the Town with Reddick,” coined by Trey, will be held in November, and competitors will race through Springfield in pursuit of prizes awarded at the finish line.

Athletics aren’t Josh’s only concern, nor are they the sole focus of his foundation. Each year, the organization encourages students to pursue higher education by awarding four graduating seniors, one male and one female from both high schools, who displayed academic excellence with a $1,000 college scholarship. Josh also emphasizes the importance of reading by visiting local elementary schools for storytime. Most recently, he stopped by South Effingham Elementary and Springfield Elementary to share a story with fifth graders.

In June, Josh brought smiles to more children when he and Trey visited patients at Memorial University Medical Center, and the foundation later supported Zach Norton, a young man with a rare form of cancer, during his Celebration of Life Event. Earlier in the year, the foundation sponsored Zach and three other boys battling cancer by donating $1,000 as well as additional items to their families to help cover medical expenses.

With the MLB season in full swing, the foundation consistently works to sustain the connection between their namesake and the county they serve. Though plans have not yet been finalized, Josh revealed that he “wants to work in another [charity] event during the season” to maintain involvement despite being in Houston. Dedicated board members like Vice President Brian Coulter, Treasurer Jan Landing and Secretary Donna Shepard along with the help of the two newest additions, Productions Coordinator Donald Oliver and Media Specialist Julie Hales, ensure that the Josh Reddick Foundation and its positive impact on Effingham will continue to grow.

The future of the organization looks promising, and Trey has confidence that it will continue to expand and improve with time. “Considering the age of the foundation, I think it’s off to a great start. Great things are definitely in store for us.”

To keep up with all upcoming events and developments, like the Josh Reddick Foundation page on Facebook or check out http://www.joshreddickfoundation.org.

Using Honey Ridge Farm To Teach Our Students

story by Susan Lee          photos by Sheila Scott

If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed. If in terms of ten years, plant trees. If in terms of 100 years, teach the people.

     That’s a quote by Confucius and it seems to perfectly sum up last fall’s purchase of the 310-acre Honey Ridge Plantation by Effingham’s Board of Education.

     The seeds for the county’s  future have now been planted.

     The school system bought Honey Ridge last fall with $1.2 million in education sales tax dollars. County residents were curious and intrigued from the start: more than 600 people showed up for the farm’s open house in May to enjoy hay ride tours and hear more about the plans for the property.

     Todd Wall doesn’t seem surprised at the interest and support from the community. He grew up on a farm just across the Ogeechee River from Honey Ridge and was hired last year to direct the Young Farmer programs for the county and as Career Tech and Agriculture Education supervisor for Effingham County High School. Wall is now the program’s district coordinator, managing the career tech and agriculture  programs at ECHS, South Effingham High School, and the Career Academy as well as the Young Farmers program and Honey Ridge Plantation.

     “When I was first brought into the discussions about Honey Ridge and asked to help get the program off the ground, of course I said yes right away,” he said. “The farm will give students in the various career pathways the chance to get real life exposure. I can’t think of a better way to learn.”

     The purchase of Honey Ridge just made sense. For Wall, for Effingham’s school board members, and for Superintendent Randy Shearouse.

      “Agriculture is the number one industry in the state of Georgia, and it is a field that clearly incorporates all aspects of STEM education: Science, Technology, Engineerin and Mathematics,” said Dr. Shearouse. “As a result, Effingham County students involved in any of the various agricultural programs within our school district will get hands-on experiences at Honey Ridge that they can carry with them for life.”

      The superintendent added that Honey Ridge will not only benefit agriculture students. “We also plan to expand property access for school programs beyond those that are agriculturally related such as elementary field trips, ROTC and cross country activities,” he explained. “I feel that there is tremendous potential for how we can utilize Honey Ridge, and I believe great opportunities abound for our students!”

     And now at just the beginning of the school year, Wall is already knee-deep in projects and plans at Honey Ridge, especially those involving the youngest of students. They’ve just planted pumpkins for this fall’s pumpkin patch and are also planning a corn maze. They’re also planting blueberry trees and next spring will have a vegetable garden.

     “Every first grade student in the county will come out to learn about farm life and see the cows, goats, chicken, sheep and ducks,” said Wall. “The best part is that those tours will be conducted by FFA students from the middle schools and high schools, so they’ll be able to practice leadership and public speaking. Students of all ages will benefit from the experience.”

     That exposure to farming, once a part of life in Effingham dating back to the Salzburgers, is now not as commonplace in the county. As one of ECHS’ FFA advisors Meredith Arrington, puts it, many children in the the community have never seen a farm or its animals up close. “Most families are two to three generations removed from farming, and most students I teach don’t know where their food comes from,” she said. “ Out of a class of 25 students, maybe 5 live on a farm or is part of a family involved in production agriculture. Honey Ridge will be a place where they can learn how their food gets from the farm to the table, how corn grown on a farm becomes the cornflake in their cereal bowl.”

     Arrington added that no other county in Georgia offers the type of experience and opportunities available through Honey Ridge. “Instead of seeing pictures or videos in the classroom, the students will be able to have classes out at the farm. Instead of just talking to them about deworming cattle and trimming goat hooves, we’ll be able to show them.”

     Her sentiments are echoed by Alisha Richardson, one of SEHS’ FFA advisors. “It’s a new avenue for the students, one they’re very excited about,” she said. “There’s so much out at Honey Ridge, more than most people realize, so the students will be exposed to more than just agriculture and forestry.” Richardson knows better than most people what the farm has to offer, as she lives on the property with her husband, Ben, an FFA advisor at ECHS. The couple helps out with the animals and other tasks around the farm.

     In addition to the Richardsons, Honey Ridge is staffed part time by Trent Dickerson, an agribusiness student from Ogeechee Tech, as part of the farm’s new work-based learning initiative. According to Wall, the team will be joined this fall by a high school student in the program.

     Honey Ridge Plantation’s previous owner was Effingham County’s Sam Zemurray, who bought the property in 1978. Throughout the years, he acquired many top line bulls and cows, and sold cattle to big name enthusiasts and breeders from across the country. Zemurray even owned a bull with country singer Kenny Rogers (named “High Voltage”).

      Wall said they still maintain cows at the property. “Right now we have about 25 head of beef cattle, and our goal is 50,” he said. “Some of them are purebreds but some are commercial cross breeds as well.” In the spring, FFA students went out to the farm to administer vaccinations and deworm the cattle.

     Several local students have even been picked to show Honey Ridge’s cows. Makenzie Driggers, a junior at ECHS, has been actively involved in FFA since middle school and is excited to have been asked. “As soon as she walked into her first ag class, she fell in love with it,” said her mom, Cathy. “So when Todd came out to our farm and asked if she would show one of their cows, of course she jumped at the chance.”

      Makenzie, who hopes to attend the University of Georgia to study animal nutrition, had been focusing on feeding the cow but recently started training it. She’s also understandably excited about the future of Honey Ridge. “It’s a great way to generate community involvement in agriculture, which is the most important industry as it provides food, fiber and shelter to many individuals,” she said. “Many people do not have much knowledge on the many parts of agriculture, and Honey Ridge is a way to teach them of how broad the industry really is and will inspire individuals to become more involved in our community.”

     Makenzie’s mom is equally excited about the new educational program at the farm. “So much of the focus in any school is usually on sports, with very few offerings for students who have other interests,” said Cathy. “Now our young people will have plenty of opportunities in so many areas and the county and schools can stay relevant. I can understand if some people who were questioning the project might not see the big picture, but it really is in the early stages. Just like with the Career Academy or STEM, it will evolve and our community will benefit for many years to come.

Kareem Taylor Shorter University Linebacker

Story by Tessa DeMeyer

When in Rome…play football? As a linebacker for Shorter University, that’s exactly what Kareem Taylor does. Located in Rome, Georgia, Shorter is a private Christian university that competes in Division II athletics. The Hawks nabbed Kareem after he graduated from South Effingham High School last year, and it’s easy to see why. During his senior season with the Mustangs, Kareem recorded 83 total tackles, 57 of which were solo efforts. Kareem also finished his high school career as the second-ranked linebacker in the region.

Before finding his niche on the gridiron, college was not at the front of Kareem’s mind, but as his playing time increased, he realized he could play at the collegiate level and set his sights on being recruited. “I started focusing on trying to make my team better while also trying to prepare myself to play college ball,” he said. “My coaches prepared me really well. They are the reason I play the way I do now, and they really changed my game a lot.”

The impact Kareem’s coaches had on his playing style remains apparent at Shorter as he played in seven games his rookie season, notching 13 total tackles. Though he is on track to be a starter his sophomore season, Kareem admitted the step up from high school football to college was not an easy one: “The transition [from high school football to college football] was huge. Speed, size…the speed of the game was a lot different, but I quickly adjusted,” he explained. When I came in, I didn’t think it was going to be that hard, but my first day of practice opened my eyes really quickly and changed my mind. It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be!”

Despite the unexpected toughness of Shorter’s workouts, Kareem was able to apply something he discovered in high school to his collegiate game: “tired, sick and hurt. You can’t be any of those things during a game week, period.”

Off the field, Kareem faced the challenge of finding time to study in his already busy schedule, but the mandatory study hall for first-year student-athletes proved effective, and he finished with a 3.4 GPA, exceeding his goal of a 3.0.

Study halls, 5 a.m. weight-lifting sessions, and endless practices paid off on Saturdays when Kareem took the field to face off against opponents from all over the southeast. Traveling to new cities and getting playing time as a newcomer were definite highlights of his first season.

With the 2017 season on the horizon, Kareem is working on getting stronger and faster every day and aspires to be “an all-around better student-athlete.” In his quest for self-improvement, Kareem remains humble and is looking forward to helping incoming players adjust.

Kareem is currently majoring in business although he has not yet decided on a specific field to pursue. While home for the summer, he assisted with his grandfather’s painting business and has plans to tackle his future in the corporate world with the same confidence he shows when tackling opponents on the gridiron.

Letter From Randy Shearouse

The Effingham County School District would like to welcome each of our Effingham families to the 2017-2018 school year!  Our administrators, teachers, and staff are eagerly preparing for a successful year and are ready to challenge students towards new and exciting educational goals.  We believe that we will continue to realize our mission statement as we work in partnership with all community stakeholders:

“To provide rigorous and relevant instruction in a safe environment to enable all students to obtain a high school diploma as a foundation for post-secondary success.”

The educators of Effingham County are some of the best and most capable across the state of Georgia, and they are excited to offer their students meaningful, state-of-the-art learning opportunities.  Each day, our teachers and staff provide a foundation of success for our approximately 12,000 students, and that success is reflected in the fact that Effingham County is among the top 15% of all school districts across the state.  In fact, our county boasts an 89% graduation rate, well above the state’s average of 79%.

Effingham students across all grade levels are fortunate to have programs available to them that support rigorous and relevant instruction.  Clubs and organizations at the elementary school level such as 4-H, Beta Club, and Science Olympiad provide students with opportunities to build on academic knowledge as well as engage in character building activities including leadership and service projects.  The seeds of the STEM and STEAM programs are also being planted at the elementary school levels with the hope of sparking curiosity and interest in these fields among our younger students.  These same elementary students may find themselves enrolled in our successful STEM Academy during their high school years where they will focus on real world applications of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

By the time students reach the high school level, many are prepared to take advantage of Honors and Advanced Placement classes as well as dual enrollment with local post-secondary schools.  Students at the Effingham College and Career Academy (ECCA) may participate with any one of several career pathways and often become certified for employment in their chosen field upon graduation.  And programs such as work-based learning and internship opportunities give students a competitive edge in today’s job market.

No matter what path an Effingham County student chooses, each is provided access to a solid foundation that will give them tools to grow both academically and socially.  Together with all stakeholders within our community, we will continue to invest our efforts towards equipping our children to succeed both locally and globally.

Joseph Snook Never Give Up On Your Dream

story by Karlee Anderson        photos by Nelson LaPorte

I never let myself give up on something and I don’t think anybody should,” says Joseph Snooks, a man whose big dreams have led him on a journey to pursuing a medical degree. Joseph was accepted to Mercer Medical School in the fall of last year, but getting to that point did not go quite as he had planned. “My goal was always four years of college straight into four years of medical school then I was going to be a doctor. But the good Lord had a funny sense of humor, and that’s not exactly how it played out,” he explains. His dreams of studying medicine began in early high school, and even then, he was taking steps toward his goal. By his senior year, Joseph was a certified Patient Care Technician and was looking toward a college career at Armstrong State University. “I based my college decision around a good science program that I’d be able to get my basis that I needed to get in medical school,” he says.

     Joseph’s original plan took its first change when he decided to marry the love of his life, Shelby, right after college graduation. He decided it would be wise to take a year off from school to work and establish his new family. “I went ahead and applied that following year,” he says. “I applied and got all the way to the interview process in June of 2015. That’s kinda late in the game when it comes to med school admissions.”

     Despite being a bit behind in the process, out of twelve hundred applicants, Joseph was one of the four hundred chosen to be interviewed. However, only one hundred would ultimately be accepted, and he did not reach that goal at that time. “For me to get the rejection at that point, it was a big deal. So I started contemplating, you know, maybe I’m not meant to do this,” he said.

     For the next few months, Joseph did some soul searching that led him to thinking maybe he should pursue a slightly different path as a physician’s assistant. “They do a lot like a doctor, a little less strenuous, a little less school but it’s pretty much the same. You know they’re right there with them. So I was like, you know what, that might be a good option,” he shares. He went to a mentor in that position to seek some counsel. “He said you’re this close, what you need to do is give it one more chance, but if you want to apply to PA school, that’s great. I talk people into that profession every day, but sitting here, I feel like I’m doing you an injustice by letting you do that,” Joseph explains. From there, a new plan was formed to reach medical school.

     “I was already too late to apply for the 2016 cycle, so I was going to have to take time off, take the entrance exam, have a gap year, and then apply to early admissions so I was applying fall of 2016 which is what I did,” he says.

     In preparation for the entrance exam, Joseph needed some focused studying. He and his wife decided that he could take time off from working and participate in a structured study course. “That entire fall through December, my brother was in nursing school at Armstrong. So I would ride with him to school, and I’d go to the library for seven to eight hours a day, and take this course five days a week,” he explains. He believes this time of studying and spending extra time with his brother was beneficial in keeping his dream alive and strong. “It was the same thing over and over and that lasted for a little over twelve weeks. That was an experience in itself,” he says. “That was a cool time for me.”

     In January of 2016, Joseph took the entrance exam, and he achieved the score he wanted. With his exam behind him, he was ready to apply, but the application cycle did not open until May. “So here I am another year and a half of needing something to do. It’d be great to get back to making an income again. That’s when I started toying with the idea of teaching,” he shares. For Joseph, the plan to work in medicine is all about giving back to a profession that has played a big role in his life; he felt that teaching was another form of giving back, and he tackled the challenge. He reached out to some connections he had in the school system, and soon was preparing to teach physical science to high schoolers for the 2016-2017 school year. “Early in the school year, August and September, is when I was applying to medical school. So I was trying to learn how to be a teacher, learn how to do lesson plans, learn how to deal with these high school kids, and I’m setting up the biggest application of my life,” he explains. Through the juggling of responsibilities, Joseph said his colleagues were helpful and supportive. “Everybody at the high school was very very proud of me,” he says.

     The hectic balancing act came to a close on September 26, 2016 when Joseph and his wife received the call that confirmed his acceptance to Mercer Medical School. “I just remember saying, ‘are you serious’ that’s all I could get out,” he shares. “At that moment, it felt like this weight had been lifted and I knew what I was going to do with my life.” He finished out the school year and was sent off with warm wishes from his fellow teachers. “As a teacher, I always felt like I had to give it my best effort. Don’t ever leave those opportunities of a ‘what if’ moment. Leave nothing on the table,” he says. That’s the attitude that he has had for pursuing medical school as well.

     “My goal, being a doctor, is to set up my own business one day in Effingham County,” Joseph says. “I want to give back to the county that has had my back for so long.”

     For the next four years, he will be studying in Savannah. After graduation, “goal number one is going to be to get the best experience type of residency that I can.” Residency comes with another competitive application process. Following residency, Joseph will return to Effingham to work. His biggest desire is to have his on practice. “I want to set up my own, to set up my ideals and whatever practices I want to put into place,” he shares. “That’s going to be a task in itself, just trying to lay out that business foundation as well as a patient population.”

     Joseph has come through an adventure to get where he is, but the journey is not over. He has more mountains to climb, but he is ready. “I have a nearly seven month old on my hands now which isn’t going to make things very easy,” Joseph says. “But I have an extra motivation at home. I’m doing this not just for me anymore, it’s for my family. It’s for him; it’s for my wife. That’s a great gift from God.”

     As Joseph works to reach his goals, the county he loves will be waiting with pride and anticipation for their own homegrown medical doctor.

Trevan Heichel Taking ECHS To State

story by  Karlee Anderson          photos by Shelia Scott

Trevan Heichel, a rising senior at Effingham County High School, is a star athlete on the golf course. He began his golfing journey during his seventh grade year, and he has persevered to becoming successful. During the 2016-2017 season, Trevan made ECHS golf team history by being the first golfer to advance to the state tournament in ten years. With a school golf team, the four top scores are added together and that is how a team is promoted to the next competition. As a team, the ECHS golfers were unable to make it to state; however, Trevan’s score sent him to the state tournament as an individual. He traveled with only his coach and his uncle, Ben Johnson. “He’s good. I don’t play much but he likes me to go play with him because it gives him a little morale boost because I’m so terrible,” Ben shares. He and the rest of Trevan’s family were excited to be a part of Trevan’s state tournament adventure.

The two-day state tournament took place in Gainesville. Trevan had a few obstacles to overcome as he competed. First of all, he did not have his teammates: “All I had was the coach that I could talk to,” Trevan shares. In golf, the spectators are required to be quiet and golfers can only speak with the others that are playing the course with them and sometimes their coaches. “You see all these teams, everywhere there’s teams, and  he’s over here by himself on the range or the putting green…stuff like that. You just see all the fellowship stuff going on with all the other teams,” Ben says. “That’s what I hated about it but I mean the good thing is if the team doesn’t do well in the tournament then it doesn’t penalize the individual that does shoot well.” In spite of being without his team, Trevan did everything he could to keep up his morale. Golf is a game that involves a lot of mental focus and positivity; Trevan had to maintain these things without the support that he was used to. Because Trevan was grouped with the individuals, he was one of the very firsts to tee off on day one of the tournament. “At a school tournament, there’s maybe three people, the people that I’m playing with and maybe like three other people,” Trevan explains. However at this tournament “everybody was crowded around” and that added up to between five and six hundred people. “I was nervous,” Ben says. “He’s got all these people standing behind him, and I mean, he hit it right down the middle.”

A second challenge that Trevan faced was the weather. “We had rain delays both days,” he says. The second day came with rain that kept Trevan sitting in a truck for a few hours. Instead of the scheduled 9:00am start, the course was not ready for use until around 2:00pm. Trevan and Ben had already checked out of their hotel which meant they had no place to hide out from the weather. “We were going store to store to store the second day looking for umbrellas,” says Trevan. Yet, when Trevan took to the tee box, he continued to excel by performing a little better than the day before.

The third and biggest challenge for Trevan was the differences in the course. The county of Effingham and surrounding areas provide golf courses full of flat ground. In Gainesville, the terrain was quite different. “That course was a lot different and it was really wet the second day,” Trevan says. In contrast to the flatness of Effingham, he faced many hills that required him to adjust his swing. There were also holes near the lake, and that added the challenge of wind to occasion.

In the end, Trevan did well in spite of the challenges. “The first day I shot 41 on the front and on the back I shot a 37,” Trevan says. He is explaining his score based on splitting the eighteen holes into sets of nine. “Then the second day I shot a 41 again on the front nine and then 36 on the back nine,” he continues. That gave him a 78 on day one and 77 on day two. Trevan placed 62nd in the tournament out of 116 golfers and was twelve shots from the leader. Ben explains it this way: “I said ok, well you finished 62nd but really you had the 17th best score.” He continues, “Three people can be tied for second place, so really the next man is in fifth even though it’s the third best score.” Both Ben and Trevan are proud of his accomplishment and are making plans for a return trip to state next season.

Trevan has plans to “go practice at different places like what I’ll be playing at state because I wasn’t used to that with all the yardage and change.” Ben agrees that once the state tournament’s location is determined, they will be taking a weekend to go let Trevan practice a few rounds on that course. In addition, Trevan hopes to bring his team back with him next year, and of course, he hopes for better weather. For now, Trevan feels grateful that he has had the opportunity to participate at this level. “I was happy to go,” Trevan shares.

During his off season, Trevan enjoys hunting and spending time with family and friends. Trevan continues to practice and play matches in a summer league, but this year he also has had the opportunity, through his career pathway at school, to work a summer job at Gulfstream. He is on a logistics pathway and is working with warranties in a Gulfstream warehouse. Trevan’s family; including his mom Tatia, his Aunt Shannon, and his cousins MCkenzie and Maggie; encourages and enjoys his golfing talent, but they also support him through opportunities like his Gulfstream job. To the family, Trevan’s golfing may extend to a higher competitive level or he may simply play through high school, but they are excited that this sport is something he can play for the rest of his life. “A lot of deals go down on the golf course,” Ben says. Whatever Trevan’s future holds, you can bet that golf will be something he continues to use. His talent and perseverance make him a noteworthy individual.

Caroline Brennan Georgia Southern Cheerleader

story by Tessa DeMeyer

Ten years ago, Caroline Brennan started her cheerleading career as an Ebenezer Eagle. This fall, she begins her final season as an Eagle, but come May 2018, she will be leaving a much larger nest.

Since her first tryout in sixth grade, much of Caroline’s life has revolved around cheerleading. At Ebenezer Middle School, she was a member of the competition squad. After three years on the team, she transitioned to South Effingham High School. During her four-year stint as a Mustang, Caroline’s time was divided between three teams. From freshman to senior year, she lifted the spirits of South Effingham students as a member of the Varsity competition and game squads. She later joined the Cheer Savannah Allstars’ most prestigious team, Senior 5, for her final two years of high school and competed at the Cheerleading World Championships twice.

Caroline graduated from SEHS in 2014 and enrolled at Georgia Southern to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an educator. As a freshman, she earned a spot on one of Georgia Southern’s most decorated teams: the All-Girl cheerleading squad. The team boasted four national titles prior to 2015 and claimed their fifth during her first season.

Though the transition from high school to college was a challenge, the biggest change for Caroline arose her sophomore year when she joined the Coed team. Prior to college, Caroline primarily based other cheerleaders during gravity-defying stunts, but that quickly changed when she realized she was smaller than her teammates. Instead of lifting someone else overhead, she had to adapt to an entirely new role as a flyer. On Saturdays in autumn, she can be found soaring above the fans packed in Paulson Stadium, leading energetic chants and cheering on the Eagles.

“The best part is the pregame when we lead the team out and the fireworks go off,” she said of her favorite element of cheerleading. “It’s such an adrenaline rush.”

Last year, Caroline took a break from cheerleading to focus on her academics but rejoined the coed squad for the 2017-2018 season. She feels cheerleading has given her “a second family and a home away from home,” but she does realize the difficulty of juggling her sport and other aspects of college.

“I’m in the education program, and I’m going to schools and teaching every single day. I also have to go to classes and practices at night,” she explained. “You have to put in a lot of time. It’s your life.”

Cheerleading is not only a large part of Caroline’s life during the school year but during her summers as well. This year, she led a camp for young cheerleaders at the Statesboro Recreation Department and orchestrated open practices for her Coed team before the start of the season.

In the upcoming semesters, Caroline will work to finish up her Bachelor of Education and aspires to become a second-grade teacher following graduation. She hopes to cap off her cheerleading career with another national title, but her main focus is on her future. Although it is almost time for Caroline to hang up her pom-poms, there is no doubt she will be generating excitement and spreading cheer about learning in a classroom very soon!

Josh Reddick Effingham’s Hometown Hero

story by Tessa DeMeyer

The Lone Star State, the Juice Box and the first place astronauts call when they have a problem all define the newest location Josh Reddick’s MLB run has taken him, but for the Astros’ outfielder, Houston, Texas feels just like home. The humidity, southern hospitality and abundance of country music of the bustling city are reminiscent of Josh’s old stomping grounds.

The move to Houston follows a brief stint with the LA Dodgers and a short-lived free agency. “Houston came calling pretty quickly,” making the transition from LA a smooth one.

“As much as I really enjoyed playing in LA, the city wasn’t for me,” he admitted. “It wasn’t a setting that I was comfortable with.”

Though Josh hasn’t had ample time to experience much outside of Minute Maid Park, he and his “two Georgia bulldogs” are settling into their new city with ease.

On the other hand, he’s having a more difficult time coming to terms with an unexpected on-field role. At “the very young age of 30,” he is one of the oldest Astros, and the sudden senior-citizen status has brought on an influx of attention from his less-experienced teammates.

“People are asking me questions like I’ve been in the league for 15 years when I’m still learning.”

Nonetheless, Josh appreciates his teammates’ youthful stamina and is having a ball while playing ball for the Astros.

“It’s a fun team to be a part of because they’re so young. All they do is have so much energy and play hard. It’s very rare to find a team that 100 percent plays hard every day, but when you’re winning like we are, it makes it that much easier to want to go out there and grind it out. Being the best team in the American League is never not fun.”