Story by Kelly Harley• Photos from the family
Graduating from high school is an exciting time in a person’s life. The accomplishments, the friends, the parties, and a promise that your next adventure is waiting for you, is something many students will never forget. For one Effingham County High School senior, his graduation is extra special. There was a time in his life when his father wasn’t sure his son would graduate with a regular diploma, let alone leave such a big impression on those around him. On May 26, 19-year-old Trey Jernigan proudly donned his cap and gown and walked across the stage. He did it; he received his high school diploma. Overcoming Challenges When Trey was four years old, he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, also known as Asperger's. Many professionals consider Asperger’s a less severe form of autism. When Trey’s father, Albert Jernigan, learned of his son’s diagnosis, he vowed never to let his son believe he couldn’t do what he wanted to. “My son has never been told he can’t do something,” says Albert. “He had some special education classes and extra support along the way to help him succeed. I was always very careful because I wanted him to get the extra help, but never more than he needed.” Albert is a single father. He also is raising his daughter, Sarah, who is entering her junior year of high school. Many years back, Albert started his own business so his schedule would work better for his children, especially when it came to Trey and making all his doctor appointments and school meetings. Not only does Trey have Asperger’s, but he is also an insulin-diabetic. Just recently he’s been able to lower the number of daily insulin shots. For five years, he was getting four shots a day. His father remembers when Trey was in elementary school, he would always play by himself. It wasn’t until he entered middle school, that he started to socialize with other students. In high school, he stood out even more. “One of his best friends was the football quarterback. His friends embraced Trey when he attended his junior and senior proms. He just became a more outgoing person,” says Albert. Standing Out The impression Trey made on his friends and his teachers was best noted at his graduation. He was presented with the
Principal’s Award, a long-standing award at Effingham County High School. This award is given to one student each year. Trey nor his family had any idea he was the recipient. “When Mrs. Dickerson first started talking, I didn’t know she was talking about me. Then after a little bit, I realized it was me and I got excited,” says Trey.
“There are many things I considered when deciding which student would receive this award. Out of these character traits, the one that would truly describe this student is perseverance. I have known this student since sixth grade and he is one of the happiest people I know. He always has a smile on his face and a hug if you allow. He moves through school with determination and urgency and sometimes doesn’t even slow down for the person in front of him. Although traditional school is not his strongest attribute, he came and maintained. School never seemed to be a bother or a chore but instead an opportunity and an experience. He never meets a stranger or someone he would not speak to. He sees everyone as a friend and assumes you see him as a friend as well.” “Trey is an inspiration. The way he responds to the world around him is with a sincere happy attitude,” says Amie Dickerson, principal, Effingham County High School. It’s that sincerity that his father says is one of his son’s greatest assets. “One week after graduation, one of his friends dropped by to show Trey his new truck. That made my son so happy. And me, too. His friends care about him,”
adds Albert. He’s touched so many lives that even his firstgrade teacher, who now lives in Virginia, came to see Trey graduate.
– Amie Dickerson, principal, Effingham County High School.
Not only did Trey embrace school, but he was also very involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA). He never missed one meeting and was noted as always being willing to help. “Being part of FFA was great for Trey. I think it helped promote his social skills and gave him a purpose,” says Albert. Last year, Trey received an award for his involvement in FFA. He was presented with an FFA blanket. Albert laughs when he thinks of Trey’s dedication to the club. “At the end of each meeting, he wanted to know exactly when the next meeting was going to be.” The Future for Trey There’s no doubt, Trey’s future will be one of success. In his short 19 years, he’s
already made great improvements. Albert remembers he would have to contain his son in his room at night so he couldn’t get out. He started with baby gates and eventually had to come up with a better solution. “Trey was in his room and I accidentally dozed off. Suddenly, I heard my truck running in the garage. Trey had managed to climb the baby gate, get my keys and start my truck. The scariest part was my daughter was standing behind the truck and Trey put the truck in drive and hit the wall. It could have been my daughter if he had reversed.” After that incident, Albert came up with a solution that involved a self-made door with a deadbolt and wooden bars that allowed Trey to still seeout. He just couldn’t open the door. When Trey was around 12, his father put on a regular door. He trusted Trey would be OK. Other memories Albert shares include never being able to leave Trey alone. If he needed to run to the store for bread, Trey went. If he had to work, sometimes Trey and his sister would have to sit in the truck and wait for their father to finish a job. Now, Trey stays home by himself. It’s these small milestones that Albert says are encouraging. When school starts back, Albert says he will start helping his son find a job. “He can do something. He has a capable body and I’ve never set limits on what he can do,” says Albert. Albert does agree that the job will have to be somewhere Trey feels comfortable. “I’m hoping maybe he can find a job at one of his old schools. He would feel safe there. I admit, sending him out into the big world is a little scary.” Several things still undecided is whether Trey will ever drive. His father says at this point Trey says he doesn’t want to. Another unknown is whether Trey will ever live by himself. Albert says it’s a wait and see kind of process. One known, though, is Trey’s ability to live life to the fullest and overcome difficulties. Albert says he is very proud of his son for all that he has accomplished. “I’m proud of his award, I’m proud he graduated with his class, and I’m proud that he treats everyone with kindness and compassion.” Trey is also proud of his accomplishments. “Graduating from high school made me happy and I’m proud because school is tough. At the same time, I’m glad it’s over,” says Trey.
Back to School Principal's Corner
With the school year underway in Effingham County, we wanted to catch up with the principals to see what they have planned for the coming year, and what they did over the summer to gear up for a busy academic year.
Anna Barton Principal South Effingham Elementary School
My name is Anna Barton, and I am proud to be the principal of South Effingham Elementary School (SEES)–home of the Mini-Mustangs! The 2019-2020 school year marks my 19th year in education and my 6th year as an elementary school principal. I wholeheartedly love this school and the wonderful community that surrounds it.
What are your goals for the school year? My primary goal as principal is to continue our longstanding tradition of excellence in academics while providing a safe, loving and nurturing learning environment for all children who attend SEES. For the 2019-2020 school year, the staff’s goal is to continue strengthening our understanding of the various components of balanced literacy, specifically focusing on writing across all content areas.
What is happening this year that you would like the community to know? We are ALL a community of learners! Our fabulous Parent/Teacher Organization (PTO) has several wonderful events planned for this school year, and they are always looking for volunteers. In addition to our 4th annual Fun Run fundraiser kicking off in September, SEES will host a variety of events that involve our community, such as: Parent Orientation Night, Trunk or Treating/Family Movie Night, Paint and Pizza Night, Family Reading Night, Math Night, Dinner with Santa, PTO meetings, Book Fairs, Storybook Character Parade, and GA Milestones Parent Night just to name a few. Get involved!
What was your favorite summer memory? Going to the beach is something I have loved since I was a small child. I was very lucky to have grandparents that owned a house on Tybee. My best childhood memories were those that were spent there. We would spend several weeks during the summer. The beach was and still is my happy place.
Christy Brown Principal Sand Hill Elementary School
Christy Brown is proud to serve as principal of Sand Hill Elementary School for the third year. She has worked in Effingham County School District since 2003, serving in various schools as a teacher and assistant principal. She believes that all students can learn, given a positive and safe environment in which collaborative support is provided by all stakeholders. All of which, the Effingham County School District provides on a daily basis. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Georgia Southern University. She then continued her education at GSU where she completed her master’s and education specialist degree.
What are your goals for the school year? Sand Hill will remain focused on continuous improvement in academics, safety, as well as relationship building with community members and Sand Hill families. .
What is happening this year that you would like the community to know? The first special event that we have planned this year is our Fun Run fundraiser to help support our school in our quest to provide one to one technology to our students. Please join our Facebook page to be the first to know about our upcoming events. We look forward to an awesome year!
What was your favorite summer memory? Mrs. Brown’s favorite way to spend her summer break is by the pool making memories with her family.
Charlotte Connelly Principal Guyton Elementary School
I graduated from the University of South Carolina in May of 1996. I moved to Effingham County in 1997 and was hired at Guyton Elementary school. During the past 24 years at GES, I have taught Pre-K, worked as Assistant Principal and I am now starting my 10th year as Principal. I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful daughters who support me in my busy career. We own B and E Farm and enjoy showing, selling and raising goats. What are your goals for the school year? My goal is to provide students with a strong foundation of moral and academic excellence through a safe and supportive learning environment. I want us to develop meaningful relationships with all students, staff and parents by having an open dialogue and creating a feeling of trust. Relationships are key to having a successful community of learners. What is happening this year that you would like the community to know? Each year students do a musical program at the Guyton Gator Performance Nights for their parents and community members. GES has hired a new music teacher and we all are looking forward to seeing what the students can do! We will have Family Nights in the fall and spring to encourage parents to come into our school and learn about what their children are studying in the classroom. This will also be the second year of the Fun Run in March to bring our school and community together for a good cause. What was your favorite summer memory? This summer my family stayed close to home. I love the salt water and going out in our boat. We took several trips to Daufuskie Island. Once on the island we would go to the beach and ride around the island on a golf cart. I enjoy being with friends and family. We had some fun times!
Amie Dickerson Principal Effingham County High School
I have had the awesome opportunity to be a part of Effingham County Board of Education since 1996. I began as a paraprofessional at SEHS while completing my bachelor's degree. I then taught at ECMS and EMS. I became an assistant principal at EMS in 2008, then EMS principal in 2011. In October of 2018, I was offered an adventure of a lifetime to move to ECHS as principal. Not only am I an educator but I am also a wife and mom. I have been married to Jamie Dickerson since 1993 and we have two children. My daughter Abbie will be a junior this year at UGA and my son Josh will be a junior at ECHS.
What are your goals for the school year? Effingham County High School is an awesome place. We have great students and a wonderful faculty and staff. My goals for this year is to continue the tradition of excellence and hopefully add to this already successful school.
What is happening this year that you would like the community to know? This year will be the first annual "Freshman welcome pep rally". This will be the Sunday before open house and only for upcoming Freshman. This will be a true pep rally that we are hoping will get our Freshman class excited about being a REBEL.
What was your favorite summer memory? During the summer I have the opportunity to "escape" to the lake for a week with my family. This allows for relaxation and rejuvination. And all I have to do all day is lay around on a float.
Leslie Dickerson Principal Marlow Elementary School
It is with great pleasure that I serve as Principal of Marlow Elementary School. I have a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education, a Master of Education in Educational Leadership and an Educational Specialist Degree in Curriculum and Instruction. I have enjoyed 29 years in education. My husband, Henry Dickerson, teaches Law and Justice at ECHS after serving 32 years in the Air National Guard and working 13 years for the Department of Natural Resources. My son, Trent, is a graduate of Ogeechee Technical College and is the Assistant Farm Manager at Honey Ridge AgriCenter. What are your goals for the school year? I have an uncompromising view that all students can learn, given a positive learning atmosphere that welcomes exploration and ways to enhance student confidence. I am excited to have student’s back in our classrooms and hallways filling them with energy and enthusiasm for learning. Our accomplishments at Marlow Elementary have been monumental and we will continue to focus on teaching, learning and maintaining the very best environment to make sure that happens. As we move forward, we will continue to keep a quote by Emerson at the forefront of our minds, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” What is happening this year that you would like the community to know? We will have our Mustang Stampede Events throughout the year, a night sponsored by Mathnasium, our Fourth and Fifth Grade choral performances, our PTO Family Meetings and so much more. Stay tuned and check out our school website regularly for the 2019-2020 events. What was your favorite summer memory? My family and I were able to relax and enjoy camping and hiking with family and friends this summer.
Dr. Paige Dickey Principal Rincon Elementary
I am going into my 14th year as the principal at Rincon Elementary. I served as a special education teacher in both Chatham County and Effingham County, a special education coordinator in Fayette County, and an assistant principal at South Effingham High School and Effingham County High School prior to becoming the principal at Rincon Elementary School. I was born and raised in Savannah, moved to Effingham County in 1995 and began teaching at Effingham County High School. I am married to Travis Dickey and we have two sons and two daughters.
What are your goals for the school year? My goals for the school year are to continue to build on the wonderful traditions that make Rincon Elementary a wonderful place to go to school. We moved into a beautiful new building last year and spent the year establishing ourselves at the new school and getting to know many new students and families. We are looking forward to seeing all of them return this year along with many new faces.
What is happening this year that you would like the community to know? This school year we are looking forward to our Kroger Math Night, STEM Night and Literacy Night. Our most popular event of the year is our annual Walton Burns Memorial May Day Celebration which is held the first Friday of May each year. We welcome our school families, friends and community members to come out and celebrate our students with us on the special day.
What was your favorite summer memory? My favorite event each summer is spending a week at the beach with my family. It is a great time to relax and spend time with my husband and children.
Tammy H. Jacob Principal Ebenezer Middle School
I am an Effingham County native and graduate of South Effingham High School from 1997, its inaugural year. I taught math at SEHS before becoming assistant principal/testing coordinator where I stayed for five years. I then moved to the SEHS instructional supervisor position. In October 2018, I became the principal of Ebenezer Middle School. I received a Bachelor’s of Science in Mathematics Education degree and Master’s in Educational Leadership from Georgia Southern University and an Educational Specialist in Educational Leadership from Georgia College and State University. I plan to enroll in a doctoral program for the Fall 2020 semester. What are your goals for the school year? This will be my first full year as principal, so I plan to learn more about being a principal and getting to know my staff and students a little more this year as well as connect with the community. I would also like to see an increase in our CCRPI score; therefore, continual data analysis of our past struggles along with present assessments is a necessity to see gains in this area. What is happening this year that you would like the community to know? I am excited to announce that EMS will be connecting with our parents and students through social media where all special events will be posted. More information about this will be shared at the Open House on 8/5, and through our school phone/email system. What was your favorite way to spend the summer? Any free time I have I devote to my wonderful family. Whether we were on the beach, by the pool, out and about or just hanging out at the house, we made plenty of memories. I have to give a shout out to my precious mother, JoAnn Hathaway, the best sister in the world, Tonja Hathaway, my awesome husband, Bryan, and my rambunctious and adorable twin boys, Isaac and Asher—they make my world complete!
LaToya Jones Principal Blandford Elementary School
As a lifelong learner, I have always known the value of education. This value was instilled in me at a very young age. As a young child who was raised with a family of educators, I always knew that I wanted to live, teach, and raise my own family in Effingham County. I am married to Anthony Jones, Asst. Band Director of ECHS and we have a sweet little boy named Trenton.
What are your goals for the school year? For the 19-20 school year, my main goal is to ensure academic success for all Blandford Elementary School students, while also continuing to build a relationship with the village of supportive community members who enjoy being a part of the BES family.
What is happening this year that you would like the community to know? We are excited about two special events taking place at BES this year. To support the Social Emotional Learning Initiative, BES was awarded the opportunity to pilot the Leader in Me program with support from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Franklin Covey Foundation. In September, we will also have a Boosterthon Fun Run Fundraising event that will allow BES to add more books to our Media Center.
What was your favorite summer memory? I was very excited to be able to not have any specific plans this summer other than read and relax with my family. We often have very busy summers and this year our goal was to appreciate our loved ones by just enjoying time with each other.
Ashley Kieffer Principal & CEO Effingham College & Career Academy
My name is Ashley Kieffer, and I serve as the Principal and CEO of Effingham College & Career Academy. I received my Bachelor of Business Administration and my Master of Arts in Teaching from Georgia Southern University, and I received my Education Specialist degree from Lincoln Memorial University. I began teaching business education at South Effingham High School and transferred to Effingham College & Career Academy upon its opening in 2010. I taught Marketing education followed by Distribution & Logistics prior to becoming the Principal in 2015 and the Principal/CEO in 2019. What are your goals for the school year? The Effingham College & Career Academy goals for the 2019-2020 school year include growing the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program and increasing student achievement on standardized tests including Georgia Milestones, Advanced Placement, Local Endof-Course, and End of Pathway. The final goal is increasing the rigor and relevance in the Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education (CTAE) courses taught at ECCA. What is happening this year that you would like the community to know? Effingham College & Career Academy hosts: Two Science Symposiums showcasing student research and development of real-world challenges; Miles in Style 5K run at Honeyridge Agricenter to benefit a local charity; Miss ECCA scholarship pageant; Culinary Arts Valentine Day; Regional, State, and National competitive events in SkillsUSA, HOSA, TSA, FCCLA, Science Olympiad, Science Fair, and Inventure Challenge. What was your favorite summer memory? My favorite summer activities were taking a Disney cruise with my wife and son and having our daughter home from the University of Georgia.
Dr. Brigid Nesmith Principal South Effingham Middle School
In 1998, I got my first teaching job at South Effingham High School. While at SEHS, I met my husband, Travis Nesmith, and we married in 2000. After eight years at SEHS, I taught at SEMS for two years. My first administrator position was at Sand Hill Elementary School as Instructional Supervisor for four years before moving back to SEMS as Instructional Supervisor. In December of 2016, I was named the principal of SEMS. I obtained three degrees in Educational Leadership from Georgia Southern University: Masters, Educational Specialist and Doctorate. I am blessed with two children, Kiera (18) and Coleman (15) and four fur babies. What are your goals for the school year? The theme for SEMS for this school year is “Linking for Success.” My goal is to create a successful link for the educational success of all students. We are incorporating school-wide STEA²M linking hands-on experiences at Honey Ridge Agricenter with grade level standards. Another goal is to incorporate PBIS into the classrooms which was successfully implemented last year. What is happening this year that you would like the community to know? At SEMS, we couldn’t be more excited about our school-wide STEA²M Program. Our teachers are receiving professional development to prepare to give students the opportunity to apply the Engineering by Design Process while working collaboratively to solve real world problems. Our school will collaborate with Honey Ridge Agricenter allowing students to research issues on the farm and take field trips for hands-on experiences tied to grade level standards and overarching grade level questions. What was your favorite summer memory? My favorite memory from the summer is spending quality time with my family relaxing on the lazy river at our condo in Orlando.
Lisa Woods Principal Springfield Elementary School
I have been blessed to work for the Effingham County School System for many years. I started my career as a kindergarten teacher at Springfield Elementary and now I am the principal of this amazing school. I am married to my high school sweetheart, Jim, and we have two wonderful children, Russ and Emily. I graduated from Armstrong and Georgia Southern University. I am a Salzburger and I enjoy learning about the history of my ancestors. I teach Sunday School at Springfield United Methodist Church. What are your goals for the school year? One of my goals for this school year is to make sure that my students feel safe and happy when they are at school because when students are safe and happy, they are motivated to be Champion Students. I strive to make sure that our boys and girls know that when they walk in the doors each morning they are in a place where people care about them and will do everything possible to help them fall in love with reading, writing, math, science and social studies. What is happening this year that you would like the community to know? We have many fun events planned throughout the year. My staff plans two talent shows, a book parade, Champion Night at the DAWG House, Field Day, Grits and Grandparents, a valentine dance, a forth and fifth grade Superbowl, several chorus productions, an art show, and many more events throughout the year. At SES we have a motto that states, We Work Hard and We Play Hard! I want the staff, students and parents to love being a part of Springfield Elementary! Check out our Social Media sites for details. What was your favorite summer memory? Summer has been wonderful! I have been planning a wedding with my family for my daughter, Emily. She will marry Lance Coleman in August. We have had a wonderful time making all of the arrangements for this special occasion.
Dana Wright Principal Ebenezer Elementary School
My name is Dana Wright and I am excited to be a first-year Principal of Ebenezer Elementary School. I have been lucky enough to serve as the Assistant Principal at Ebenezer Elementary School for the past 12 years. I began my career in Liberty County. I have also worked at Marlow Elementary and at Sand Hill Elementary.
What are your goals for the school year? Over the last several years, EES is proud to have made many gains and attained many goals in our academic progress. This school year, our school will continue to focus on making gains in writing. Teachers will set goals for students and students will set goals for themselves. Another goal EES staff sets for ourselves is to make a positive impact on the children we serve every day. We are proud we get to serve our students and we will make sure they feel safe and loved each day.
What is happening this year that you would like the community to know? Parents are welcome at special activities that we plan throughout the year. Our main fundraiser for our PTSO is our Fun Run which is scheduled for Feb. 27, 2020. We look forward to some fun changes with the Fun Run this year.
What was your favorite summer memory? My favorite way that I spent my vacation this summer was on a cruise with my family. We visited the Virgin Islands. It was such a relaxing trip. I was also able to spend the 4th of July at my in-law's cabin near Blue Ridge, GA. I also enjoy spending time at home relaxing just watching tv and being with my family.