Students recognized at Halifax County School Board Meeting

The Monday night meeting of the Halifax County School Board meeting was a moment to celebrate student accomplishments.

From Team 977 Cometbots to the Halifax County High School Culinary Arts team that has qualified for national competition in Anaheim, Calif., students were in the limelight during an otherwise uneventful session for trustees in Halifax.

Also receiving plaudits and recognition were HCHS’s award-winning FFA chapter, and junior Jared Dawson of Nathalie, who recently earned a career certification in mechatronics at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center and his degree at Southside Virginia Community College, where he took part in commencement this weekend.

Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg began the recognitions with a word of praise for the HCHS Leadership Program, under the guidance of Melanie Saunders. Lineburg noted that the juniors and seniors in the Leadership Program have begun taking an active role in school and community affairs, with students speaking before the Virginia General Assembly to help win passage of House Bill 1634, allowing Halifax County to hold a sales tax referendum.

“That class is really starting to turn into one of the most dynamic I’ve seen. It is starting to shape our county,” said Lineburg.

Pronouncing Halifax’s students as good as any school division’s anywhere, Lineburg turned over the floor to students and their advisors.

» First up was Team 977 Cometbots, with robotics instructor Adam Reeves offering a recap of the team’s recent trip to Detroit to compete in the FIRST World Championships against some 400 teams around the U.S. and the world.

The Cometbots qualified for nationals after finishing 18th out of 127 teams in district competition at George Mason University, marking the second year in a row the team has advanced to Detroit.

“Our Comets competed like you wouldn’t believe,” said Reeves. With other teams receiving sponsorships and guidance from outfits including NASA and the University of Virginia, “it was just magnificent what our kids could do,” he said.

In contrast to teams from well-heeled school divisions, the Cometbots have had to rely on community support to reach the district and national competitions. With the expense of building and programming robots, travel and lodging, and other costs, Reeves said it takes around $30,000 in a normal season to do what the Cometbots accomplished this year. He thanked the community for supporting the team.

“The good thing” after Detroit, Reeves added, is the team is “all excited and ready to continue working through the summer and fall” in preparation for next season. The Cometbots will say goodbye to only a handful of seniors, setting the team up for success in the years to come.

Before then, team members will show off their robotics skills by taking part in the End of Year School Bash Saturday, June 1 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. at the high school.

» Culinary Arts instructor Victoria Worley introduced four members of the HCHS culinary team who will be taking part in a National Leadership Conference in Anaheim. John Pittard, Jessica Overby and Amber Nichols received silver medals in state culinary live competition, and Kyhliq Palmer earned second place overall. Palmer also won $16,000 in scholarships for Applied Culinary Math for Management.

Worley told trustees that heading into state competition, she had given no thought to the idea that the HCHS team might be able to quality for the national event. “I thought it was in Georgia,” she said.

“I felt we were the underdog, and I was so proud of my students,” she added of her award-winning team.

Now, the four students have a chance to board an airplane for the first time in their lives to go to Anaheim. First, however, they are working to raise $6,000 through local fund raisers and a GoFundMe campaign on the popular crowdsourcing website. To donate, look up and search for FCCLA National Competition.

“This is a really big expense. I think for the community to see [these students] going out into the world, it’s really awesome,” said Worley.

» Next up to receive praise were members of the HCHS FFA chapter who have excelled in district and regional competition. FFA Advisor Don Reese introduced avian bowl team members Jessica Overby, Jordan Walker, Katelin Cash and Dylan Irby, who placed first at the Virginia State FFA Convention. The FFA forestry judging team of Irby, Casey Garland, Joseph Wilson and Michael Satterfield came in third in the Southeast Area Forestry Judging Contest earlier this year.

Five students attended the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana in the fall: Irby, Satterfield, Tylik Evans, Natalia Howell and Cora Domenici.

FFA “is the strongest after-school program we have at our high school,” said Debra Woltz, CTE coordinator at HCHS.

» Betty Adams of the SVHEC stepped up to sing the praises of Jared Dawson, a junior at HCHS who graduated at SVCC this weekend with a degree in mechatronics, earned through the local higher education center’s Career Tech Academy.

Speaking about the program, Adams said she initially wondered how well it would be received among students in the service area of Halifax, Mecklenburg and Charlotte. Her concerns were soon allayed. “It has been a phenomenal success,” Adams said. “This may be the most important and fun project I’ve worked on in my nearly 40-year career in education.”

The students have been a “joy,” she added, and with that she recognized Dawson, who completed Level 1 mechatronics, which brings together the study of electrical components, pneumatic systems, industrial troubleshooting and repair. With the welding component of the Career Tech Academy, “these are two high-demand pathways that lead to good paying jobs,” said Adams.

After being introduced, Dawson and his mother Jackie offered effusive praise for the program: “For a child who did not know what his future held, he now knows what his future holds,” said Jackie Dawson.

Jared, she said, was skeptical of the program at first, but “by the second day he loved it.” Jared Dawson called it “a very good class to take” and said he has “learned a lot since I’ve been there.”

He is one of 15 students in the Career Tech Academy to earn a career studies certificate in mechatronics and one of 32 students overall in the program. He plans to continue a second year in the program next year.

Seeing her son take part in the SVCC commencement program was a thrill for Jackie Dawson, who proclaimed herself the program’s “number one supporter”: “To see that boy walk across the stage for a college degree as a junior [in high school], it was amazing,” she said.

In other business at the School Board meeting, trustees set a June 25 meeting date to wrap up end of year business, and they passed a resolution in support of the Community Strategic Plan, to guide Halifax County’s growth and development in coming decades.