A Senior’s Story: From our Class of 2020

Mason Harmon

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Dear NCLA,

First and foremost, thank you. Thank you for pushing me every single day. Thank you for giving me the confidence I have today. Thank you for providing a safe place to learn and grow and ask questions. Thank you for giving me some of my best friends. The NCLA holds six of the best and most formidable years of my life. I went to the NCLA in seventh grade, the second year for the school, and while it took until my senior year, I grew into a different person. Through the NCLA I have the best of friends and the best teachers. Teachers that I will love and cherish forever, teachers who have allowed me to be myself and have helped me grow in my confidence in and out of school. While the NCLA has been tough, looking back on it now I realize there was not one day where I did not smile while I was there. The school opened up opportunities that led me to my major in elementary education. I have never been to a school that has openly cared as much as the NCLA does, without the faculty and atmosphere I would not be where I am today. Even though my six years of happiness were cut short, I will always remember the best times, times with sword fights in the hallways, or wearing a crazy wig to scream at fourth graders in the NCLA’s first production, or crying at every single chorus concert. I am truly blessed to have gotten the time that I did at the NCLA and while I am devastated that it is over, I will always cherish the time I had. Thank you. 

Emma Wallace


Dear NCLA, 

Needless to say, my world was basically flipped upside down during the last few months of my eighth grade year. I had planned my whole life to go to Glenn High School and graduate as a Bobcat. I was so excited to continue learning about myself and making new friends and doing new things in high school. Instead, my family decided to take a leap of faith and move across the country to Dubuque, Iowa where my dad had a job offer. It was so hard. Eventually, I began to settle in, but at that point, my family had decided to uproot what little we had grown in Iowa and go back home. My mom had seen what my sister and I been through and wanted our adjustment to be easier this time. She put us in the raffle for the NCLA, a smaller school where a few friends of mine attended. And just like that, my life changed again. This charter school that took up a single hallway became a home. The Falcons took us in, even my mom. While not always perfect, I finally found a place where I could feel comfortable being myself. I had a voice here. Friendships were built, some fell apart. We complained, we laughed, we got in trouble, and we goofed off in the halls. My sports teams allowed me to meet with kids from every grade, all supporting and loving one another. As the school grew, I did too. I tried new things, like joining the student council, playing soccer, auditioning for the school play, and even asking a guy to be my prom date! Dances were nights for my girlfriends and me to let it all out. Games were where I played with my teammates or cheered from the bleachers. All of these things became my haven. It wasn’t always wonderful, I wasn’t always happy, and I received scars along the way. But joy could be found at the NCLA. Assignments I found I could like, creative opportunities where I could express myself. Inside jokes, accidents, and shared worries created friendships I’d cherish. Teachers that love us and have fun with us. These kids I see in the halls and on the field, or as my chemistry partners. The people I’ve grown to know deeply or just on the surface. They have become those I love and look forward to seeing. That is the best part of what NCLA has meant to me … an unplanned, imperfect, and unexpected joy. 

Jodi Rickert


Dear NCLA,

The NCLA family has been a part of my life ever since I was accepted into the lottery of the school when I was in seventh grade. It was a different environment at first, but I grew to love the people that I got to call my classmates. Everyone has such different personalities and interests, but we all seem to be united like a family. We are all super close, and we all care for one another. NCLA has helped me find some of my closest friends that I hope to continue relationships with. The school has also prepared me for college with all of the teachers and administration helping me choose the most rigorous classes and expecting my 100 percent at all times. I am even thankful for the times where I was involved in such challenging classes, that I was overwhelmed with stress. This helped me grow into a stronger, smarter individual that has the ability to overcome any task coming my way. All of the AP classes and honors classes that I have taken during my time at the school have made me feel confident in my abilities coming into college next fall. I am extremely grateful for all of the teachers and administration that have helped me get through my six years at the NCLA. I am also thankful for all of the teachers that have had an impact on my life by just being themselves. An amazing thing that students at the NCLA get to experience at school is the student-teacher relationships. All of the teachers care about their students and try to build personal relationships with their students. I am so glad that I had the privilege to be a part of that with the teachers that are there now and were there in the past. The greatest thing about the NCLA is the people, and how everyone is always there for one another. Lastly, I am grateful for the administration. Everyone involved is super helpful, and always willing to help you out so that you feel like you are important. They help ensure that you are cared for, and they make sure you are showing your greatest potential. Overall, the NCLA has helped me grow into the person I am today, and I am glad to say that I am not only a part of a school but a community of people who care for one another. We all have each others’ backs and want what is best for each other. I hope that future generations can experience the connection between the students and staff because it brings a sense of community between everyone. 

Olivia Pulliam


Dear NCLA,

For me, the NCLA has played a huge part in the past six years of my life. Since I came to the school in seventh grade I have been able to find so many of the things and people that I love. The school has given me people that I can trust and count on, and people who truly believe in me. A lot of the students and teachers at the school have been like family to me and they all mean so much to me in so many different ways. I have made some of the strongest relationships and friendships with the people I have met at school, and I know that I can count on some of them even after we leave. I have never made friends as easily as I did at the NCLA. Being at this school has made it so easy to find people who I know really care about me, and I have been able to meet amazing people who want to be around me and who I want to be around as well. The school has shown me some of the most supportive teachers I have ever had, and I am very grateful to have had teachers who would stop at nothing to help their students succeed. They support us educationally but also personally, checking in on us when we need it and making sure that we know they care. They all truly believe in the students and it means the absolute world to me knowing that my teachers really want to help me succeed to the best of my abilities. So much has happened in the six years I have been at the NCLA, but with everything that has happened, I know that there were people there that truly believed in me and cared. Leaving this year is definitely scary, but not as much as I always thought it would be. Knowing that the NCLA has helped prepare me for the future in nearly every way possible, I am able to look forward to my future with high hopes. 

Mackenzie Campbell-Hunt


Dear NCLA,

I have been a part of The North Carolina Leadership Academy since its inception. Over this time, I have grown an appreciation for the school, and all it has to offer. Having small classroom instruction, providing an exceptional education for me. It is because of the NCLA that I have thrived during my middle school and high school years. Adding in the Civil Air Patrol program, in with the superior educational foundation, created what I needed to begin my educational journey. I am thankful for the NCLA for setting me up for success in my academic career.

Isabella Ammirati


Dear NCLA,

When I first started at the NCLA in the seventh grade I was very shy and did not want to be there. As the years went on I started to become more outgoing and made many friends. Being at the NCLA I have been able to excel in academics as well as athletics. I am so thankful for all of my teachers and especially my coaches who were always there for me and pushed me to better myself. The NCLA has taught me how to be a leader and to stand up for what I believe in. I have made so many amazing friendships and have learned so much at the NCLA and I would not trade it for anything.

Kyley Perkins 



For me, I have been to a few schools throughout my education, and a few were not the best. They all taught me great lessons but none really felt how the NCLA has felt. To me, the NCLA is a place where the teachers feel like instructors but also friends, we can talk and even joke, some even feel like a second mother or father. They care so much about our education and our potential that it inspires us to do better. For me the people at the NCLA are some of the brightest people I know, they make it feel like a family. I know not everyone in my grade may feel like this but in truth, I feel like my teachers and all my classmates are a family. Even if I do not know many of them, I do still believe in them and hope that the future brings them happiness.

For the teachers, they have been a vital part of my growth and not just in academic fields. They have pushed me to grow my interest in things that I all but gave up on. And even more than that they have been some of my best friends. To talk and simply enjoy our own quirkiness. These teachers include Mrs. Kerr, Mrs.Weikert, Mr. Landphair, and even Mrs. Orenstien during D&D Club. They became our best friends and even our closest teammates. I know this paper was supposed to be about what the NCLA has meant to me, but to me, the NCLA is not a place but the people who each and every day strive to expand our learning and help us grow as people. Thank you for every moment, good and bad, we have been through. The NCLA has been one of, if not the best school and place I have been to. Thank you for everything The North Carolina Leadership Academy.

Jaden Peters


Dear NCLA,

For me, the NCLA is like a second home. I have been going to the NCLA since the first year the school has opened. It has given me the opportunity to meet so many amazing people over the years who have become family. Sure, we all dislike the school at times because who likes school? But having my senior year cut short has definitely hit differently since I am not getting to say goodbye to some amazing people and the place that has felt like home for the last seven years. I am thankful to say that the NCLA has set me up for the next chapter of my life and I can confidently say that it has prepared me to start Western Carolina in the fall. I will definitely miss the NCLA and all of the people who I have met through it. I will definitely be back to support and watch the basketball teams win some more games though. 

Courtney Floyd


Dear NCLA,

Since the very day I walked into this school I knew there was something different about it. What I did not realize was that I had found my new home and my new family. For the past four years, I have been living out the dream of what high school is supposed to be, a time in life where you are pushed to be your best and make lifelong memories that you will look back on with pure nostalgia. I had to work my hardest at the NCLA, but I would never give it up for how well it has prepared me for college. Along with this hard work were the memories made that I will look back on and reminisce with joy and fondness in my heart. The most important part of the NCLA, though, is the friends that I have made. The people you meet here are those you will never forget and will never lose contact with. They are life long friends and they are what define the NCLA. It is not the building that makes a school, it is the people in it. For me, these people are family. They will forever have a special place in my heart. It is because of these people that I am writing this. If it was not for the efforts of my teachers and my peers, I would definitely not be in the place I am today. It is for these that I also grow sad. For most, high school graduation is a time for celebration, and it is for me as well, but it is also a time for goodbyes. A time when I have to say goodbye to my closest friends and teachers and move into a new life without them. Of course, I will see them in the future, but this is the close of an amazing chapter of life with them all. So for this, I say a bittersweet goodbye…goodbye to the school that made my teenage years. 

Mason Harmon 


Dear NCLA, 

With the time allotted by this pandemic, I wonder how my fellow classmates are taking this departure from the traditional senior year. I’m sure most of them are absolutely crushed that they didn’t finish the year, they didn’t get their final prom, nor did the spring athletes get their highly anticipated senior night, and the mortifying fact that they might not physically be handed a diploma. These are disheartening thoughts, however, with introspection I see this being part of a larger pattern of unique and all be it memorable experiences within my time at the NCLA. Our school has been home to many of my greatest experiences and treasured moments.  I have never been an outgoing kid and before going to NCLA, I was much more of a loner.  However, the amazing friends I made, along with the exemplary teachers I met throughout my journey at NCLA, brought me out of my shell and made me the man I am today. I thank all of them for their help and support because NCLA is more than just a school; it is a close-knit community and I will miss every moment I spent there. 

Brody Harrell 


Dear NCLA, 

By far the greatest impact NCLA has had on me is definitely the friends and friendships that I have made over these last few years. Especially in the last year, I began to have a bad case of “Senioritis” and I was ready for school to be over with. It was the friends I have made at NCLA who kept me accountable and encouraged me to finish strong. The people around me made school enjoyable though we may have had many assignments and deadlines approaching, I could always count on that in the hallways, at the end of a class, or at lunch that there would be people around who would make me laugh and help me forget about the stressful things in life. I’m thankful to have made many memories at NCLA, but I couldn’t have made them without those around me.

Trey Payne 


Dear NCLA, 

NCLA has been a crucial piece of my life in the past many, many years. It’s a place where:  I have made amazing academic and athletic success, a place where I have connected to the community, a place where I have grown, and most importantly, the place where unforgettable friendships and incredible bonds were formed. Because of the people, particularly my volleyball coaches, who truly invested their time in me at the NCLA, I was able to reach some of my biggest life goals. It will always have a special place in my heart, and I could not have been where I am today without the numerous lessons I have gained at the NCLA.

Lydia Saunders 

Dear NCLA, 

I’ve been at the NCLA for the past 5 years and Have met so many great people and made so many great friendships. The NCLA is a big family. I was always bad about saying I’m ready for school to be over but now that it actually is all I wanna do is just go back and finish out senior year. The one thing that made our school so great was our teachers and faculty. They made every day enjoyable and they also built relationships with every student. By going that extra mile to create friendships with us it made school ten times more enjoyable. I’m so thankful for all the opportunities that I’ve had at the NCLA and all the teachers pushing me to do my best.

Chloe Glover 


Dear NCLA, 

NCLA has meant so much to me over the past 7 years. It has brought me my best friends, taught me so much, and pushed me to work hard. Every year has presented its own challenges, but our class always seems to find a way to overcome them by working together. I will miss my friends and teachers, but I know that they have helped make me who I am today.

Beth Davis 


Dear NCLA, 

While writing this paper about NCLA I have so many mixed emotions about it. I was at NCLA from day one, the days where we had classes at the bridge and our “gym” was a garage. The school gave me so many opportunities to be the best that I can be, help me build friendships, a family, and most importantly taught me leadership. I was kinda devastated when I realized that I will never have classes at NCLA anymore, and most importantly, that I lost my senior baseball season. I was looking forward to this season, but life happens. I’ve built friendships with kids that I never even thought I would even talk to. I have so many friends from the freshman class to even the senior class and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I can not wait to come back to the school to watch some of my friends grow up and accomplish the dreams they have. I would never have thought that NCLA would change me into someone that isn’t afraid to speak their mind, and someone who takes charge when it needs to be done. I used to be the shy kid but now I feel like I am a pretty talkative and outgoing person. I willI definitely miss my teachers, my friends, and most importantly I will miss NCLA. I’ve built a family at NCLA, and I can not believe that my high school years are over. I will truly miss NCLA and the memories I’ve built there. As a student of the Class of 2020, I can truly say, do not take anything for granted. Live your best life, do what makes you happy, and remember to have fun! School is important, but once high school is over you’ll regret the things you didn’t do during that time.

Joe Stoops 


Dear NCLA, 

The NCLA was the perfect opportunity for me to get a fresh start. I came from a school where I had known everyone since I was five, I was ready to start over and meet new people. That was what made the NCLA special, we all got to start over and have a clean slate.

I have made incredible friends that have made a huge impact on my life and the way I see myself. My teachers challenged me, taught me the importance of determination, and were always available if I needed help. This was the perfect place for me, I grew up here. I am sure I would not be going to my dream school (ASU) without the help of my teachers and friends at the NCLA. I owe the NCLA everything and I will always cherish the relationships and friendships I made here.

Adrianna Overby 


Dear NCLA, 

Being at the school for just about six years makes it very hard to walk away from it. I am of course excited about what lies ahead, but in these past six years, I have made so many great memories and have grown alongside the most amazing peers. Without the NCLA, I know I wouldn’t have even met half of the kids in my class. This is very hard for me to think about as I would not like to imagine my life without many of my classmates. Watching friends who you have been with for years decide their next path and prepare for what has only been described to us as “the real world” is an emotion that is mixed with happiness, excitement, as well as heartache. At any school, watching those who you have gotten close with leave is heart-wrenching in itself, but because of our smaller class size, at the NCLA we have been able to connect more with our peers to the point where it almost feels as if we are all family. Of course, this atmosphere could not have been made without the help of the teachers and staff. For many, myself included, the teachers became more than just “my English teacher” or “my science teacher.” They became confidants and friends. Always willing to help and give up free time just to help one individual.  Because of these reasons, I am very glad to be a part of the NCLA.  I know many people complain and discredit the school’s stride, remarking that as students of the NCLA we don’t get the “real high school experience”. Though this may be true, we get something so much better: a community and relationships that I will remember for years to come.

Kya Hargan 


The Return of Mr. Sparks

Ellison Schuman 

Our beloved history teacher Mr. Sparks has finally made his return after 8 long weeks. After 9 days in the hospital and 3 surgeries later, he has been diagnosed with Stage 4 Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. (Stage 4 is the most advanced stage.)

He was actually sick a month before he left from December 2 to February 5. The cancer has been spreading through his body during that time.

“Basically, this is a cancer that directly affects your immune system. It spreads through your lymphatic system.” said Mr. Sparks

Because of this diagnosis , he will be taking chemotherapy every 3 weeks, causing him to miss a few days now and then. Sparks expressed how much he missed being in the classroom:

“It feels so great to be back. I was going crazy at home because I was so bored. I didn’t miss grading papers, but I really missed seeing everyone.”

Mr. Sparks has gotten so much better over the past couple weeks. He’s gaining back the  weight he lost and is still in his normal high spirits.

He was overcome by the support and donations given by the students and their families: 

“I personally want to thank everyone that donated during the Genes Day. It really meant a lot to me.”

New Backpack Rule Causes Debate in Middle School

Brooke Bandy / Ellison Schuman

There has recently been turmoil in the middle school over a rule stating that students are not allowed to carry their backpacks unless they are going to class in another building. The students are currently trying to overturn the rule by asking for support from administration and the high school student council. 

“This is something they’ve been doing for the whole year, it started when some of them were in the other building about creating space and keeping space and not having things too crowded in the end and now I think with moving into the new building with everybody’s lockers here they’ve wanted to try and maintain that. Actually I’ll take that back it was this way because the lockers were so spread out earlier in the year they were allowed to have their backpacks and now they’ve come in here and  the lockers are all close so they’ve wanted to keep backpacks in the lockers so that space is kind of saved IMG-5596and that makes it easier to walk around,” said Middle School Principal Mr. Lebrecht.

“I think some of the issues came up when some of the middle school students had classes out in the high school I’ve talked to several students who have classes out there, say they have first period out there and come back here for second period and then back out for third and back in for fourth, so it was becoming an issue of back and forth with that, so we’ve tried to work with those students to help with that and ease that,” said Lebrecht.

As a result of the back and forth, some students might have a harder time remembering everything they need for a certain class leaving them without their required materials. 

“Some kids in middle school are not organized enough to know what they need for every class and then they find that they don’t have what they need, but the other side of that being that they [backpacks] don’t fit in the lockers  and so you see the lockers have not been closing so that’s an issue as well,” said High School Principal Mrs. Wood. 

This is a rule that has been put in place and enforced by middle school teachers, not by the school’s administration.

(“It is more of a teacher rule it’s definitely not a school rule … we’re going to give the students a chance to voice their opinions and see how that works,” said Lebrecht.)-Boxed Bolded

“I’ve always been one that never really worried about backpacks. When I taught, backpacks never bothered me. I just asked students to keep them under their desks and I think that if a student should want to carry their backpack they should, so we’ll see what happens,” Lebrecht continued. 

According to students that The Falcon spoke with, most dislike the rule and want it to be overturned. 

“The rule is so stupid because I am always forgetting things in my locker so I’m here without my laptop and notebooks sometimes,” said eighth grader Ariana Elliot. 

The Falcon reached out to multiple middle school teachers, two of which had no comment, but Mrs. Kawalec went on record to discuss the issue. 

“I can see both sides of the issue. On one hand, the bags clutter the classrooms and students have easy access to their phones and snacks. And on the other hand it would be more convenient for students to carry stuff from room to room,” said Mrs. Kawalec. 

According to sources, there does seem to be a resolution on the way. 

“I think there’s lots of solutions. I think if the teachers and the kids work together they’d probably be able to come up with one. Like I said, not everybody wants one, so if you only have some kids in the class with bookbags, the ones who don’t need one probably won’t have as much and if there are rules in place for no lunch bags and no string bags, I think that would work out,” said Wood. 

“I think we should be able to come up with a solution, honestly, if the teachers and students work together they’ll come up with something that works.” <-I’m not sure who this quote is from? Likely Wood


What It’s Like To Be In The Coast Guard

Brooke Bandy

The Coast Guard is a crucial branch to the U.S. Military. We’ve seen movies about it, seen them on the news, heard their stories, but what’s it really like being in the coast guard? 

Matt Leggett joined the Coast Guard in 1994 and remained a part of it for eight years. “I joined in 1994. I was eighteen,” said Leggett, “I was in for eight years.”

Leggett was a boatswain during his time in the Coast Guard. “I was a boatswain, which is someone who captains smaller boats and is in charge of deck force and also can be incharge of small boat stations. I loved it.” Specifically, he was an E-4 Boatswain in the Coast Guard. “I was a E4 Boatswain, that was what I got out as, like a petty officer third class,” said Leggett.  

Matt went into the Coast Guard thinking he would be a Boatswain, and he ended up also being a rescue swimmer. 

“And being a rescue swimmer was a job of mine while I was on the ship. I didn’t have a choice, so when I first joined there was a huge Cuban Haitian migration happening at that time period and the ship that I was on, the swimmer transferred off to go to his next unit, so they basically pulled me out of the pool and said ‘Hey you’re going to be a rescue swimmer out of bootcamp.’ They knew what unit I was going to and they told me right out of bootcamp that I was going to rescue swimmer school.” said Leggett.IMG-8295

Though being a rescue swimmer seems like a scary job, it might not be as bad as we think.   

“Looking back at it, it was probably one of the least scary things. You don’t really think about it when you’re in the moment because you’re too caught up in it that you don’t really think. You don’t have time to think whether or not you’re scared if that makes sense,” said Leggett. 

Being in the Coast Guard doesn’t mean just lounging on a ship all day. It requires lots of hard work.

 “You’re always training and you’re always getting ready for that next thing … there would be times when the Captain would come tap me and say, “Come grab your swim gear,” and we would do man overboard drills 200 miles out at sea and that would be testing the new people who had just gotten to the ship from the academy,” said Leggett. 

 Being in the Coast Guard involves many jobs, including marine law enforcement.

 “You’re constantly doing different law enforcement activities whether it be like drug intervention or fisheries patrol. You know, everybody kind of understands the drug intervention because this always on the news, but for fisheries you may be going in and seeing if they are double lining fishing nets, which basically means they are taking everything out of the ocean you might be out on the fish holds of ships to estimate how many fish are in a hold of a fishing boat,” said Leggett. 

During his time, Matt didn’t get deployed, but he had some friends who did. 

 “I have friends who went over there. Typically what happens with the Coast Guard is the folks that get deployed are what are called Port Security unit, so the Coast Guard has been in every major war. So if you talk to any Vietnam veteran, there’s a good chance they might have been deployed and been on a patrol boat. They’re patrolling over there and you know river patrol or offshore but today I think it’s mostly PSU and those are like reservists, so they can get deployed and there’s also some law enforcement teams that will go and man a Navy ship and what they do is they’ll actually do boarding in the Mediterranean, so the reason they do that is because of the Navy codes,  it could be considered an act of war, but if the Coast Guard does it, it’s law enforcement. So when the Navy wants to board a ship, they’ll fly the Coast Guard flag to avoid any trouble and it’s kind of like a loophole,” said Leggett. 

Being in the Coast Guard means that you have lots of once in a lifetime experiences, but it has its ups and downs. 

“For me it was the missions of the Coast Guard. It changes. The Coast Guard does so many things, unlike the other services. Some of the other services don’t, like the Marines have a function, the Army has one function, the Navy has another function, where the Coast Guard has multiple missions that they do. It could be defense, it could be law enforcement, it could be humanitarian, like the migrations ops that we used to do, you get involved with marine protection. One minute you could be putting out a boat fire and rescuing somebody out at sea, then three hours later you could be cutting a dolphin or turtle out of a fishing net. Everything was different.” 

One of these experiences for Matt was being able to cut a dolphin out of a fishing net. 

“So one of the coolest things I got to do was actually cut a dolphin out of a fishing net. That was kind of fun, it was like a little spiritual connection between me and the dolphin,” said Leggett. 

Just as there were some good times, there were some not so good times.

 “Like everything else, you try to remember the good stuff, but there is some stuff. When you’re a junior, there’s some stuff that’s not fun, like the ships are constantly needing upkeep, so you’re constantly chasing rust and painting, so that needs to get done so the ships can keep going and function the way they’re supposed to, so that’s not always fun.” Leggett said.

Matt and his wife Amy

One thing Matt pointed out was mess cooking.

 “Mess cooking. everyone has to mess cook at some point or another so at some point you’re washing dishes or peeling potatoes, you know that kind of thing,” said Leggett.

Being in the military gives one lots of stories to tell, good and bad. 

“I mean, we went to some neat places on port call when I was on the ship. A port call is when you pull into port, so we would go to places like Halifax, Canada, you get liberty for an hour or overnight and you have to be back at a certain time. So, you know, like Charleston and Key West and all these places I haven’t been to before, Puerto Rico, a lot of islands in the Caribbean, so that was always kind of fun,” said Legget. “Just the things that happen when you’re with a crew, and a crew you know really well, it becomes fun and funny too because people get this sense of humor they’ve developed under stress, so it’s fun and funny to see that stuff happen.”

Another former member of the Coast Guard is Jennifer O’Toole.

 “I was a Marine Science Technician. So I responded to oil spills, hazmat spills, and I boarded foreign vessels that came in, looking at the overall structure of the ship, drug busts, fisheries, illegal immigrants, how their cargo is stored, stuff like that,” she said.

She joined after high school and stayed in service for 20 years.

 “[I joined] right out of high school,” she said. “[I was in for] 20 years … I just got out when we moved here. That’s how long you need to get retirement, which is pretty cool because I get a paycheck for the rest of my life now until the day I die. At 38 years old, I mean, you don’t find other jobs where you get a paycheck, I mean some jobs you may work there 20 years but you don’t get a paycheck till you’re like 60 something. Not with the military, you stay in for 20 years, you get a paycheck when you get out, and health insurance which is pretty big,” said O’ Toole. 

Her first experience getting out to her ship was quite an interesting one.

 “ I got to San Francisco and my ship is underway. It’s up in the bering sea, it’s in Alaska, so what they did was they flew me to Anchorage, Alaska, and from Anchorage to Kodiak … there was nothing out there, and from there they put me on a C130 which is a military plane and I took that to this small island called Cold Bay, Alaska and this island only had 14 people that lived on it. When I landed, the pilot said, ‘The helicopter that’s supposed to come and take you to your ship is on another island putting out a fire, so go walk about half a mile up that hill and you’re gonna see a house. Go knock on the door, their names are Mary and Bill. They’re not in the Coast Guard but they’re expecting you,’ and it was just this small island and they just welcomed all coast guard people there … I was there for like 5 hours before the helicopter could come and then the lady was like, ‘Okay, it’s time,’ and … they picked up and they told me, ‘The weather is really bad out there. We cannot land this helicopter on the ship right now, so we’re just gonna lower you down in a basket,’ and … so we get there, in the middle of the Bering Sea, and they get the search and rescue basket that you see and they put me in that basket and they lowered me down, and then they lowered my green sea bag, which is basically my luggage everything i owned at the time and they lowered that down. That was my introduction to my first unit in the Coast Guard being dropped from a helicopter into the ship in the Bering Sea with 50 foot waves. I mean it was crazy weather. It was so cool because stuff like that just happens throughout my career and it’s stuff that I kinda took for granted as time went on because it just happened you know. I miss it more now because I know I wont find something like that again,” said O’ Toole. 


Jennifer’s Experience at Deepwater Horizon 

One of the cool things the Coast Guard does is assist with cleanup after environmental disasters. A major environmental disaster the Coast Guard was a part of was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.  

“I was at the BP oil spill. I was in charge of the Skimming Department, so I was in a helicopter everyday flying over, training fishermen how to clean up oil using big skimming equipment. I’ve been to quite a few hurricanes like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, Florence, Irma … so you know, I was sent to those for response,” said O’ Toole. 

During this event, the notice to leave was extremely late. 

“I was stationed in Seattle and I wanna say Seamus was two or three years old at the time. I was given a twelve hour notice that I had to get out to Louisiana,” said O’ Toole. 

The cleanup had three groups doing most of the work.

 “Something kinda scary, there were three groups to the BP oil spill. You had the skimming group, which is what I was in charge of, you flew over and trained all the fishermen and guided them to where to go every day and stuff, and then you had in situ burn, which they would light the oil in the water on fire, so you had these big burns going on everyday all over the Gulf offshore, and then you had this dispersing group. So you had this nasty chemical that they were dropping from planes to break the oil up and sink it. The thing with the BP oil spill is that nobody was communicating. There were way too many organizations there,” said O’ Toole. 

Due to the lack of communication, there were some occasional mishaps and mistakes. 

“I was on one of their helicopters, it was just me and a pilot, and I got there around 5 in the morning and we flew out. There was no AC, it was summertime, the windows were open all around us, were hovering down low, looking at the oil, and there was a lot of oil that had surfaced there, but because of the lack of communication thing there was going on they didn’t tell me that there was already a scheduled dispersal drop happening right where we were. This plane flew over us and dropped just hundreds and hundreds of gallons of this dispersant and it covered our helicopter and it came in and it got all over me and it burned. I did get pretty sick after that, but we had to do an emergency landing because we almost crashed out in the Gulf. Fortunately, there was an offshore landing site that we made it to. They had to get another helo(helicopter) out to replace this one because the engines and everything were covered in dispersant, but that was very hectic,” said O’ Toole. 

The Deepwater Horizon was a massive spill that needed months worth of cleanup and work from the Coast Guard.

 “It was a crazy evolution because we had never seen oil like that, that much oil, like I’ve been to a lot of oil spills but nothing of that size, nothing that they couldn’t stop the flow. I was there for quite a while, from the very beginning, it happened, they told me I had 12 hours to get out there … you had offshore cleanup stuff that would get to the beaches and everything, and then there was offshore at the source, so where the accident happened was where I was everyday,” said O’Toole.

Every experience in the Coast Guard is different, and Jennifer really enjoyed hers. 

“I mean I loved it, I miss it everyday. There were a lot of things I took for granted because I was so young. I think it’s the coolest job you could ever have, hands down. I mean your office is on the water, so it doesn’t get much cooler than that. I knew I was always going to be living somewhere near the water and the amount of travel that I did, places I got to see, places I got to live, I mean straight outta highschool I went to bootcamp and then from bootcamp I was stationed in San Francisco which was really really neat and I was on a ship out of San Francisco so we would go underway for two months at a time,” said O’ Toole. 

On her ship in San Francisco, they would go on either northern or southern patrols. 

“We would either do North Pacific patrols, where we’d go up to Alaska and Russia, or we’d do South Pacific patrols where we crossed the equator and went down by Colombia. So the south patrols were drug intervention and the north patrol were fishery and search and rescue. That was a really really neat time, I mean to be so young and to have seen all of that,” said O’ Toole. 

A job in the Coast Guard involves something different everyday, which is what most people love about the job. 

“When there wasn’t any kind of big disaster, my everyday job was I just boarded foreign vessels all day. It started out, there are big ships coming in, they’re big tank ships or freight ships that are carrying cargo to the U.S. or we’re shipping to other countries, and some vessels depending on what they are carrying or what they’re boarding, based off of what countries they came from or the conditions of the ship, we would have to board it before it entered U.S. waters, so that’s 12 miles out to sea. Usually we would board it and take a small boat out and I jumped from the small boat to the Jacob’s ladder that hangs off the side of the foreign vessel and you just kinda jump over onto that ladder and climb up to the top of the ship. When weather conditions are bad, which you would get up in Boston or Portland … it was safer for us to get trained up on vertical delivery, which meant we took helicopters and we would repel from the helicopters down to the ship, and that was like an everyday thing. I’d go into work and we’d take off and hop onto a helicopter and they’d lower us down and we’d hop on a ship. We boarded one or two ships a day depending on what we had going on. Some boardings would take four hours, some would take 12 hours. It just depended on what type of ship and the condition and if we found anything,” said O’ Toole. 

Boarding these ships and looking for structure or anything illegal could end up in huge drug busts. 

“I’ve done two different cocaine busts. The first one we did was not a cocaine bust, we simply boarded, but it was the mothership, which was basically just a fuel ship out there that was fueling up boats that were leaving from Colombia, up to either Mexico, drop it off in Mexico and then bring the rest up by land. That’s usually what happened or it would come in by the ports, but usually we would catch them before they got to Mexico, and then from Mexico they would take it over Thailand and into the States. So the first ship was a fuel ship and in the second two ships we boarded both had two tons of cocaine on them wrapped up in like 50 pound bricks of cocaine and so we take the brakes off and put it on our ship so that was a neat story,” said O’ Toole. 

Moving around every few years is a guarantee with the Coast Guard, which can be tough. 

“The unpredictability, I mean I loved moving around, but let me tell you transfer season is the most stressful thing when you’re waiting to hear where you’re going to go. So transfer season usually happens in June. That’s when most people will transfer. They wait till schools are out so that people with kids aren’t pulling their kids out midseason, but you don’t find out where you’re moving too until March or April, so just a couple months prior to, so having kids and doing that was a little stressful trying to figure out daycare and stuff like that when you don’t know the area.  Sometimes there’s a little difficulty planning your own stuff. Our job was response, so we didn’t know when stuff was going to happen. So I had trips to fly back home and see family and next thing you know I’m getting sent somewhere for a cleanup response or some kind of disaster. So I loved that part of the job, but at the same time it got frustrating sometimes trying to plan your life outside the Coast Guard, if that makes sense,” said O’ Toole. IMG-3048

Though transfer season can be tough, everyone is in the same boat, and that helps people to quickly create bonds.

 “The other thing is you always make friends easily, because even though you’re constantly moving every three to four years, you get somewhere and in the Coast Guard, everybody’s always moving, so each place you show up you’re just welcomed right away. People don’t wait a while to make friends and stuff because everything is so rushed. The friends that you meet, I’ve got friends all over the country from just the Coast Guard, and that’s some of the closest friendships I’ve ever had,” said O’ Toole. 

Entering the Coast Guard does entail going to a bootcamp. 

“Bootcamp was tough. Most people don’t realize that the Coast Guard has a tough bootcamp, but they do. It’s one of the harder ones in the military, so what I will say is that bootcamp is hard for two reasons; one is that it’s physically demanding, two is that it’s mentally demanding. So the purpose of that is to put you under a lot of pressure so you can function when you get out into your unit,” said Leggett. 

“Physically, it was not tough at all, but it was a lot of yelling and a lot of structure. That part was hard. I didn’t have a miserable time there. It was funny, the stuff that when on, and you just can’t take anything personally because here’s the deal, everything is scripted. Everything the Company Commanders say is scripted, it’s all script. They have to memorize this huge manual of what they can say and what they’re gonna say at what week, but when you’re there you feel like they’re yelling at you personally, but no it’s all a game. It weaves out who should not be in, who’s gonna yell back and cuss out the Company Commander and it gets them out before they’re actually in the Coast Guard and you have to work with somebody like that,” said O’ Toole. 

Food is something that’s always shown as grey sludge in movies, but it’s not as bad as it seems. 

“Food at the Chow Hall is pretty interesting because all the Company Commanders are there watching you walk by and they’re watching you to see what you eat [and] to make sure if you took too much that you ate it all so it’s interesting. The food was okay, I mean, they feed you well because they want you to be able to do well,” said Leggett. 

The bootcamp is nine weeks and involves lots of preplanned activities.

 “It was only nine weeks i’ll say the days went by really slow but the weeks went by really fast if that makes sense its like you wake up in the morning and your whole day is completely planned and you’re totally exhausted and so tired and the day just drags on and you’re constantly doing something you’re constantly getting yelled at but next thing you know it’s Friday already and I’ve just got eight more fridays to go, seven more Friday … and you’re just counting down,” said O’ Toole. 

Going into the Coast Guard may feel overwhelming, but the main advice from former members is to keep on a good track, get some college under your belt before joining, and make sure you’re comfortable on the ocean. 

“From my own personal experience, if you could get a couple years of college under your belt before you go in, that’ll help you in the long run or it’ll help you finish college. Two is to talk to as many people as you can about the coast guard including recruiters. The recruiters are there to sell and get quotas, so they’re gonna make it sound like it’s all roses for the most part, but it’s not always. Three, you should know if you get sea sick or not because a boat on the lake is a lot different from a boat on the ocean. I grew up on the ocean and I was seasick everyday for the first two years,” said Leggett. 

“I think the biggest thing I saw, it happened all the time, the Coast Guard doesn’t take just anybody. I mean, it’s hard to get into it, really is. A lot of people think ‘It’s the military I can just join it, they’ll take me.’ It’s not like that, like people who are in the Coast Guard usually stay in for quite a while anyway. So you have to finish school, get good grades, you need all that. The other thing is you can’t really get in trouble. If you get arrested for anything, your chances are done. Same with tattoos, because they have just lightened up on the policy, but they had a really strict tattoo policy, they’re strict on your medical physical coming in, your physical fitness coming in, your weight. There’s stuff like that that makes it so you have to get through all those hurdles first just to be qualified to come in so my best advice … you just can’t mess up, you just have to get good grades, go to school ,finish school, all those things that seem kind of common sense,” said O’ Toole. 


Fertilizer in the Water?

Cydney Leister

The NCLA’s AP Environmental class recently ran tests on the school’s drinking water, and discovered elevated levels of chlorine, nitrate, and phosphate. The tests were performed by a non-professional kit, but could warrant a deeper look into the water staff and students are drinking. 

Currently the students’ sentiments towards the water fountains are not positive.

“Personally the water is not bad. It is just the more and more we have rainstorms and stuff, you can tell the pipes are getting much and much worse, ” stated NCLA senior, Jaden Peters.

Others have completely sworn off drinking the water provided by the fountains, preferring to bring water bottles from home. 

“The times I’ve drank school water it always tasted weird or funny, so after that I just stopped drinking fountain water from the school,” shared NCLA freshman, Rebecca Avila.

“I like to bring my own water. The water here doesn’t really taste that good,” said NCLA Senior, Maia Edwards. 

Though it appears the vast majority of the student body are not fond of the provided water, some differ in opinion. 

“I think the water is fine. It has a nice crisp taste to it,” commented NCLA junior, Lily Davenport.

Curious of possible reasons for the distaste for the school’s water the Ap Environmental classes decided to put the water through a few tests. They tested hardness, pH, alkalinity, as well as levels of bacteria, phosphate, iron, copper, nitrate, oxygen, chlorine, ammonia, chloride, and chromium. 

These tests were intended for the use of classes and educational purpose so are not professional. This being stated it is likely a professional test would uncover far more than the one completed by the students. 

Most of the tests, like the ones for heavy metals and bacteria, came up negative, which is good news for all NCLA students and staff. 

“Well I think most of the results turned up as predicted. There was no bacterial growth, which is what we want to see. A lot of the heavy metals were negative, which is also what we want to see,” commented overseer and AP Environmental teacher, Mrs.Hartzell. 

However, the data collected from the chlorine, phosphate, nitrate, and hardness tests gathered some curious attention.

“I think the tests that warrant some more looking into would be the elevated chlorine levels, and the nitrates and phosphate levels,” stated Mrs.Hartzell.

The water tested at 1ppm (parts per million) of chlorine, 2ppms of phosphate, 2ppms of nitrate, and tested as hard. 

What does this mean for those drinking the water?

The chlorine is there to prevent the growth of bacteria and has succeeded at completing that goal, though it is a bit high as drinking water is recommended to be below 0.5 ppms. According to the 2018 Water Quality Report for Winston Salem and Forsyth county the levels are not outside the normal average, which is 1.01 to 1.88 ppms.

“The chlorine I am sure is to keep bacterial contamination down and we didn’t see any grow,” said Mrs. Hartzell. 

The phosphate and nitrate are likely the result of fertilizer runoff, which is not entirely unexpected within the area the school is located. However, it is odd that the 2018 Water Quality Report recorded lower levels of phosphate, at only 0.87 ppms, and had no record of nitrate detection.

“I think it points to the fact we live in an agricultural community, nitrates and phosphates are prone to be found in agricultural runoff or fertilizer. The fact that we live in agricultural land it’s not really too far off the mark to see elevated levels of those,” commented Mrs.Hartzell.

The water being hard is an issue for the schools plumbing. It can put strain on the pipes and cause a build up of minerals, mainly calcium, that could cause problems in the long term life of the school.

“Although those nitrate and phosphate levels, I don’t think, are in the realm of being unhealthy for adults, but could potentially cause some issues with very young children. So it may be worth having it tested by a professional,” shared Mrs.Hartzell.

Overall the water is no imminent threat nor cause for hysteria, though it would likely not hurt for the school to have better filters. This 

would not only insure the safety of the students and staff, but improve the water’s smell and taste, which at the moment is far from the best. 

“I think just in terms of drinkability, I would not go so far to say the water is unhealthy for adults, but it might be worth having different filters to add alkalinity for smoothness and for taste. Also so the water smells a little bit less like chlorine, cause it is not really great for your apatite,” said Mrs. Hartzell on the matter. 


NCLA’s Blood Drive Was a Huge Success!

Cyd Leister 

On Thursday, Jan. 23, the NCLA’s National Honor Society hosted a blood drive with the American Red Cross. 47 students, parents, and staff came to donate to the valuable cause.

By the end of the day, 37 pints of blood had been donated, which, according to, can roughly equal about 12 average whole blood and red blood cell transfusion.

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“We had 36 new donors,” commented Mrs. Orenstein, the teacher in charge of the NHS.

The blood drive was a great success for the school and the NHS’ as this was their first event as an active chapter.

“I think it was awesome. The fact that we had 47 people sign up, some couldn’t give blood, but at least they were willing to help out with such a good cause,” stated Mrs. Orenstein.

The outcome of this event brings anticipation and hope of similar events in the future, as well as hopefully another blood drive next school year. 

“I hope I can get more parents next year, just to get it out to the public earlier, so that we can get some parents to sign up. Other than that, I thought that everything was great. I had some seniors in charge of the whole thing while I was teaching. All of the National Honor Society helped and they ran it very smoothly. All the students that came and donated were very courteous and very kind, and waited patiently. Honestly, I think it was a success,” said Mrs. Orenstein.