The Power of Positivity
Published: March 21, 2018
Stories about positivity sometimes get lost. With every annoyance, every disagreement, every frustration, it can seem more and more difficult to climb above it all and find the good within. But alongside the negativity are stories of people helping others, having accomplishments and promoting kindness. These are a few of those stories of people at FHN who are doing just that: staying positive.
(Center design by McKayla Bogda & Carolynn Gonzalez, photos by Alex Rowe and Michaela Erfling)
Credit to Phoebe Primeau
Finding the Good Inside
Students are looking past the negativity to see the good things happening
These past few weeks, FHN has seen rumors spreading like wildfire. Negativity seems to be everywhere. It is in the bathrooms where students are vaping, during lunch when the fights seem to happen and on the mouths of students when they gossip. With all the negativity being projected at FHN, the positive stories get pushed to the side. Stories about triumph and goodness are rarely shared. The majority of news is full of tragedies and hurt, according to freshman Chloe Horstman.
“Today’s culture is pessimistic,” Horstman said. “We like hearing about the bad. It validates our negative attitude towards everything when we could be hearing about good news.”
Assistant principal Steve Moorman believes that negative news affects students by distracting them from learning. Since students are not in a positive state of mind when they think about gossip and rumors, it makes it harder to comprehend information.
“This school would be so much better if we stopped focusing on rumors,” Moorman said. “It’d be better by a tenfold. Students could be doing better academically and the administration could focus more on support.”
Counselor Barry Morrison attributes the lack of positive news to how often people stop caring about those stories. Stories about the newest fights, the most recent detention or the most current restrictive system are sensational. Stories about awards or good test grades are sometimes halted from being spread.
“[Negativity] gets more attention,” Morrison said. “It spreads quicker when something concerning happens because everyone is wanting to talk about a fight or a rumor. If something positive starts being spread around, one person could stop caring and the train ends there. We need to understand that it’s good to keep the positive flow.”
Despite the general negative climate at FHN and in the nation, positive things are still happening. Students may not talk about them, but they are happening. If they were to take a look, they may find more positivity than they expect. Teachers are winning awards, the Knights of the Round Table are recognizing students for being exceptional and Students For FHN are working to improve the social climate at the school.
“Clubs like those are working so hard to make FHN better,” senior Grant Freitas said. “Personally, I’m just trying to be kind, because that rubs off on others.”
Instead of reacting to negativity or disagreements with a defensive attitude, Morrison suggests treating other opinions with kindness and respect.
“If people were more respectful of differences of opinion, there would be more positivity,” Morrison said. “Some people like Trump and some people like Obama. Some people like chocolate and some people like candy. A lot of time it creates divisiveness, which is not what we want. Divisiveness leads you to hate the other side. We need to be showing respect.”
A Firm Grasp on a New Connection
Junior Riley Lawson volunteers every week to tutor kids through a program called Firm Foundation
One by one, students slowly begin to filter into the large room, some straining to open the heavy glass door, others sprinting inside. Meanwhile, junior Riley Lawson patiently awaits for his student. Soon later, he sees him. Soccer ball in hand, smile lighting up his face, Riley’s student Lavi Tibugemwa makes his way over, excited for his next tutoring session to begin.
Every Thursday, Riley meets with Tibugemwa for tutoring through a program called Firm Foundation. Firm Foundation is a Christ-centered neighborhood academic assistance program, with locations in both the West End of St. Louis City and South St. Louis City. Here, tutors like Riley are able to work and bond with individual students during each session.
“I think we’re kind of like friends,” Riley said. “We joke around with each other. Knowing where they come from, they’re not just looking for a teacher. It’s like being something supportive, understanding and there to help them.”
With one-on-one tutoring, everyone is able to try to build stronger connections with their students. Riley, for example, acts as tutor, mentor and friend to his student, Tibugemwa. As a friend, he not only keeps up with what is going on in Tibugemwa’s life, but he also likes to surprise him, whether by bringing him bags of oranges, one of Tibugemwa’s favorite foods, or by learning a few words in Swahili.
“[Riley’s] had to spend a lot of time working on basic English and vocabulary and things, and he’s done a really good job with that and trying to pick material that matches his student’s ability level,” Marlene Stoltzfus, Firm Foundation program coordinator, said. “Then, I’ve been really appreciative of his flexibility. He swapped with another tutor. He helped that student with chemistry and the other tutor worked with his kid, and so he’s been a real asset to the program with his willingness, and he’s done a really good job.”
When working with students at Firm Foundation, Riley can see the impact he helps leave. Whether by reading, going over grammar, using marker boards, playing math games, building sentences or by using visuals, he has the opportunity to guide his student, Tibugemwa, in a positive direction. Watching him grow and learn more English every week has led to Riley making this tutoring a priority. Although immersed in other extracurriculars, he still continues to volunteer his time, effort and spirit to helping those at Firm Foundation every Thursday night.
“Riley’s a busy kid, insanely busy,” Angela Lawson, Riley’s mother and fellow tutor, said. “When we were going through the beginning of the year, Marlene had sent out [asking], ‘Are you doing tutoring again?’ I told him to really think about it because he was going to be even busier this year, and he was pretty adamant actually that he continue with that, so he figured it out. It never seemed to be a question in his mind that he was going to continue. I’m glad he wants to give back, especially to this particular group. I think they do important work.”
Not only does Riley make the time to tutor, but he also makes the most of the time. Whether demonstrating his care for Tibugemwa by walking him home in the dark or by watching Tibugemwa grow and learn more English with every session, Riley strives to make a difference in his students’ lives.
“It’s nice to be able to help in any way that I can,” Riley said. “Everyone should do it. I mean there’s all kinds of tutoring programs all over everywhere that people could get involved with. If you know you’re good at something, why not help other people with it?”
Leading in Advocacy and Positivity
After a lifetime of leadership, junior Andrew Tollefson has won the Youth Leadership Award
Everyone at FHN knows junior Andrew Tollefson, the cheerful, hall-zooming student who always seems to be smiling. Not only is he known by teachers and students alike, he’s known in the community too. Despite having to navigate his life with special needs, he makes his way through high school like any other teenager. He goes to his classes, participates in clubs, tutors others. He’s a leader, and now he’s got the statewide recognition of the Youth Leadership Award to prove it.
“I was super excited when he got the award,” Juli Smith, Andrew’s case manager, said. “I was proud of him. What came to mind the most, I realized and already knew that he is a leader. He has come to high school and proved he can do what everyone else is doing.”
In February, Andrew, who has motor and communication differences, was notified that he would receive the fifth annual Youth Leadership Award for the Governor’s Council on Disability, which is only awarded to one person in Missouri each year. According to the council, it recognizes dedicated special needs youth who display leadership and advocacy for those with special needs. The award requires a nomination, and he was nominated by both Martha Hefner, an occupational therapist at Henderson Elementary, and Cathy Fortney, a therapeutic services coordinator for FHSD.
“For several years I’ve always thought of students that would be good candidates to nominate, and he has always come to mind,” Fortney said. “I’ve known him since pre-k, and I think he always had that leadership ability early on.”
His mother, Ann Tollefson, recalls that it was Feb. 23, the day before FHN’s Snowcoming, when Andrew received a call letting him know he won the award. Neither he nor Ann knew he had been nominated. Andrew will attend the Power Up conference on April 17 in Columbia to receive his award.
“I was shocked [when I found out],” Andrew said through his talker, which is an application on his iPad. “I was so surprised.”
His participation in school is one of the reasons Fortney nominated Andrew for the award. Andrew is involved in many clubs, such as KOE, We Are All Knights and Mentors. He is a member of the A+ program and tutors other kids with special needs at Henderson, helping them with reading skills by listening to them. Ann believes it’s comforting for the students he tutors to have someone similar to them helping them. Many people describe Andrew as positive, smart, funny and determined, as well as a high achieving student.
“I am proud of him for tackling high school,” Smith said. “He takes the classes he needs for his credits, and he has maintained almost a 4.0. He has perfect attendance, he has made a lot of friends, all the teachers know him. To me, that’s a great accomplishment to come into high school and take over.”
Fortney also found Andrew’s advocacy to be a very important quality of his, making it another factor that contributed to his nomination. Andrew’s influence extends beyond FHN, as he attends FHSD elementary schools during Disability Awareness Week to inform young students of his disability, what a day in his life is like and all the many things that he can do. At the suggestion of Hefner, Andrew began his presentations with his mom in fourth grade and has continued them ever since.
“It takes away the stares,” Ann said. “The kids can ask whatever they want, they love to watch him drive, they love to see his talker. Because of his ability to go out and meet people, they’re not afraid to talk to him.”
According to Ann, Andrew has always been open about discussing his special needs. Due to seeing previous presentations during Disability Awareness Week in his elementary years, it took no encouragement to get him started. He is very willing to answer questions from his curious grade-school audience and others too.
“Whether it be school community or church community, he is very open and we are too about answering any questions, and also to try and demonstrate through his actions that he can do a lot of things,” Ann said. “When someone meets him for the first time I’m sure they’re thinking, ‘Oh, this poor little guy can’t do anything,’ but that’s not true.”
According to Fortney, this award provides recognition for not only Andrew, but all students with special needs, demonstrating that there can be leadership within everyone no matter the obstacles.
“This award is very important to me,” Andrew said. “It recognizes that special needs students can make a positive impact on our community. We want to fit in like everybody else.”
Credit to Madison Abanathie
Take a Picture, Make a Board, Spread a Message
A new project at FHN aims to amplify student voices through photos, highlighting the good and changing the bad
Principal Erin Steep can already envision an art gallery of student thoughts. In her plans, boards full of photos, some creative, others more minimal, will line the auditorium walls. School board members, community leaders and students will meander, food in their hands and music in the background. It’s all in an attempt to provide a medium for students to express positivity and promote change at FHN. It’s called PhotoVoice.
The project began earlier this month with the goal of giving students a way to express their feelings about the school. Any student can participate by creating a board that balances positive photos with critical ones, both spreading school pride and drawing attention to any areas of concern in the building.
Steep brought the idea to FHN after she learned about the platform through Gateway2Change, a student program focused on race in the St. Louis area. After that, the group Students for FHN helped get it running.
“We’ve always had really good conversations with the student groups we have, but it’s always been hard to put those conversations into action,” Steep said. “When I was given this platform through Gateway2Change, I thought this is really doable and it’s really approachable and it’s a really good way to put all of those conversations we’ve had into action. I just thought it made sense.”
Each student who participates will get a board to decorate in any way. The main requirement is that each board has an equal number of positive and critical photos. Besides that, students can get as creative as they want. They can even include words, descriptions or poetry.
Once the boards are finished, Steep plans to hold a presentation day in May where students can show off their boards to visitors in the auditorium. Steep hopes to invite teachers, students and district and community leaders to walk around and take in the student ideas.
“I hope that changes actually start happening,” Essence Green, junior and Students for FHN member, said. “I know that there’s a lot of talk, but that’s all people do. They talk about everything that’s going on, but nobody’s doing anything about it. I really hope that doing [PhotoVoice] will actually prompt that change.”
Anyone is free to join PhotoVoice, and the goal is to get as many people involved as possible. Steep would like to have at least 30 boards to present in May.
“I hope that the students who participate feel like they’ve been given an opportunity to express their opinions,” Steep said. “I hope that the students who come see it feel like we’re taking student opinions seriously into consideration. And I hope that, if it goes like we want it to and like we’ve planned, that it gives students an opportunity to speak with people who make decisions higher up, those local decision makers and school board members. I think that’s really important, and it’s a great experience for students to be able to talk to decision makers like that.”
In the meantime, any students who are interested in creating their own boards can visit Steep to get started.
“I’m excited,” Green said. “I’m excited to be participating and I can’t wait for everything to happen and see how it goes.”
New Coach Neuschwander
Seniors Jordan Neuschwander and Evan Gallagher takes a coaching position with FHN's boys basketball feeder program
When senior Jordan Neuschwander came to help with tryouts for FHN’s feeder basketball program two years ago, he had no idea his role in the program would extend further than just that. At the end of the tryout, he saw all of the fifth graders packing up their stuff getting ready to leave and noticed that they had no coach. He then realized he wanted to step up and help them. After getting permission from the person in charge of the feeder program, Doug Smallwood, as well as his own parents, Neuschwander got the OK. He became the coach of the Junior Knights fifth grade boys’ basketball team.
“I’ve always wanted to coach, but my dad would never let me take a spot coaching my brothers,” Neuschwander siad. “I already had high school basketball experience, and I wanted to pass it on.”
The FHN Jr. Knights feeder team is a program for elementary and middle school students in the district who will attend FHN when they enter high school. The program only started a fourth and fifth grade team last year, so the kids didn’t have a coach to carry them over to the next grade. If Neuschwander and Evan Gallagher, who assisted him, didn’t step up to coach the team, the kids would have most likely had to wait until the next year to join the program.
“Basketball was always something fun for me to do and I always looked up to my coaches who pushed me to not only be a better player but a better player and a better young man, and I thought it’d be a great idea if I could inspire younger kids to do that,” Gallagher said.
The team was hesitant at first because they didn’t know Neuschwander very well and because he is younger than most other coaches. Neuschwander started playing basketball in the third grade, and from then on it became a huge passion. He started playing for St. Elizabeth, and in sixth grade he joined the Junior Knights. When Neuschwander entered high school he played for FHN his freshman and sophomore years. He proved to the team his knowledge in basketball, and after gaining the trust and respect from the kids, they have shown to love having a high schooler as their coach.
“You get to learn all about them, and there’s chemistry built through everyone,” Neuschwander said. “Plus, you get to teach them stuff that doesn’t have to do with basketball, like keeping good grades, and tell them about your high school experience so that they can go on with better knowledge.”
The kids aren’t the only ones learning from this experience, according to Neuschwander. Coaching has helped him grow in the fact that it has given him more responsibility.
“Normally, I’m the one joking around but at practice, it’s these guys that are joking around, and I have to keep them on task,” Neuschwander said. “I would definitely recommend coaching as long as you have knowledge of the sport and you are good with kids. Coaching as a high school student is teaching me to be more of a role model and to fill expectations and do as well as I can.”
Pushing for Positivity
Shelly Parks shares her positive attitude with the school through her fellow teachers and her students
From English department chair to Student Council adviser, Shelly Parks fits the hat of many roles. She works to do everything to the best of her ability and always has a smile doing it. She spreads her positive attitude through the school environment.
“I think North gets a bad reputation in some ways, but there is so much good going on,” Parks said.
Parks teaches the new AP Foundations class, a class for students who feel they need or want extra help with AP classes. Along with Parks are a few student tutors who are proficient in a core area of study. This semester, seniors Leah Chaney, Connor Gallagher and Kate Wiley are the tutors. They help in the class as a study hall while counting it as A+ hours, and they work with the students individually. Parks and the tutors teach skills for the students to use not only in class, but in their lives.
“I think it’s nice for them to have us constantly motivating them,” Chaney said. “We always check up on them and encourage them to do the best they can.”
The students learn a wide variety of topics, from how to study to how to write an email and even how to look into future careers. Parks was originally worried about teaching the class because it was not necessarily her area of expertise, but she now enjoys the class and is excited to teach it again next year.
The class helps boost the students’ confidence, according to Parks. Many of them are taking another AP class next year based on the skills they learned this year. Some students in the class who were not considering college before are now looking into the idea. Even though the students came in at varying levels of interest in school, Parks has helped them look at the positives in their lives and push themselves to do more.
“She helps them with school the same as we do, but she also pushes them to not give up and keep trying,” Chaney said.
Along with AP Foundations, Parks pushes to focus on the positives through an all-female prayer group for teachers at FHN. The prayer group started in 2010 and has been around at different times. It has been a while since it has been in place, but Parks recently decided to start it back up. She and Jani Wilkens had been listening to a simulcast called IF:Gathering, an online conference for Christian women, and it reminded her that there are so many people going through different situations at school that she felt led to starting it back up.
“It is definitely making us feel more connected with each other, which is really cool,” Parks said.
The prayer group started up in February, and they meet once a month in Parks’ room before or after school on Fridays. They share concerns happening in their lives or in the school and then they pray about it. They pray for students, for the district and even to be better teachers and to help students as they need it. There are about 25-30 people in the group at the moment and any female staff members are welcome to join. They have a Facebook page called “FHN Prayer Group,” where they can talk about anything and the others will pray for them. Parks works to focus on the positives instead of the negatives throughout the school environment.
“We are wanting to channel worries into something positive,” Parks said.