Smithfield Herald

Seniors start last year of school

From left, Oscar Villanueva, teacher Kalie Acquarulo, Alejandra Moreno and Pedro Hernandez discuss the seniors' goals for their last school year.
From left, Oscar Villanueva, teacher Kalie Acquarulo, Alejandra Moreno and Pedro Hernandez discuss the seniors' goals for their last school year.

School is back in session, and for Johnston County seniors, that means the end of their high school careers is right over the horizon.

For Jace Brown, a senior at Clayton High School, the first day started off well. “I was ready to come to school,” he said. “I woke up smiling. I was so ready.”

Brown said he missed school this summer. “(I missed) my friends, just clowning around, having fun,” he said. “My senior year, I gotta go out with a blast.”

Johnston County schools opened 2013-14 with 32,853 students, 259 more than on the same day a year ago.

Among schools that saw Day 1 enrollment gains, Cleveland High School led the way, with 219 more students. Archer Lodge Middle School was up 76 students from a year ago, and Princeton’s middle and high schools climbed a combined 46.

Cleveland’s growth might have come at the expense of Clayton and Smithfield-Selma high schools, where Day 1 enrollments were down 112 and 111, respectively, from a year ago.

But the principals at those schools said they expected enrollment to climb in the first two weeks of school, and their predictions appeared to be on the mark. By Day 2, Clayton High was up 29 students from Day 2 a year ago, and Smithfield-Selma’s had cut its loss by 45 students.

One of those Clayton High seniors, Karen Villanueva, said this doesn’t feel like her final year of high school, at least not yet. “I have to see my cap and gown, and then it will hit me,” she said.

For parent Karen Grubbs, this year will be bittersweet because her youngest child will graduate from high school. “It’ll be my last year with a student at SSS” she said.

At SSS, Grubbs is a member of the Parent Teacher Student Organization, which does teacher-appreciation events. On the first day of school this year, she and two other mothers served ice cream to teachers after school.

Plans for the future

For three students at Smithfield-Selma, senior year means getting closer to their goal of college. And they’re a step ahead of many students, having already chosen the career paths they plan to follow.

“My plan is to major in computer engineering,” said Oscar Villanueva. He said he’s been thinking about that major since freshman year, and he’s taking Advanced Placement calculus and pre-engineering to prepare.

Another senior, Pedro Hernandez-Rubio, has chosen his career path too. “Over the summer I realized I want to go into orthopedic medicine,” he said.

Hernandez-Rubio said he tore his anterior cruciate ligament playing soccer and spent time in an orthopedic surgeon’s office.

“Not everything about an injury is bad,” he said, adding that he plans to take a sports medicine class this year and join HOSA, or Health Occupations Students of America, a club for students who plan careers in health care.

Alejandra Moreno, already a HOSA member, wants to be a pediatric dentist but is interested also in cosmetology.

AVID students

Villanueva, Hernandez-Rubio and Moreno would be the first members of their families to go to college. All three have benefited from the county’s AVID program.

AVID is short for Advancement Via Individual Determination. The program’s aim is to make college a reality for minorities, students with challenging family circumstances and students who would be the first in their families to attend college.

“We identify students who we know could do better if they had the support they needed,” said Kalie Acquarulo, who teaches an AVID class for seniors.

On the first day of school this past week, Acquarulo, who also teaches Spanish at SSS, had her AVID students write down their goals for the year. Moreno wrote that she’d like to graduate with honors, join at least four clubs and have a grade point average of at least 3.5.

Through AVID, students visit college campuses and take assessments to discover what they’re good at and what learning style works best for them. This year, SSS’s AVID students will also learn about leaders in history who have made positive differences in society.

In Johnston County, all students must complete a senior project.

Villanueva wants to do a benefit for Operation Christmas Child, which fills shoe boxes with toys and other items and ships them to children around the world.

“I want to create a competition for each grade to see which one can donate the most boxes,” Villanueva said.

Moreno wants to do a project at the Ronald McDonald House for children.

Acquarulo said the AVID program is about more than classes. “We call ourselves a family,” she said.