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Gabe Miller and Makenzie Hepler

Alleghany High School Students Present at National Conference in Orlando Florida
By Jackie Almarode and Robert Tucker

Low Moor, VA (July 31, 2019) - In May Alleghany High School was notified that for the first time New Tech wanted to feature a student project at their National Convention in Orlando, Florida and a project run by Alleghany High School students had been selected for that honor. The students had impressed the reviewers at New Tech with the fact that their research showed deep thinking, dealt with a real world problem with possible solutions to the problem, and had active community and business involvement.

On July 17 Gabe Miller and Mackenzie Hepler, two AHS students, boarded a plane headed for Florida. They were a little nervous, but they were ready to present their project on the role of protein on early development. They had been going over what they would say since the middle of May and were sure that they could do it. The reality of it all did not hit home for them until they walked into the opening ceremony in Orlando on Wednesday morning and saw that there were several thousand people there. It was decided that since they were not due to present until Thursday, they would go down Wednesday afternoon to the hub where they were to present and rehearse. They assumed that they would be in one of the corner areas where only twenty or thirty people could see their presentation, and that helped ease their nerves. They went through their presentation and left confident that they had this.

At the opening session on Thursday however, they learned that they were one of the featured presentations for the day. They were proud and felt that it was a great honor hearing them announce that the students from Alleghany High School would be presenting in the Hub and that it was a highly recommended presentation, but the fact that they had been moved to the main stage and had had more time added to their presentation was a surprise. According to Ms. Almarode, "it was a change that would have caused most adults a great deal of stress, but they quickly added a few notes to their presentation and moved out onto the stage. The hub was filed to capacity and a number of people were standing outside the hub so they could see their presentation but looking at the two of them you would have thought that they had done this a hundred times."

They began by going through how the project was run, their results, and how they had been able to get the community involved in the project. They then talked about the positive impact project based learning has had on them. Gabe Miller pointed out that he had always been a talker and felt at ease in front of a crowd but that "project based learning has made me more responsible. I knew what had to be done on this project and I did it. Ms. Almarode and SeƱor Tucker did not have to remind me because they knew I would get it done." Several times they were met with applause during their presentation and when they were finished they received a standing ovation. One educator shouted out that it was the best presentation he had seen at the conference and after they left the stage they were greeted with a number of high fives from educators from across the country. An educator from Arizona asked if she could run off copies of their handouts and give them to her staff as she felt they had insights that had never occurred to her. Mr. Kotulka superintendent of Alleghany County Public Schools expressed the view of many at the conference, "They were awesome! I am so proud of them."

Makenzie Hepler stated "As I got up on the stage and began to talk in front of all of those people, I realized how much I have grown since the beginning of my sophomore year. I couldn't have done it without the support from my amazing teachers, my loving family, and my supportive friends. I have never been more proud of myself than I am right now and I cannot wait to see what the next two years of high school has in store for me!"

Ms. Almarode noted that she was used to going to conferences and having to tell people where Alleghany County was located. One of the first people she met at the conference, however when told that she was with the group from Alleghany High School, replied, "Oh your school was the one with the poultry project that blew everyone away." To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I have been telling our students for years that I felt they were smart enough to compete with students in any school in the country. In only our first year as a New Tech school, our students proved beyond any doubt that I was right."

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