First four-year seniors walk with family pride

Nature Coast Technical's grads bid farewell to a high school culture steeped in teamwork.

Published May 29, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - For Nature Coast Technical High School principal Tizzy Schoelles, the opening of the school four years ago brought tears of joy. For assistant principal Toni-Ann Noyes, talking about the class of 2007 - Nature Coasts' first four-year senior class - brings pride and tears of sadness.

Noyes will move on to become principal at Eastside Elementary School in the fall, and she will miss the school she helped build and the culture she helped infuse with feelings of family-like togetherness.

Yearbook editor-in-chief Alyssa Darmanin, a senior, summed up the school community, noting that no matter what role people play, they're all part of one team. She says that attitude is always evident and much appreciated by the students.

Visitors can sense those feelings in the little things, such as walking down a hall and seeing a student, teacher, or even Schoelles stoop to pick up a stray piece of litter. There's a sense of ownership.

Every student at Nature Coast must apply to be accepted there. Each has to build a portfolio and give reasons why he or she should be chosen for the popular technical school.

Senior Shannon Gestring said, "This has been the best years of my life. It's sad to leave. Odd for a senior to say, but if I could stay, I would."

But she'll move on, like the other 260 seniors, to a career made possible, she says, by the support and education she received at Nature Coast. Gestring aims to be a makeup artist and hopes to find a career in California.

"I have a friend who went out there. She did makeup this year for the extras in a Jim Carrey movie. I can do it, too," Gestring said.

Gestring and her fellow cosmetology students do makeup and hairstyling for the public, through Nature Coast. Money earned goes to support the program.

The same is true of the engineering program, senior class president Dustin Daniels' choice. He came to Nature Coast in anticipation of getting to work with new equipment but said he didn't know what to expect from the staff and teachers.

"My expectations were met and exceeded," he said. "Our coaches, teachers and guidance staff couldn't be better. They are the most supportive people you could find."

That's typical of the Class of 2007. High expectations. High motivation.

In August four years ago, Schoelles had a vision of excellence for her school.

"It was overwhelming, after three years of working with bricks and mortar, to reconnect with students. This was all about them," she said.

She knows every senior.

The Class of 2007 changed the perception that college-bound students don't come to Nature Coast. About 144 of them, more than half, earned total college scholarship funding approaching $3-million.

Math teacher Tara Ferlita also thinks of the school community as an extended family. She sees no cliques or fringe groups interfering with success. The students work together, she says, helping and being helped, as needed.

"I chose to come here for innovative programs and the creativity. The things these kids accomplish, because they want to, are indescribable," Ferlita said. "We started off strong and got stronger."

Trevor Barlow, who came to Nature Coast from England, heads the technical art program. His students also support the program by doing commercial art and sign work.

He said his seniors, who finished their required term weeks ago, have been back every day to help finish jobs.

That's because they see this as their job and they want to see it through, he says.

"To me, this school embodies what an American high school should be. It's safe, and imaginative. The family thing is completely true. Six-year-olds run around the football stands at night games and are as safe as they are at home - people look out for them, " he explained.

Barlow said this did not happen overnight. He remembers thinking, at the very first pep rally, that it seemed like 800 individuals going through the motions. He figured a bond would grow.

It has.

"Since they chose to be here, I owe them. It's my job to make sure each student I can affect gets exactly what they need or want from Nature Coast," he said.

Gestring said there is no gift big enough to give Mrs. Noyes to thank her for the support and help she has given students. Daniels agreed. He voiced respect and admiration for Schoelles. She echoed that for her students.

The Class of 2007 leaves more than one legacy. Daniels said they created traditions. They built the spirit and personality of the school. He feels they are leaving the bar set high for future classes.

Schoelles calls 2007 valedictorian Kali Kingsley the most driven student she has ever met. Kingsley received an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy. Kingsley told a radio commentator in a recent interview: "I'm not the brightest or the best - I just work the hardest."

Said Schoelles: "There are so many mixed feelings here. I wrote my graduation speech in January and I still can't read it all the way through without tears."

Fast Facts:

If you go

Nature Coast Technical High School will have its commencement at 7:30 this evening at the school, 4057 California St., south of Brooksville. 797-7088.