The high school experience is one that lasts with us forever. It is a formidable time in many of our lives where the experiences push us to become who we are. Values become established, personalities take hold, and it is a time when we contemplate our future and what we could become.
There is no question that each high school experience is different, but the overall process remains the same: students gather together, they learn, and then they leave and make the world a better place. In Ames, our purpose is to empower every individual to reach their full personal and educational potential.
The path from freshman to graduating senior can and will elicit nearly every kind of emotion. From joy to heartache, laughter to frustration, they are all a part of the experience that shapes us. In a weird way, the actual academic component of those four years is only a backdrop to all of the other core memories that make us who we are. It’s our time with friends, the spirited conversations and late nights that often come to mind. If academics come up at all, it is likely about how we crammed for a test or wrote a paper the night before it was due. Whether we remember the content today, it was the experience that tested and slowly equipped us to move on from high school.
For teachers and staff who have the privilege to work with and around high school students, there is nothing like it. The high school often serves as the flagship building for a district and with good cause. There is an energy in a high school that is unmatched, especially when done well. Teachers have the honor to coach and collaborate with students at the same time, with both sides learning.
At Ames High, teachers and staff may initiate content in classes, help set schedules and work out logistics, but they are not the ones who create the experience. That honor is given to the students. We recently sat and talked with two graduated seniors, Abbas Kusow and Melina Heggleheimer, who reflected on their time at Ames High School.
“Ames Hi, Aims High”
The motto is decades old, yet is one that still resonates with students today. “Ames Hi, Aims High is something that really sticks with me,” said Abbas. “I need to shoot for as much as I possibly can in my life.”
Both Abbas and Melina were highly involved seniors. For them, being highly involved is great socially, but also serves a larger purpose to help them prepare for the next step in their lives. DECA is a career and technical student organization that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for their future through community service, and an organization that Abbas was a member of. Through this organization, Abbas gained important skills not only in business but from an overall professional standpoint. “It helped me find my interests and voice of confidence.” Abbas has aspirations to create his own online apparel store and admits that he didn’t always know how to conduct himself in professional settings before getting involved with DECA.
For Melina, some of her extracurricular time involved visiting Fellows Elementary to meet with students as part of the Minority Mentoring Program. Once a week, Melina and friends made the short walk to Fellows and met with elementary students of color. The conversations were tailored for the younger demographic, but their goal was to demonstrate the value of education and to model success for these students. This work and these conversations play right into Melina’s potential career pathway of sociology.
Engaging with real-world topics is a norm at Ames High, with Abbas and Melina as perfect examples of what can be discussed. Both are leaders in the student organization Students Advancing Civil Rights Education, otherwise known as SACRE. The group was founded a year ago, and this year Abbas and Melina took the lead.
They met during plus period at Ames High with approximately 50 other students from all races. Completely student-led, this group tackles some of the most challenging topics around racism and civil rights education and tries to focus on one topic at a time when they meet. Some of those topics have included white privilege, the presence of micro-aggressions, while others have been inspired by pop culture. One of their favorite topics was on the “n-word,” its historical significance and how it is used and interpreted today. These are not light conversations, but they are always constructive yet challenging.
“Some of our closest friends don’t agree with everything that we say. We try to have productive conversations and even among ourselves, we definitely don’t agree, but we try to make it work,” said Abbas with full agreement from Melina. “Sometimes Abbas will send me a tweet with a comment attached to it and I’ll just disagree with him. I really like our dynamic on how we can talk about issues. We always come to some kind of middle ground at the end.”
This type of civil discourse is often missing in mainstream media yet actively modeled in high school. These ongoing conversations help Abbas and Melina work through some of their own personal struggles on these topics and they serve as a rehearsal for when they come up outside of the walls of Ames High. Melina said, “These discussions help us refine our arguments a lot so that when we do talk to people, we do have a good stance because we’ve heard all of the sides of it. We’re not just saying something biased, but we actually have an educated stance on something that we can argue for.”
All About the People
For these two high school seniors, along with the rest of their graduating class, Ames High is in the past. They now enter the ranks of alumni and are full of stories and memories from their high school days. What makes their experience at Ames High incredible is those who they traveled with: the people.
“It’s the community of people at Ames High that makes the school so special.” With approximately 60 active clubs, Melina said that Ames High is very unique. Playing soccer, she had the opportunity to network with students who attend other high schools and realizes that Ames High is not like those schools in all the right ways. “As a student, you can always find people who are interested in the same thing.” Beyond clubs, Melina also finds value in the process of being involved. “Students who are involved in high school are more likely to be involved at college because they know how to find clubs and organizations.”
Teachers are as much a part of their community as students. For the teachers who get categorized as “hard,” both Melina and Abbas identified that the dynamic gets students to ban together, forming yet another memory of camaraderie. Having great teachers is part of the experience. “Because Ames High teachers are willing to be a prominent force in students’ lives, some of us realize that we should be more concerned with more important things,” said Abbas. The administration got equal praise for their willingness to be involved and supportive of students. Always present, the Ames High principals are known to greet students every day and they make an effort to get to know students on a personal level.
For Melina Heggleheimer and Abbas Kusow, their time walking the halls of Ames High has changed their viewpoint of what can be. As high school graduates, their parting words of advice for current and prospective Ames High students is to make an effort to get involved. “Clubs are where I have made my closest friendships thus far and I cannot understate the importance of joining a club. That is where the community can be found in its purest sense,” said Abbas. Sound advice from a pair of Ames High graduates who not only lived the Ames High experience but helped shape it for the future.