UNION COUNTY — Union County High School is the recipient of a Palmetto Gold Award for high academic performance and exceptional improvement, and numerous students have shared their thoughts about the positive aspects of the school.
Principal Floyd Lyles said he feels that Union County High School is moving forward. UCHS achieved its highest graduation rate in school history; extracurricular activities such as drama, chorus, JROTC, indoor percussion, and athletics are receiving regional, national and worldwide adulation; and now the school is being recognized for closing the achievement gap in academics with the Palmetto Gold Award.
Lyles said the school administration, faculty and students are proud of these achievements, and they want people to see the positive side of UCHS.
“I feel great about our students and staff,” Lyles said. “We have outstanding students who are winning awards and championships, and we want people to know. We hear people talk about the negatives. We are winning awards all over the nation, and it’s a snapshot, but when someone does something wrong, it’s a headline.”
Sophomore Quinn Dobson — who will attend the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Math next year — said he sees a lot of people doing well at UCHS.
“We’re doing well with academics — better than people think,” Dobson said. “All you hear about is when people fail.”
A number of students who are involved in after-school activities spoke out about their respective groups.
Michael Leigh — who is involved in activities such as JROTC and the Indoor Percussion Ensemble — said he believes a new standard has been set at UCHS.
“There are more people in honors classes, and the work ethic is increasing with the emphasis teachers put on it,” Leigh said. “The school is doing a good job of showing that good things come of hard work.”
Alana Wright remembered a speaker at the JROTC Military Ball talking about “small town syndrome.”
“A lot of leaders have come out of Union County, but a lot of people don’t realize it,” Wright said. “UCHS has a lot of organizations to offer, and more people are starting to participate. They all have leadership positions, and students can take that leadership out of the organizations and into the classroom.”
Shania Jefferies is the President of FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), and she said she is proud of the group which grew to 60 members this year, with 11 going to the district competition, six making it to state, and two going to nationals.
Shameek White is a member of JROTC and the UCHS wrestling team. He said it seems that some of the school’s smaller programs often go without recognition. This year’s wrestling team was the first wrestling team to win a region championship since 1973.
Leigh and Jefferies each praised band and percussion director Matt Chastain for fostering positive attitudes. Leigh mentioned the Indoor Percussion Ensemble’s recent success at CIPA championships and WGI World Championships.
“No matter how small you are, everyone has to strive to better themselves to achieve,” Leigh said.
“Mr. Chastain teaches us to surpass the standards set for us,” Jefferies added. “Even though I might get tired of his speeches about not being mediocre, I take them to heart.”
Ryan West said he is thankful Chastain encourages students to lead, and has let some of them lead practices. He said groups like the percussion group and UCHS Chorus have been successful, but they aren’t putting that much stock in the recognition.
“Even if they don’t get the recognition, they’re still succeeding, and I think that’s really, really cool,” West said.
Reid Bailey — who portrayed “Tracy Turnblad” in the drama department’s production of “Hairspray” — said she is proud of the months worth of work that students and staff put into the production.
“So many people were involved whole-heartedly — every single day — for rehearsal,” Bailey said. “I’m really proud we could come together. Some nights we would be here until 10:00, but we made it fun.”
Zyquan Henderson, Secretary of HOSA (Health Occupations Students Association), plans to go to USC Upstate to become an R.N. He said he was proud of the way HOSA students performed at the state convention in Charleston. He also mentioned that several students have participated in nursing assistants’ training at Wallace Thomson Hospital, and he is thankful for the help he has received from Ms. Pendleton.
Hannah Sailors, a UCHS softball player, said all spring sports such as baseball, softball, tennis and golf are doing well this year.
“Last year, our coach passed away and AD Will Hickson came in and still took us to Upper State,” Sailors said. “This past Monday, we won the region. We have a young team, and I feel like we will do really well the next three years.”
Dillon Sailors said he feels more emphasis has been put on National Honor Society as a club at UCHS.
“We strive to add more student involvement at each meeting and enforce the rules within the club,” Dillon said, adding that the officers made the first revisions to the rules this year since 2000.
Cheyenne Fraley — a member of FFA — discussed her love for working with animals. She began raising poultry in 7th grade and goats in 8th grade. This year, as a 9th grader, she is president of the Union County 4-H Poultry Club.
“It has taught me about raising animals,” Fraley said. “They like you no matter who you are or what you want to be.”
Tykeezie Thompson is the secretary of the Class of 2015, vice president of NHS, secretary of the International Thespian Society, and a member of Interact, the Ladies and Gentlemen’s Club, and GT Drama.
“I love how these groups allow us to go out in the community,” Thompson said. “The Ladies and Gentlemen’s Club has taught me not to be afraid to speak in front of a crowd.”
Bailey said she was scared as a freshman at UCHS, but she is thankful for the administrators and teachers for making her feel completely comfortable.
“I know I can go to anyone and talk to them,” Bailey said. “We are blessed to have them here and do so much for us.”
Assistant Principal Jenelle Gilliam gave credit for the school’s Palmetto Gold Award to Lyles.
“He expects the best from everyone — from the top down,” she said. “He won’t accept pessimism or anything less than the best. He takes time for every student, no matter how busy he is, and we are fortunate to have him as our administrator.”
Lyles said the school is 100 percent about the students, and he gives them a voice. He is also honest with them, which has caused some to label him as a risk taker. Before state testing, he spoke to three groups separately — African-American males, Caucasian males, and all females.
“I shared the facts with them,” Lyles said.
Lyles explained that students were unaware that they were graded by groups divided into race and gender.
“I told them, ‘I’m meeting with you because I want you to know what the data shows about our school, and we are so much better than what the data shows,’” he said. “You have to do things that are uncommon to get uncommon results. I feel good about where we are going.”