The AEC Zephyr

3rd Edition

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McDowell County Schools Secondary Teacher of the Year

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Mr. Michael Smith

The AEC would like to congratulate Mr. Michael Smith, McDowell County Schools Secondary Teacher of the Year!

Mr. Smith earned his BA in Philosophy & Religion from Shaw University in 2008 after working in industry for 23 years. He joined the AEC staff in 2004 working with at-risk students in the Phoenix Academy. He became a certified teacher in 2012 and earned Social Studies teacher licensure from Mars Hill University in 2013. Mr. Smith also serves as the Pastor for Mount Moriah Baptist Church.

Mr. Smith is a positive and inspiring teacher and leader. He makes students think, makes students question their assumptions, and engages students in the entire learning process.

Our students love Mr. Smith and have the following to say:

“Mr. Smith is cool because he likes to have fun with us.”

“Mr. Smith really cares about us, like he cares about us as people and honestly wants us to be successful.”

“Mr. Smith is my favorite, he’s always positive, caring, and helpful.”

“Mr. Smith really listens, he really listens to what I have to say.”

“Mr. Smith is kind, helpful, and nice to everyone even if we don't deserve it.”

“Mr. Smith makes funny faces.”

“Mr. Smith is intelligent, I mean really intelligent.”

“Mr. Smith is a good teacher... I can’t explain what he does but he’s opened up a new world for me.”

“Mr. Smith won't let us do worksheets, he makes us learn, and makes us connect learning to things we know, but the best part about Mr. Smith is he drives a cool Cadillac.”

“Mr. Smith is like the dad I don’t have.”

Mr. Smith is a joy to work with. He is a positive influence on our entire school community and I am blessed to be able to work side-by-side with him.

Tracey Widmann


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New AEC Teachers

Because of Andrea Hardy

By Tailor Rumfelt

Andrea Hardy, usually known as Mrs. Hardy or “Evil woman” by her students, has asked me to write about her first year teaching at McDowell Alternative Education Center. I’ve had Mrs. Hardy for two classes so far and I am currently in one of the two. The AEC is a very small school, and we all pretty much know one another. I’d even go as far as to say that we’re all family: teachers included. So when we heard we would be getting a new teacher, we were a bit weary. We thought she’d be gone within the first 9 weeks, but here she is: almost two semesters later, still going strong. Being one of Mrs. Hardy’s students isn’t always easy. From having to listen to her babble on about random things when she gets off track, to having a heart to heart when one of us students are struggling; even when we (the students) are hard headed and don’t want to listen, she somehow makes us feel like we can do whatever we set our minds to. I’ve struggled in math my entire life, and even had a teacher put me down and tell me that I wouldn’t amount to anything because I couldn’t do the work in their math class. I’ve had a few breakdowns here and there when I’ve become frustrated and just wanted to give up. But I don’t, and I won’t, because of Andrea Hardy. Because of her, I’m still in school. Because of Andrea Hardy, I haven’t given up. Because of this intelligent, caring and aspiring woman, I know that even when I’m struggling, it will be okay. She’s taught me perseverance; to never give up. And I know that when I get frustrated because I can’t do a problem on a worksheet, or when I feel like giving up, that i just need to take a deep breath and push through. Because of Andrea Hardy. The teacher, that in the last year, has given me hope. So I’d say her first year at AEC has been a great experience. At Least from one student’s point of view.

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Tera Willis

Interview by Makayla Guffie

1.What is your job title?

McKinney Vento Case Worker

2.What is a typical workday like for you?

Being readily available for students at all times. Assessing their needs and collaborating with other staff and sometimes outside agencies to meet those needs.

3. What skills are required in your position on a day-to-day basis?

Listening skills, ability to identify students’ needs, ability to collaborate with other agencies and staff, patience, dependability and persistence.

4. What parts of your job do you find most challenging?

Not being able to meet the needs of my students.

5. What do you find most enjoyable?

Student success! Seeing my students succeed and seeing them overcome obstacles.

6. Are there any negatives to your job?

Negatives, No. Limitations, Yes! I spend many hours away from school worrying about my students...are they fed? Are they warm? Where will they sleep?...etc.

7. How many hours do you work in a typical week?

I’m employed for a 40 hour work week, but most weeks engulf many more.

8. What personal qualities or abilities are important for doing well in this kind of work?

The ability to be empathetic, patient, dependable, trustworthy, organized, persistent and flexible.

9. How has this job enhanced/enriched your life?

Being blessed with this job has given me a new outlook on life. I’ve become a more caring and compassionate person. It has opened my eyes to the everyday obstacles that our students face. My job constantly forces me to question myself and reflect on my work, my values, and my life. It brings me up against people who are battling bigger problems, and helps put things into perspective.


Congratulations Kaylee Denny!


The Cicadas are Here!


Phoenix vs Regular Middle School

by Makayla Guffie

Phoenix has a no homework policy. They have really small classes and help you with everything. Our basketball court is outside down beside the high school building, we don’t have a indoor basketball court like all the other middle schools. Regular middles schools have a homework policy and medium classes. They have a huge gym and a huge baseball field. For field trips Phoenix goes to colleges and we don’t go on three day field trips. Regular middle schools go on three day field trips and go to a lot of places and some colleges. Lunch we do the same as all the other middle schools. Our teachers make sure we have fun here, but we have to work hard. Phoenix gets to leave at 2:30, like all the other middle schools they leave at 3:00. The kids in Phoenix switch classes but stay with the same kids all day. In regular middle schools you switch classes and have different kids. We have a diet soda machine in the lunchroom. West and East only have water in them.



Mr. Coney's 10th Grade English Class

I Am From

Poem by Jack Jones

I am from a farm

From dirt and sweat on my brow

I am from a small farm

Chickens, dogs, just hungry little faces

I am from the garden

Corn, tomatoes, dirt, mud, the work must be done

I‘m from hard work and never stop trying

From mom and dad

I am from farmers and gardeners

From, “can’t never could until try came along” and,”hard work makes us money”

I’m from Christians, and hard workers

I’m from the Blue Ridge Mountains

Cornbread and biscuits

From the hard workers from dawn to dusk

The one who started it all for me, my daddy

To see how much we look alike in the pictures on the walls

They may be the only thing to remember them by

“Love at First Sight”

Poem by Kimberly McMahan

I close my eyes and my heart starts to melt

I feel the love within my heart

Waiting to burst

Forever waiting

To give my love to the right person

I open my eyes and I see you

With one look, I instantly fall in love

Your eyes show me the future

They show me what I could become

You make me the person I want to be

You’ve healed all my pain

Finally realizing I can be happy

I never knew love could be so powerful

Yet so scary

I never want to lose you

My priority is your happiness

I would do anything for you

I would take a bullet for you

That may sound crazy

But I’m crazy for you

Since the second I laid eyes on you

I knew I have found the one

My future

My love

My happiness

My everything

I will love you till death do us part

I promise


LEAP Academy Student Essays

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LEAP students

Back row from left to right: Jada Cruz, Skyler York, Christopher Tilley, Lillian Laws, Hanna Lindley.

In front: Faith Rymer.

Lillian Laws



2017 March 30


My name is Lillian Laws. I am 14 years old, and I grew up in Dysartsville, North Carolina. I got held back in the first grade at Glenwood Elementary because I couldn’t read fifty words per minute. I also went to West McDowell Middle School from 6th grade to 7th grade.

My teachers ( Mrs.Gardner, Mrs.Gouge, Mr.Vetter, and Ms.Fleming) told me about Leap Academy and I also got a letter in the mail. The reason I decided to come to Leap Academy was because I wanted to be with my graduating class and my mom also suggested that it would be a good idea.

This year at Leap Academy was pretty great, we got to go on lots of field trips and one of the field trips we went on that was a favorite was the trip to Appalachian State University. We only have 4 classes, we get out 30 minutes earlier than other schools, the classes have 7 to 10 people in them at the most, and we don’t have homework. My future goals are to go to back to the high school, graduate, and go to college and work for the law enforcement.

I would highly recommend Leap Academy to other students because it’s great. It helps you get caught up to your grade level, the teachers are nice, and they’ll help you with anything. You may think you will be in classes with the other students that were already here, but actually, you’ll be with the same people for every period all year long. It’s actually a great school to go to because I thought I wouldn’t like it. Turns out I do like it, and you will too!

Faith Rymer

Ms. Bolick


5 April 2017

My name is Faith Rymer and I currently attend the AEC’s Leap Academy. I started school at Pleasant Gardens Elementary School; where I failed the first grade because I had seizures. I attended the school until third grade, then moved to to Eastfield Elementary until the end of my Elementary years. The school I attended for middle school was West Mcdowell. I have applied for the new STEM high school Mcdowell Academy for Innovations; which I was lucky enough to get accepted.

I found out about the Leap Academy from my history teacher Mr. Vetter. I decided to attend the Leap Academy because I was able to finally be in the same grade I was supposed to be in, and I loved the Idea of small classes. I also heard the school would have no homework and was easier.

This year in the Leap Academy has been amazing! I found out I work a lot better in the small environment, the teachers here are so kind and do not see you as a number. My future goals are to get into the Mcdowell Academy for Innovation, (which I did) so I could get my Associate's degree earlier. After high school I want to join the Navy or Coast Guard and let them pay for my college, and I want to get a doctorate in Forensic Pathology.

I would definitely recommend other students to apply for the Leap Academy; it is an amazing school, and the teachers are amazing too! I love this school and am very happy I got the opportunity to join the leap Academy at AEC.

Hanna Lindley

March 30, 17

Mrs. Bolick

My name is Hanna Lindley. I live in Old Fort, N.C. I am in ninth grade. The first school I attended was Old Fort Elementary, then I went on to attend West Mcdowell Middle . I was in the first sixth grade group to move to West Middle . I was held back in first grade because my parents felt I wasn’t ready to go on the second. I was in a fifth/sixth grade combination class in fifth grade because I was chosen to be bumped up a bit in a mature level .

I learned about Leap Academy from one of the teachers I had in seventh grade. She told me I was a bit more mature mentally and educationally, but I wasn’t really able to show the potential I had from being a year behind. At first, I wasn’t really interested, but I also didn’t really like West Middle. I couldn’t get the attention from teachers that I needed, and many of my friends and family members encouraged me to go and better myself for the future .

My experience here at AEC/Leap has been pretty good. I love the small population of people in the school and classes to be specific. The fact that they take our cell phones is honestly great. I would probably be tempted to be on my cell phone, and I would rather have it away from me when I am in class. You can make many friends here. This school is very close, almost like a small family.

My future goals are probably either to stay at the AEC until I graduate or go to the high school one year to see if I like it, then come back and finish at the AEC. I would recommend the Leap program to other students because it's a wonderful opportunity to get caught up with your grade and move forward with your education.

Chris Tilley

Ms. Bolick


30 March 2017

Leap Academy

My name is Chris Tilley, I am a 15 year old student at the Leap Academy. I am from Lenoir, in Caldwell County, NC. I was held back in 1st grade because I was in the hospital with heart issues that I inherited from my father. That same year he died from a heart attack. My mother then remarried a man who became my stepfather and we moved to Old Fort, Mcdowell County.

I found out about the Leap Academy from my school counselor at West Mcdowell Middle School in 7th grade. She thought it would be a great idea, and that I would enjoy it. I decided to come to Leap Academy because I wanted to be with my age group and my original grade level. I was also looking for a challenge because my previous school years had been easier because I was originally a year ahead of most of my classmates .

My experience at Leap has been great. I have made new friends who have the same interest as me. I also get along with my teachers much better than my previous teachers. It’s been a little harder and easier at the same time. The classes are smaller which is great but it’s a little harder getting two grades completed in one year. My future goals are to go to the Mcdowell High School and go on to graduate from college with a medical degree to become a doctor.

I would definitely recommend Leap for those that are interested in their education and also for those who want to get back on their original grade level. Once you're older it is a little harder to make friends. For those that aren’t quite on board yet we do have smaller classes, less school time, and no homework! Now with every good thing comes a bad one. We do have to turn in our phones every morning, get a body search, and no backpacks are allowed.


The Western Carolina University Trip

By Mckenna Moore

8th and 12th graders from Mcdowell County took a field trip to Western Carolina University in March. It was a long trip but we made it. It was a hot day and when we arrived, we had to walk a long way to get where we were going. We met our tour guides once we got to the office. One guide took the 12th graders around campus and the other took 8th graders. The campus has a big rock wall, and a big gym. Our favorite place at Western Carolina was the cafeteria. There was so much food to choose from. We ate the buffet and the food was delicious. After we walked around and ate, we loaded the bus and headed back to school. We had a lot of fun!
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Hard at work preparing for the upcoming Cardboard Boat Regatta!

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Last years winner



Lady Titans Traveling Basketball Team

by Isia Biddle

I am on the Lady Titans traveling basketball team. We travel out of town nearly every week. We go to places like Asheville, Morganton, Greensboro and Winston Salem. We play against girls that are taller than us and faster than us, however right now our team is undefeated. Our coach’s name is Hal Baker. He is a very good coach. He depends on us to show up at games and play as a team. I love playing basketball. It requires courage and grit. I’ve been playing since 2nd grade. It is important to practice every chance you get if you want to play well enough to be on a traveling basketball team.


Hanging Out

By Emma Byrd
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Top 5 Vacation Spots

By Cambric Greene

I conducted a poll in my 8th grade class. I asked each student to vote on the place they'd most like to go for vacation. The results are:

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Oak Island, North Carolina

Oak Island is one of Carolina's best and biggest vacation spots. It has many beautiful views and many places to stay.This place got 0% of the vote.

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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the east coast with parties and eccentric places. This place got 20% of the vote.

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Orlando, Florida

Orlando has many attractions for example, Lego world, Florida beach, and Disney world. It is very populated and a great place to go on vacation. This place got 20% of the vote.

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The Bahamas is a couple of beautiful islands that are one of the top vacation spots in the world! It has beautiful beaches and great views. You also have to take a boat to get there. This is a place of romance. This place got 30% of the vote.

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Paris is probably the most expensive place on this list. It is sure worth it though! You have beautiful nights with your lover and many attractions. The Eiffel tower is waiting on you! This place got 30% of the vote.


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