Placeholder ImageWriting is a powerful medium of conveying a message to an audience as well as quickly sharing news in a detailed and accurate manner so as to educate students on the major events in their community. This skill is one of my personal strong suits because I find that I am able to take the information that I learn in the news gathering process and piece it together in a manner that is conducive to leaving an impact on my readers. The following pieces of work are stories and news reports that most exemplify my ability as a journalist to be a dependable and meaningful source of information for the school.

Competing to Serve

This story was published in our 2016-17 Yearbook, “As It Unfolds”. Our aim with the theme of this book was to capture the stories of students who were learning who they were and who they would like to become during their high school journey. With this piece, I shared the story of a senior who discovered her passion long before high school and planned to utilize it to make an impact on other people in the future.  Oftentimes, these kind of positive stories go unnoticed and it is important to ensure that they are shared with our audience so that people like Morgan Miller and her desire to make a difference inspire others to do the same.

When senior Morgan Miller was ten years old, she got involved with a group of people that would play an important role in her life all the way through high school as well as after she graduated. This group inspired Miller’s passion for working with special needs students and played a large role in shaping her plans for a career after high school.

Miller found her niche when she began to work as a volunteer for the Therapeutic Recreation program at Southridge Recreation Center. The program aims to improve the lives of students with special needs by helping them to compete in Special Olympics sports, some of which include swimming, bowling and tennis. In addition, the Therapeutic Recreation program also hosts dances and arranges martial arts classes for special needs students to participate in.

“My brother worked a lot at Southridge and I got to know the head of the program. I followed my brother around and then he got out of it so it became more of my thing,” Miller said. “I began volunteering for their sports programs and I fell in love with it. I have now been involved in this program for seven years and I have probably helped and volunteered for everything the program has to offer.”

Being accepted in a community can be challenging for teenagers with disabilities. From the moment she got involved with special needs students, Miller was hooked on getting those students involved with others so that they are able to connect with and be involved in activities that they love. If they can be involved with a sports team or other gathering, they aren’t left out of the community. In the Therapeutic Recreation program, athletes joined basketball and soccer teams and participated in dances and martial arts classes.

“I love the environment and getting to form bonds with all of the students I work with,” Miller said. “I am able to spend my days enjoying the simplest joys and making a true difference in the lives of each individual I get the opportunity to work with.”

Working as a peer at Southridge was Miller’s starting point, but her work did not stop there. Upon reaching Vista, Miller also joined the Unified Soccer and Basketball programs as a partner and registered for the Peer Intern class, where she had the chance to work with special needs students during the school day. A few of the students she began to work with at school were also members of the Therapeutic Recreation program, so Miller had a head start on building relationships with the athletes.

She worked her way up to being a coach for the both the basketball and soccer team, demonstrating through her leadership the value of doing service for others. As a coach, Miller’s role was to ensure that every athlete was involved in the game and received equal playing and time and shooting opportunities.

“I needed to rotate athletes in about every five minutes and make sure the athletes get to play their desired position and always have a smile on their face,” Miller said. “My favorite part about being involved in this program was getting to see the constant smiles on the athletes faces every time they stepped on the field or court.”

In 2015, Miller took the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles for the Special Olympics World Games. 6,500 athletes from 65 countries attended the games and had the opportunity to compete in 25 different events. While Miller was attending the event, she was able to interact with students from across the world and spend time helping them to play a variety of sports. The time she spent there was a highlight in her special olympics sports career.

“It was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had,” Miller said. “I got to spend time with all the athletes and I formed a special bond with a girl from Puerto Rico and it was a really cool [experience],” Miller said.

As the years passed, Miller began to take on an increasing amount of responsibilities as a peer in the special needs programs at the school and the rec center, allowing her passion to guide her through high school. In total, Miller took the Peer Intern class for six of her eight semesters at Vista.

“I’ve got a lot more involved with different programs like here at Vista with coaching Unified and taking Peer Intern,” Miller said. “Southridge offers a lot of different programs like dances and other sports so I just gradually over time did a lot more.”

For many students, high school is the place to explore potential career avenues, but it wasn’t during high school that Miller decided to dedicate the rest of her life to supporting people with disabilities. Rather, it was the moment she began to interact with special needs.

“I knew it was what I wanted to do from the beginning,” Miller said.

The peer, coach and volunteer is no less certain now of her future than she was at ten years old. After graduating, she plans to spend a month of her summer spending more time with disabled people by getting a teaching job at the Arc Foundation in Tampa Bay, Florida. The Arc Tampa Bay is a non-profit organization that strives to serve people with disabilities, a mission similar to that of the Therapeutic Recreation program at Southridge. Miller’s work there, however, will be centered around a different group of people.

“This program is for people who are over the age of 21,” Miller said. “I am so used to working with younger people with disabilities, and this time I will get to work with older people, so I think it will be a really cool and eye-opening experience for me.”

As a teacher at the foundation, Miller’s role would be to instruct all subjects, but she would mostly be teaching life skills to older people with special needs.

Following her work at the Florida foundation, Miller hopes to get involved with a similar program at the University of Northern Colorado and to continue visiting Highlands Ranch over summer to stay involved in the Therapeutic Recreation program at Southridge.

As for her work at the high school, Miller hoped that she included students in the Unified program that would have been left out otherwise.

“There are some students that feel that they don’t fit in,” Miller said. “I just hope that they feel more involved.”

Miller’s experience with special needs kids allowed her to play a role in the activities of students as their high school journey unfolded. As she turned the pages of her own high school career, the same students she interacted with also contributed to her own story.

“The biggest impact that this has all had on me is getting to feel fulfilled,” Morgan said. “[I also] built bonds with so many incredible people I met along the way.”

Overcoming Fear

For the first issue of our newsmagazine in the 2016-17 school year, we focused on the theme “fearless” to illustrate the stories of students at Vista. When I set out to write a feature, I was initially focused on the big idea of being without fear and attempted to find a student who was doing something that students would consider incredibly courageous or brave. Instead, I found a story that was nowhere near the spotlight but embodied the idea of fearlessness more clearly than any other student could have. The opportunity to write this piece demonstrated to me the value and power of small details that aren’t often given attention as well as the responsibility of myself as a journalist to seek out and share these kind of stories.

Junior Emma Campbell sees people who are weak and without a voice in the world as those who are controlled by fear. Men and women, teens and children, whether they are oppressed by a ruler or afraid to speak out, are rendered silent across the world. To overcome fear, it has to be acknowledged as a force that is natural, but not all-powerful.

“There is no right or wrong answer to who is weak,” Campbell said. “Fear is within everybody, it is human, it is entirely natural. It’s just something that you can’t let consume you.”

A passionate writer for her entire life, Campbell has surrounded herself with novels, authors, and literature. In Josh Brandt’s AP Language class, students received the opportunity to write a 750-word editorial column about a topic of their choice. Topics ranged from global issues to problems that are unique to Mountain Vista. Campbell, one of Brandt’s students, seized this chance to share her idea about people in society without a voice.

“[I chose to write about] it because it is important,” Campbell said. “People don’t realize, I don’t do a lot of things that I could probably succeed at because I am afraid of the results, I am afraid of failure, and I am afraid of disappointment. All these things hold me back and I realize that this is a problem. People need to realize that fear is real but it is not something that is going to suffocate you.”

Amongst the men, women, and children, she sees high school students as one of the primary victims of doubt caused by society because of their tendency to be swayed by their surroundings.

As students progress through their four years of high school education, they are challenged with big decisions that can have an even larger impact on their future. While they evaluate the path they will take, students are constantly influenced by societal norms and ideals that conflict with their previous identity.

“High school is go time,” Campbell said. “These four years, Freshman to Senior, are what determines what you are going to be in life, you are going to loose some things and gain some things but it is your base. We are so uncertain of who we are right now because everybody is telling us to be different things.”

Campbell wanted to relate to her readers by putting them in her shoes as they read her editorial. Describing her experiences in 1st person, she aims to prove to students that they are not alone in any fears that they have. After Campbell finalizes her work she plans to submit it to local newspapers in the state, aiming to spread her message to other people to banish the fear of the unknown that she believes has taken hold of people around the world.

“I just want people to realize there is no right or wrong answer to a power struggle, that is all fear is,” Campbell said. “I want people to know that fear is real and I want them to accept it and then grow with it because you can’t get rid of it.”

The English students took a week to brainstorm their topic, write a rough draft, make edits, and finalize their work. On the day their opinion pieces were due, the class split into small groups of about four or five to take the time share their editorials. After listening to all group members, the name of the author with the best writing was written on the whiteboard and they were encouraged to read in front of the whole class. Faced with a daunting task, a few of the uncertain students opted out of sharing while others hesitantly agreed to read the class their column.

Elected by her group to read in front of the class, Campbell first decided not to take part in the reading, but then she reconsidered.

“I wasn’t going to [read my editorial]. I was intimidated because everybody else was so good. I would be the last person to go, people were going to be leaving on that thought,” Campbell said. “Then I realized that this is exactly what I am telling other people not to do. How could I sit here behind my little computer screen, tell you not to be afraid, and then not voice my own opinion. What I was writing, while I was writing to other people, applied to myself.”

So, satisfied with the opportunity taken to speak out about her opinions, Campbell left her classmates on a Wednesday afternoon with the thought that fear can only be overcome by speaking out, and that those with the strength to do so are fearless.

Cindy Galligan’s Last Day at Vista

This story was one that I followed up with after my adviser recommended it to me and it was published on the Vista Now website. I had heard Cindy Galligan’s name a few times but was unfamiliar with her role on the school staff, so I spent time during the interview asking her questions about her role as a counseling secretary. Galligan revealed to me how much time she spent working to support students at the school, and this short profile was a simple method of helping students understand the process behind the counseling office as well as well as the factors that help it to operate.

Four-and-a-half years ago, Cindy Galligan started working as a secretary for the school counseling department. Stationed at a cubicle in one of the hallways of the counseling office, Galligan’s responsibilities included giving tours to prospective students, scheduling college visits and maintaining scholarships for students.

“I do a lot of things that nobody else wants to do,” Galligan said. “That is a part that I love about my day because everyday is different.”

Galligan gives tours for 70 to 75 families a year and organizes over 100 college visits to the school. However, the best part about her job isn’t the variety of tasks she completes every day, it is the students she works with.

“By far and away I love the kids,” Galligan said. “They are my favorite people just because I have known so many of them since they were in kindergarten because I actually worked at Bear Canyon [Elementary School] first and then came to Vista. It is so much fun seeing everybody grow up and where they are going to college.”

Today is Galligan’s last day in her position. She will be moving on to work in sales, which is where she worked before being employed at Bear Canyon and Mountain Vista. Galligan will be working for Kuhl Clothing, a company that sells and distributes mountain sportswear as well as Canopy Hammocks and YETI coolers.

Galligan’s daughters, Libby, Mary, and junior Janey Galligan will all be in college in 18 months, so Galligan is moving to the sales world in order to be able to better support her daughters through their college education.

After working as a counseling secretary, Galligan has gained an appreciation for the people that have taught her daughters and work with her at the school. She is also going to remember the time she shared with her coworkers at Mountain Vista.

“I am definitely going to miss the people that I work with because we are good friends,” Galligan said. “I work in a hallway so I hear stuff all day long and I am definitely going to miss the buzz around here, it’s a great group of people.”

The counselors she worked with are also going to miss her presence in the office because of the impact Galligan made on them with the attitude she brought to work everyday.

“I am going to miss her sense of humor,” Counselor Robyn Mott said. “She is so fun to work with and she is so entertaining and she makes my day better everyday.”

Sam Strong

This story was written in collaboration with another editor and was my first time working with another staff member on any of my pieces. When we began to conduct interviews and gather information for this piece, we found that the victim of this terrible accident was not defeated, but resilient, and that his actions demonstrated his powerful determination to recover as well as a profound new outlook on life. Writing this story was also a valuable experience in news gathering because we needed to contact Sam Strauss when the time was appropriate with his treatment. Much of our information was also gathered by contacting Strauss’s friends and family and we were challenged to connect all of what we learned in the story.

“Sam Strong” was published in the second issue of the 2016-2017 Eagle Eye

Imagine hopping into your car late at night after attending a Valor football game, plugging in your aux cord and turning up the volume. You begin to turn. You’re just trying to go home, but all of a sudden everything goes black and you wake up in the hospital the next day, surrounded by your family. You have broken ribs, a broken sternum, bruised lower lungs and severe head trauma.

For senior Sam Strauss, this nightmare became reality. Strauss was struck by a drunk driver on the night of September 23, one week before Homecoming. He woke up in a hospital with his injuries and a big recovery ahead of him.

Many think that getting in a serious accident will never happen to them, but according to the National Highway Traffic Administration, “every two minutes, a person is injured in a drunk driving crash.” Those two minutes changed Strauss’s perspective of the life he used to know – forever.

“Life is too short. You’ve got to make the most of it before something crazy or bad happens to you,” Strauss said. “You have no idea what will happen at any moment.”

There are a lot of factors that can change someone’s life. Strauss is only 17-years-old and has already experienced a life-altering event before a majority of his peers. Some people could live life without ever experiencing a sudden change like he has.

“My life has changed a lot especially with the fact that I need to sleep a lot, I can’t drive, and found that a lot of people care for me that I didn’t know about,” Strauss said. “It has changed because I need a lot of rest to heal, and my car got wrecked, [but] I don’t think I am 100% ready to drive yet anyway.”

After an event like Strauss experienced, he could have been permanently injured, but he has gotten away without any long-lasting injuries.

“My daily routine includes getting a ton of sleep to help me recover faster, working out to improve mood and strength and hanging with friends to have more social interactions,” Strauss said.

Doctors predicted Strauss’s recovery would fall between nine and 18 months with severe head trauma. Two months later, Strauss is out of the hospital and back at school. The biggest factor in his speedy recovery was the support he received from the school, his family and friends. One of his closest friends, senior Thomas Johnson, designed and sold wristbands during Homecoming week with the words “Sam Strong” on them to raise money for his medical costs.

“When I found out that Sam was hurt I thought I was going to lose one of my closest friends and I was really worried and very emotional,” Johnson said. “What inspired me to help out so much was I knew the medical bills were going to be high and [I wanted Sam’s family to know] that our community has their back.”

Students from school also created and signed a get-well poster for Strauss, donated money during miracle minutes and took to social media to show support for the Strauss family.

“Without the support I wouldn’t have recovered as fast as I did,” Strauss said. “Then finding out my close friends were doing all those things during homecoming week for me was just mind blowing, and the amount of support it got was even more crazy. I love Vista.”

When thinking about how Strauss got hit by a drunk driver, many might be disturbed by the severity of the accident. Strauss is more focused on the future and his recovery rather than reminiscing on the past.

“I slowly got back into things for school, so I didn’t get overwhelmed,” Strauss said. “I got the work for 3 of my classes and returned to school on November 14.”

Part of his future is the uncertainty of driving again, but Strauss has no hesitations about getting back behind the wheel after his life took the turn it did.

“I do want to drive again, I’m not scared too. It sounds a bit crazy, but I like driving and I feel more comfortable to since the accident wasn’t my fault,” Strauss said, “car accidents happen a lot and you gotta realize that if you aren’t responsible with [drinking] and then go drive you can put others in serious danger.”

Now that Strauss has recovered from the accident, he has had the chance to reflect on the impact that it had on his life.

“I was happy I was alive, because the accident was super crazy and I heard from many doctors and nurses how lucky I am to not be crippled or dead. I am grateful,” Strauss said.

Super K Saves the Day

For the most recent issue of the Eagle Eye, we published a special issue in preparation for the upcoming Wish Week. In our feature section, we decided to review past Wish Weeks and their impact on the school, as well as the stories of individual teachers and students that make a big difference in the event every year. I wrote about Brian Wood, a math teacher and basketball coach at the school who was always involved in the assemblies and fundraisers throughout the week.