Holly Hill Academy is working with local convenience store owners to curb underage purchases of Delta-8 products and vape pens.

Nation-wide, about one in five high school students used e-cigarettes in 2020, according to the Truth Initiative, America’s largest nonprofit public health organization working to end tobacco use and nicotine addiction.

This epidemic is affecting kids all over the United States, including students in Holly Hill, who can gain access to these harmful substances.

According to the CDC, the use of e-cigarettes by kids, teens, and young adults is particularly harmful to brain development, can cause lung injury, and young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke real cigarettes in the future.

In order to bring awareness to the issue, HHA Head of School, Brandy Mullennax, met with Raj and Nick Patel, the owners of Marathon, Synoco, Texaco, and Gaz-Bah, to inquire about their protocols for purchases and prevention of underage buyers.

“I wanted to ensure that our business owners are taking extra measures to ensure the health and safety of our students,” Mrs. Mullennax said.

E-cigarettes were originally developed to help adult smokers quit the habit. However, when companies introduced flavored e-cigarettes, the amount of teens who began to use e-cigarettes increased.

According to Nick and Raj, items sold in their stores are purchased through reputable vendors they have used for years. However, in order to gain access to these products, some consumers are obtaining them through online sellers.

“It is illegal to purchase these types of pens online in South Carolina, so others are ordering online from other states for personal use,” Raj said.

Nick and Raj also said they train their employees to follow procedures and be vigilant when selling e-cigarette products.

“When these are implemented, it is easy to tell when someone is lying or trying to get away with something,” Nick said.

The state also conducts surprise visits once a month to ensure stores are complying with the 21 age limit.

“Our employees know that if they do not take all precaution protocols necessary to ensure illegal purchasing of items and a ticket is received, they will be responsible for paying the ticket,” Raj said.

Raj said knowing his customers and being involved with the community is also a key factor in preventing underage use of e-cigarettes.

Mrs. Mullennax is hoping that through this collaborative effort, they can limit the amount of underage students that gain access to harmful substances.

“I believe that educating employees, increasing their observation skills to notice the frequency of the items customers are purchasing, and follow up protocols to IDS is just the beginning,” Mrs. Mullennax said. “I appreciate the extra diligence, time invested for employee training, and concern for our students that Mr. Patel has put in place his business.”

On Sept. 27, Mrs. Mullennax also called a meeting with the HHA Board of Directors to discuss the policies for e-cigarettes products on campus. She requested additional clarification, discipline, and a probationary program to help students dealing with the addiction of these products.

The Board of Directors were in support of updatating, clarifying, and implementing new student support services to promote educational awareness and prevent the use of these products.

“We’ve got to do something, and this hemp derived problem is not going away,” Mrs. Mullennax said. “When the ruling was issued that hemp-derived Delta-8 falls in the definition of ‘hemp’ under the 2018 Farm Bill, it allowed for a legal high. This legal high is now being used by consumers. These consumers are not just 21, they are middle and high school students. They are people driving, operating equipment, or doing other activities that put other lives at risk.”

Mrs. Susan Paramore said the Board of Directors are attuned to the needs of HHA students and the voices of stakeholders.

“At Holly Hill Academy, our students’ health and safety have always been a top priority,” Mrs. Paramore said. “This prevention policy that the Board has put into place, is just one more way of ensuring that we make a difference in the lives of our students.”



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  • Ansley Puckett



Shortly after parents filed out of the Holly Hill Academy gym with their children and their awards on the last day of school, some HHA staff and board members began ripping the gym apart.

The gym, which was the same since the beginning of HHA in 1972, was getting a much-needed facelift with new floors, paint, and beachers.

“For the past three years, the goal of having a new gym floor has been one of the top five projects for the Board of Directors,” Mrs. Brandy Mullennax said.

The floor would get brand new wood, the walls would get a fresh coat of paint, and the bleachers, which were as old as the school and hid years of trash, were replaced with composite and metal, filled in completely, and became motorized.

“The old gym had done its job for 40 years,” Coach Mike Nelson said.

As Coach Nelson, volleyball coach and PE teacher Dani Kern, and several other volunteers helped take the bleachers off the wall, they expected to be back in the gym by the end of summer to get ready for the new year. That’s not what happened.

Construction crews were set to begin shortly after summer started, but there was quickly an issue. After a series of project manager changes, the wood for the gym floor was sent to the school. The wood that was delivered had to acclimate to the temperature for three weeks. When it was time to start replacing the floors, Coach Nelson realized the wood that was sent was the wrong width.

“To have yet another set back was very frustrating,” Mrs. Mullennax said.

After the crew set to fixing the mistake and bringing the correct wood in, the project had already been delayed by a month and a half. As the summer progressed, it was beginning to look like the crew would not complete the project in time for the start of the school year.

Sports teams, including volleyball and the cheerleading team, had already been displaced all summer.

The cheerleading team practiced in the cafeteria, while the volleyball team either practiced outside or at the old Bowman Academy. However, because Bowman’s old gym did not have air conditioning, practice was often accompanied by the drone of large fans.

“It was a rough environment. Definitely not ideal,” Coach Nelson said.

Labor shortages and supply issues also delayed the completion of the project, and looking ahead before the project began, Coach Nelson scheduled the volleyball team’s first games as away games.

“The girls have persevered, and it just goes to show how hard they've worked,” Coach Dani said in regards to the team’s practice conditions and game schedule.

As the summer came to a close and the 2022-2023 school year was drawing near, HHA was running out of time to get the gym ready for classes, sports practice, and chapel. With the gym nowhere near ready, Mrs. Brandy Mullennax, Mrs. Susan Paramore, and Coach Dani began working on their backup plan.

PE class would take place outside, volleyball practice would continue to happen outside or in school hallways, and chapel was put on hold. Facing the challenges as they came was a group effort, and the lower school students also rose to the challenge.

“The kids were great,” Coach Dani said. “They couldn’t wait to get back in the gym.”

Finally, as the project came to a close, the volleyball team had their first home game Sept. 7. while the gym was still waiting on the logo. When the logo was added on Sept. 9, the gym floor was complete. However, some peeling on the logo will need to be fixed in the near future. Until then, PE and sports practice resumed in the gym.

“The product so far has come out beautiful and worth the multiple bumps in the road to have a beautiful gym,” Coach Nelson said.

On the week of Sept. 12, the lower school students were rewarded with their first dodgeball game of the year. As for the volleyball team, Coach Dani said they are relieved to finally practice and play in their home gym.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” Coach Dani said. “I want to say how much I appreciate everyone's patience. We needed a lot of it, but it paid off.”

Now, with the PE classes and sports team returning to the gym, Booster Club is working on the finishing touches to the space, including new state championship banners. The old banners will be sold, and funds will go to the gym floor project.



Booster Club is also selling plaques made from the original bleacher’s wood as a piece of HHA history. For those interested in buying a plaque or a championship banner, contact Sherri Swank.

“This project came to fruition with the help of all of our stakeholders; board members, parents, volunteers, coaches, Flagship members, and our PTAC,” Mrs. Mullennax said. “Through collaborative efforts, we were able to provide this much needed upgrade for our students that we hope will last for the next 40 years.”



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