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  • Ansley Puckett

Updated: May 12, 2023

For Holly Hill Academy seniors, their days as Raiders are numbered. In two months, they will walk across the stage with their diploma and move to the next stage in life.

For many, they already have their mind set on the future, with college decisions made and preparations being set. Others are still anxiously awaiting scholarship decisions and working through the long application process.

“Applying to college is a really big step in your high school career,” said senior Alston Oglesby, who wants to be an anesthesiologist. “It's pretty much the next step. You’re saying goodbye to high school, and you're saying hello to college.”

Around 4.9 million students apply for college each year, going through the process of submitting personal information, academic records, and writing long essays. Afterward, scholarships and financial aid have another application process.

But HHA seniors’ journey to graduation and college begins years before, as early as 9th grade, when Dean of Students, Misty Mathis, begins working with them to start considering schools and looking at what they need to get into their desired institution.

“I start early with our students to make sure they do everything correctly,” Mrs. Mathis said.

When students meet with Mrs. Mathis, she advises them on best practices to keep up with involvement, stay on track to graduate, and get the GPA and test scores they need for life after high school. She also begins looking at what classes they need, what might be useful to them, and their career goals.

“From the first day of 9th grade to the last day of 12th grade, she is there to guide you and help you to get your classes straight and make sure you are on the road to success,” Alston said.

College applications start as early as August and go into March of the next year when regular decision letters go out for schools. During that process, Head of School Brandy Mullennax, Dean of Students Misty Mathis, and Assistant Head of School Susan Paramore work with seniors to help them navigate the sometimes complicated process of going to college.

“Starting in the ninth grade and continuing until their senior year, we work with our students on writing college essay topics and college resumes that include awards, community service, academic honors, athletic awards, work experience, and references,” Mrs. Mullennax said.

Not including Life and Hope Scholarships, seniors have already been awarded $320,000 in scholarship money and been accepted into over 25 different colleges and universities in and outside of South Carolina.

This year, Mrs. Mathis said there has been an extremely diverse group of universities that have accepted HHA students. The universities include the University of Alabama, Appalachian State University, Drexel University, Liberty, and more.

Seniors have also applied to local favorites like Charleston Southern, the University of South Carolina, the College of Charleston, and Clemson.

No matter which college they apply to, Mrs. Mathis helps seniors find the best route for them.

Senior Ke’Niyah Bailey, who wants to be a personal trainer, said Mrs. Mathis and Mrs. Mullennax helped her apply to Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, where she plans to spend her first two years after graduation and then attend the Medical University of South Carolina.

Seniors achieving their goals, whether that be going to college or pursuing a career, are extremely important to HHA and the relationship goes beyond senior year.

“When our seniors enter college, we receive their grades for their freshman year. Our students know that we will pick up the phone and call them to find out why they are struggling,” Mrs. Mullennax said. “There have been times we have asked them to come in and meet with us to re-set goals, build confidence, support, or just listen so that they can move forward toward their goals with purpose instead of drifting. Our students are family, and we want what’s best for them, and sometimes that comes with tough love and accountability.”

Despite looking toward the future, HHA seniors are making the most of their last year as Raiders. When asked what he would miss about HHA, Davin Walling, who wants to pursue a career in physical therapy, said he’d miss the Raider community.

“Everybody is kind of like family here,” Davin said.

The faculty and staff will also miss the seniors after they’ve walked the stage, but HHA knows they are ready for the next chapter.

“As hard as it is to see these students walk out of our doors, we know that they are well prepared for the next step in their lives,” Mrs. Susan said. “They also know that we are here for them if they need us. That’s what makes being a part of the Holly Hill Academy family special, and what sets us apart from others. Good luck Class of 2023 – I know you are ready!”

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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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