News, student successes, and experiences from our Atypical High School.


Wrapping Up

By:  Josh Stewart

Stewart, Josh 1Presents aren’t the only things we’re wrapping up this December at Florence Schneider Hall. It’s been a long 16 weeks, but every good thing must come to an end, right? The semester is almost over which brings both good news and bad news for students. The good news is that only five days separates us from 3 weeks of freedom filled with families, home-cooked meals, Christmas and New Year’s, sleeping in, video games, and Netflix binges. The bad news is this week is filled with exams, presentations, and major due dates.

The week before finals has a colorful name associated with fire and brimstone, but I will spare you the details. This is because lots of professors will give quizzes, tests, and papers during the course of this week. All of this comes while everyone is focused on studying for final exams as well. It doesn’t take long for the work to pile up and becoming seemingly overwhelming. But thankfully, the level of support from our wonderful staff has not waned in the wake of this busy time. Lynette graciously made (at least) 120 home-baked personalized cookies and hand delivered one to each student in preparation for finals week. Beth surprised everyone on Friday with Kindergarten night on the fourth floor, complete with pajamas, toy tractors, Play Doh, and a giant parachute. As hard as it may be to believe, high-school juniors and seniors still really love coloring books and building blocks. To top it off, Santa even paid us all a surprise visit on Sunday night. The most popular gift requests were for A’s on finals and college acceptance letters.

Now, finals week is in full swing and the rest of the semester is behind us. Quiet hours will take place for 23 hours each day, but during loud hour from 9:30 to 10:30 each night, our residential counselors will provide us with food and fun while we take a much needed study break.

So students, hang in there. Your hard work is about to payoff. All that remains between you and Christmas break are a few exams and presentations. Look forward to a three week Christmas break and the excitement that is winter term. Whether you’re taking classes on campus, traveling abroad to Greece or Costa Rica, or enjoying an additional three weeks at home filled with volunteer service or job shadowing, it is bound to be a welcome break and a sigh of relief. And to all the parents, don’t worry. We will be home very soon, and for more than two days this time!

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A Night of Wonder: Winter Formal 2014

Willett, Jenna 1 copyBy Jenna Willett

Even though The Gatton Academy is not your normal high school, we still participate in fairly normal high school practices, like dances. Typical high schools have homecoming, but at an atypical Academy, where competitive sports are not available, we have Winter Formal.

Winter Formal, or Fall Formal as some have dubbed it due to its occurrence before Thanksgiving, is a time where little Gatton girls and little Gatton boys dress in nice clothes and crowd the fourth floor common area. Some students brought outside guests, others went with a big group of friends, and still others showed up just for food and made a quick escape.

Lights bedazzled the ceiling like the multitude of stars in Van Gogh’s Starry Night. A nice touch considering this year’s theme was, in fact, “Starry Night.” Pictures were taken in front of a student-made rendition of the original artwork and memories were made while dancing to music ranging from the 80’s to “Today’s Top 40’s”.

One of the best parts of Winter Formal, in my not-so-humble opinion, was that no one cared what you looked like dancing—whether it be like a fool or a professional—they just wanted to share in the good times and get away from the stress of college classes. When we were together on the dance floor, we were family. No judgment, no negative comments on dance moves, just pure fun.

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Gatton Students Burn with Excitement as They Watch The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 Premiere

Gensheimer, Julia 1By Julia Gensheimer

On Friday, November 21, more than 20 Gatton students anxiously waited in line at the Great Escape 12 Theatre to see the first part of the final film of The Hunger Games trilogy. With popcorn, Sour Patch Kids, and Icees in hand, we took our seats, mentally prepping ourselves for the film. MockingJay, Part 1 picks up where Catching Fire left off, with our heroes underground in District 13. The games are over, but the violence has just begun. This film is high-action as the rebellion catches fire across the districts with Katniss as the rebel leader, or the Mockingjay. Emotions are high throughout the film – especially for viewers who read the book in seventh grade and completely forgot the plot line (me). I cried seven times. The film was filled with stellar performances by Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, and fan-favorite, Woody Harrelson.

Out of the three Hungers Games films, this clearly took on a darker tone. “It was really moving,” said senior Anna Mayo. “It was interesting to see the film franchise move in the direction that wasn’t centered on The Hunger Games. It was easy to see parallels between modern day revolutions and the film.” Many Gatton students reported feelings of high emotion and increased heart rate. We all left the theatre recapping our favorite scenes and lines. The overall reaction from Gatton students was that the film was actually better than the first part of the book. It was a vivid and intense Hollywood rendition—much better than many of us imagined the rebellion scenes when we read it at a younger age. With the final scene, we were left with an emotional cliff hanger that had us all wondering what would happen next. Then the screen went black and we remembered that this was only Part 1. Sadly, we were left hanging—anxious and emotional, and counting down the days to Mockingjay, Part 2.

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By: Lydia Buzzard

Buzzard, Lydia 2On Friday, November 7th, alongside four other Gatton Academy students, I attended my first hackathon. Hackathons are programming competitions for software developers of all skill levels, and while my team was nowhere near skilled enough to be truly competitive, HackNashville opened its doors to us.

We set up “camp” at a choice location—close to power outlets and the incredible catered food—and for the majority of the next forty-eight hours, this was home. We hatched an idea to create a mobile app that would solve just one of our everyday issues: laundry. We didn’t want to change the world; we only sought knowledge and the unique air of an environment inhabited by some of the world’s under-appreciated engineers. I’m happy to say that we found those things.

Our mobile app, native to Android and iOS, allows Gatton Academy students to simplify their chores by viewing the status of the laundry room at any given time. It notifies the user when his/her laundry is complete, as well as when a “watched” machine becomes available. We all left on Sunday evening more knowledgeable than when we’d arrived. D.J. and I delved into the depths of Android development, Peter finally had a chance to learn how to code with Swift for iPhone, and Vir and Noah studied the structure of internet servers.

But these lessons were not the most important of the weekend. On Saturday night, a group of us talked over dinner about our respective relationships with Computer Science before we came to the Academy. It had been an almost entirely foreign concept to us all. The apparent, show-stopping truth was that without our acceptance to the Academy, we would know nothing about the field we had immersed ourselves in. The same could be said of the people in our group; the Academy had brought us together, the subject and the students, and that was not something to be taken for granted.

We did not win an award at HackNashville 6, but the skills we learned and the photographs we took will show that we were not disappointed. We drove away on Sunday night exhausted, grateful, and above all, ready for HackNashville 7.

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Bill Nye Visit

Michael EvansBill Nye with WKU and Gatton Academy representatives

“Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill!” The sold-out crowd in Diddle Arena chanted as the hero of their collective childhood strode onto stage in his signature suit and bow-tie. Bill Nye, host of popular television show “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” had finally come to give a presentation at WKU. Nye’s visit was part of the WKU Cultural Enhancement Series, and The Gatton Academy was one of the sponsors. Academy students had priority seating, but it was a greatly anticipated event for most of the students at WKU.

The opening of Nye’s presentation set a humorous tone for the entire event. He feigned great difficulty in opening his laptop, even replicating one of the various falls that he experienced on the show. Once he finally got it set up, the presentation began in earnest. He told us about how he was inspired by his father, a WWII veteran who, after being placed in aBill Nye and Gus Madsen Japanese POW camp with no electricity, became fascinated with sundials. Nye, although he poked fun at it for a solid 30 minutes, ended up being influenced by his father’s love of sundials to the extent that he helped design the MarsDial, a sundial used to calibrate the cameras on Mars Rovers.

The focus then shifted to the importance of science education for the young adults of today. Several nearly cataclysmic meteor events were shown to us, with the warning that, if a meteor ever hits the Earth, our civilization would grind to a halt. Nye charged us with a mission to, in his words, “SAVE THE WORLD!” (said at the volume that you would imagine). He described various methods to derail potential meteor collisions, and the ways that we could help move the technology forward.

After that segment, Nye answered selected questions tweeted to WKU. He told us about his 300 bow-ties, the ease of understanding Klingon over the arguments of Ken Ham, and two of his favorite science jokes, which, although they were hilarious, I’m afraid to print. I will say that they were perfect closers to a perfect event, one that will be remembered for years to come.


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5th Week Assessment

Jenna Willett

The Academy is in its fifth week of classes and that means fifth week assessment for the students. What exactly is the fifth week assessment? To answer this query, April Gaskey, Coordinator of Academic Services, says, “The fifth week assessment is used by WKU to assess and identify students in 100 level courses that may need improvement. The Academy uses this assessment time to acquire grade information for all students in all courses. It is really a great way for us to identify the handful of students who are struggling, some of whom would never admit it, and get them the help they need on the front end.”

The fifth week is also an opportune time for professors to give exams or quizzes, which means the first taste of exam stress for some Academy students. It may be a strenuous time, but it is far from being a “pass or fail” moment for the students. If a student is struggling during fifth week assessment, that does not mean they cannot make it at the Academy. What it really means is that they need a little help and, thankfully, the Academy is fit to do just that. Tutors, study hours, office hours with professors, study plans, and weekly meetings with April are available to keep students on track to success.

If you are a parent reading this and wondering how your son or daughter is faring during this time, know that there are people willing to lend them a helping hand. Students here are doing fine and adjusting well to the work load. Learning to ask for and accept help is part of learning to be successful. Fifth week is just another week here at the Academy.

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Class of 2016 Leadership Retreat

Julia Gensheimer

While the seniors went home, relaxed at the academy, or took the ACT this past weekend, the junior class spent Saturday and half of Sunday at Camp Loucon in Leitchfield, KY, for the annual leadership retreat. At the retreat, students participated in ice breakers, attended staff-led sessions on everything from relationships to self-discovery, and bonded with their classmates during campfires and starry night hikes. It was a great opportunity to get away from schoolwork and have fun.

The first activity involved writing personal qualities on a notecard and taping them up around the room. Juniors said that it was a good opportunity to make connections to others in a more comfortable atmosphere. Girl talks with Beth and April, and guy talks with Pokey made up the next session, all running over the allotted time. The third session introduced the Chair Theory, explaining that the legs of your chair are your core values and the pillows on your chair are your current interests. Students said that this helped them learn more about themselves. The retreat closed out with the famous Relationships 101 talk and a final message about creating a life mission and vision.

The junior class came back to the academy tired, but with plenty of inside jokes and stories to tell. Tidbits of conversations on Sunday night included stories of swimming across the lake, canoeing, pranks, and stargazing. Beth Hawke summarized the retreat well: “The junior leadership retreat accomplished two goals. Students were able to form stronger bonds with each other while also examining their visions, missions, and purposes for not only their Gatton careers but for their next five years.” An inspirational and fun trip made for a great weekend!

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Kelly McKenna

Now that we are in the fourth week of classes, students are busy balancing classes, clubs, homework, socializing, and in some cases, research. Gatton Academy students are encouraged to participate in undergraduate research with professors on campus. Research is a common aspect of Academy life and although 82 percent of the senior class participated in an independent research project last year, research is not mandatory. Some seniors, such as Paul Hudson and Tyler Meeks, decided not to participate in research their junior year. They are starting research this semester along with many juniors.

One way to get involved in research early at the Academy is through the Genome Discovery and Exploration Program. This allows students to jump into research through a guided program that doubles as a class, providing a hands-on biology research experience. Through the Genome Program, students isolate bacteriophages and look for possible uses of them in the medical field. Juniors not involved in the Genome Program have also found research opportunities around campus in a variety of fields, including chemistry, computer science, psychology, mathematics, physics, and biology.

This past summer, many seniors participated in The Gatton Academy Research Internship Grant which allowed them to work on a project with a research mentor. While some students stayed close to home for the summer, students like Andrew Brown and Leeza Khenner traveled quite a way to conduct their research. Brown worked in Los Alamos, New Mexico and Khenner studied in Perm, Russia. The Research Internship Grant prepares students to participate in the Siemens Competition, a prestigious math and science competition for high school students. Almost 20 seniors and one junior are putting the final touches on their reports as they prepare for the September 30th deadline.

Along with entering research into competitions, students may also present their research at regional, state, and national conferences. Dana Biechele-Speziale, Gus Madsen, and Whitney Heard presented their work recently at the 42nd Annual Conference of the North American Thermal Analysis Society in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Other students traveled to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Ashburn, Virginia to present their research this summer.

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What it Takes to Be the Best

Josh Stewart

Recently, the Gatton Academy was named America’s top high school by The Daily Beast for the third year in a row. This astounding accomplishment was made possible by the hard work and commitment of each and every Gatton Academy student and staff member. It is thrilling to receive such a high commendation yet again.

For the students of Gatton, though, national rankings aren’t necessarily our top priority. For us, rankings come less as a goal we set to achieve, but more as a result of each person’s hard work and diligence. Dr. Lynette Breedlove, the Director here at Gatton, says, “It’s a bonus.” For us, this is a reward for the countless hours of studying and research each student participates in. It is a reward for the work and dedication each staff member invests in every student. It is a validation of the excellence we strive for each and every day.

One of the major contributing factors to which we can attribute our success is the outstanding support system we have as students. “It’s important to be student-centered,” says Dr. Breedlove. “The focus is on providing opportunities and support for students. The environment and partnership we have with WKU provides an opportunity for students to thrive and reach their optimal level of challenge. For very talented kids, you need to provide a supportive structure. It is important to maintain a good balance of providing for emotional needs and academic challenge.” We are not only attending college two years early as juniors and seniors in high school, we are doing things such as undergraduate research and studying abroad. Out of the 66 students in the class of 2015, 85% have studied abroad. We have Siemens Competition semi-finalists; we have numerous Goldwater recipients; we have National Merit Scholars. The talent displayed throughout the student body is simply astounding.

And of course, this is also a very prestigious honor. Dr. Breedlove says, “It’s exciting and I’m thrilled for the staff and the students because I think it increases available opportunities.” This ranking helps students in their search for internships, competitive scholarships, and colleges. Our applications stand out because those reviewing the applications know what Gatton Academy students have achieved and are capable of accomplishing. They know that we have what it takes to make Gatton Academy the number one public high school in the United States. It gives us a competitive edge. It is an example of how we can do anything we set our minds to, because how many students can say that they go to the number one high school in America? The answer is 128 of Kentucky’s best and brightest.

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Back in the Saddle: The Classes Resume

Tyler Meeks

Although we had a two-week longer break than our friends and schoolmates back home, it is finally time for the students of the Gatton Academy to return to class. Adventure Week is over, and now everyone is unwrapping their textbooks, finding their classrooms, and printing out their syllabi, eager to both begin and continue their education.

In the beginning, classes seem to be just as easy as they were in high school. The first day consists of meeting the teacher, going over the syllabus, and perhaps covering some new material. But after day one, it’s apparent that classes will be much more challenging than anticipated. The Algebra I that was covered in the first day of Calculus will soon be replaced with learning derivatives, limits, integrals, etc. At times, it can feel overwhelming, and there have been students who were unable to handle the pressure. All it takes to overcome these mixed emotions is a little hard work, perseverance, and utilization of one’s available resources.

Take, for instance, Computer Science I: a required class for all incoming juniors. The first day of CS I is spent talking about what is expected from the students, academic honesty, and a ten-minute introduction to a program called Picobot. When the CS lab was introduced the next day, junior Joshua Ray realized how hard the course might actually be. “At first, it was difficult to understand the concept,” Josh stated. “But once I figured out the structure, everything started to come together. Picobot is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

This opinion was shared by many other juniors. “The Java syntax was really confusing,” said junior Luke Miles. “And Picobot was also kind of obscure, but a couple of my senior friends, Cam Hubbard and Brian Carlson, were able to help me figure out how to do everything.”

Academy students have a wealth of resources available to help them succeed. Professors have office hours where they are free to meet with students and answer questions. Mandatory study hours help foster good studying skills and allow students to meet with tutors for some outside help. Students can also rely on each other for assistance. So, as we all get back in the saddle again, remember that working hard from the very beginning, pushing through when it seems impossible, and taking advantage of the resources that are available are key to being a successful Gatton student.

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