The six seniors graduating from Newcomb Central School met guest speaker Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) before the commencement ceremony June 23. From left are Newcomb Central School Superintendent Skip Hults, Owens, Senior Class Advisor Martha Swan, Taylor Goodspeed, Morgan Winslow, valedictorian Marlena Peter, salutatorian Rebecca Bolan, Renna Yandon, Caelan Gould and School Board President Steve Frieman.
The Newcomb Central School District celebrated a big milestone this year, boosting its enrollment to 101 students.
That may not seem like a lot, but considering the school had only 55 students five years ago, topping 100 is a big deal.
The turnaround began after Superintendent Skip Hults began accepting foreign exchange students. They get a uniquely Adirondack education, the locals get more diversity, and Newcomb Central fills classrooms.
The program caught the attention of Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh), who was the guest speaker at Newcomb Central’s June 23 commencement ceremony honoring its six Class of 2012 graduates.
“This is a very practical solution, something I like to see, something I don’t often see in my new job,” Owens said. “It shows that there is a place for entrepreneurship and innovation in every aspect of our lives. Education should not be an exception but a model for such innovation. Newcomb has shown that it can be done, and I love to see that. Beyond the specifics of the educational program here in Newcomb is a larger life lesson of perseverance and rebuilding that you will take with you through all of your lives.”
Newcomb Central could have even more international students if the F1 Student Visa Law was amended, allowing kids in public secondary schools to stay in the U.S. more than one year. Owens is trying to get congressional support for the change.
“Tiny Newcomb Central School District found a way to thrive where frankly schools with more students and more resources are barely surviving,” Owens said. “Your school has found a way to innovate and provide a great education.”
Valedictorian Marlena Peter gave credit to the international program for teaching her about different cultures from around the world.
“It’s given me a new perspective on the diversity of our own country and has strengthened my social skills, because where else would I be making new friends from around the globe every single year?” Peter said. “And where else would I be able to take a senior trip to Costa Rica, a world experience all on its own? That’s right. There aren’t a lot of other schools that do that.”
Newcomb has hosted 43 students from 21 countries in the past five years. There were 13 students this past year, from places like Brazil, Spain and South Korea.
During his commencement speech, Owens called Newcomb a model for struggling school districts throughout the country. Newcomb is also offering distance learning with larger districts and the opportunity to earn credits at North Country Community College.
Owens seemed smitten with Newcomb during his speech, calling it “unique.”
“You can feel it when you are here,” he said.
Owens referred to the New York Times article that profiled Newcomb and its international program a year ago.
“This is a special place because at a time of economic hardship throughout the country, tiny Newcomb, as the New York Times dubbed it, embodies the qualities of perseverance and hard work that make this country great and make me proud to represent this area.”
Owens finished his speech with some personal advice for the graduates.
“Make sure every day you find time to laugh, you find time to love and you find time to listen to other people,” he said.
Valedictorian Marlena Peter had a special message for her five fellow graduates: Rebecca Bolan, Taylor Goodspeed, Caelan Gould, Morgan Winslow and Renna Yandon.
“This one of the most exciting and scariest times of our lives, but when I hear someone say ‘graduation isn’t an end but a new beginning,’ I have to disagree; I believe it’s both an end, and a beginning,” Peter said. “Most of us will be saying goodbye to hours of studying, piles of homework and tough exams, and saying hello to ... more hours of studying, piles of homework, and tough exams. Except for those of us joining the military, in which case we’ll be saying hello to drill sergeants.”
Peter then profiled all the seniors.
“•Renna Yandon is a natural leader and very sociable; always has been. She knows when to laugh, and when to get down to business. And basketball means business to Renna, let me tell you. The only thing that might be better than her wicked defense skills is her ability to make fast friends.
“•Caelan Gould is super caring and a huge role model. She lives life to the fullest with a no-nonsense approach. She’s not afraid to reach out to anyone in need of a friend, but also isn’t afraid to tell it how it is (which often comes out in a deep voice remarkably similar to her mother’s).
“•Morgan Winslow is a true athlete with a natural wit. He can pull one-liners from a huge list of mental references and seems to know just what to say and when to say it. When he isn’t making people laugh, he’s usually just being his big-bad-self.
“•Rebecca Bolan is very bright and equally well-rounded. She’s involved in absolutely everything and isn’t afraid to step up to the leader’s position. When she isn’t busy being president of Student Council or captain of GV Soccer… she’s probably out shopping.
“•Taylor Goodspeed is a natural born leader with a great sense of humor. People regularly look up to him and he knows how to rally others to motivation and participation (Roll Tide). When he isn’t sharing catchy mottos or political slogans, he’s probably doing his uncanny Bill Clinton impersonation.”
During her speech, salutatorian Rebecca Bolan thanked family, friends, teachers and the community for always been there to support the students.
“You are the people who have helped us on our journey,” Bolan said. “You have pointed us in the right direction when we have been confronted with a choice between right and wrong. You have taught us humility, perseverance and how to give back to our community. Now we all have to come together to celebrate this right of passage, a passage facilitated by your counsel.”
The graduation ceremony also included a welcome message from Superintendent Hults and musical performances by the Jazz Band and the Handbell Choir.