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South Rowan High School kicks off school year with pep rally, service learning

CHINA GROVE — Sparkling hats. Sequin-covered suspenders. Capes, tutus and leg warmers. Air horns, silly string, confetti cannons and glitter bombs.

Senior Tae Balbuena takes part in the dance off during the pep rally. Jon C. Lakey/Salisbury Post

The red, black, white and gray items represented but a fraction of the school spirit displayed at South Rowan High School on Monday as the 950-member student body gathered en masse in the gymnasium for the school’s first pep rally of the year.

Monday’s body paint-speckled, deafening endeavor was the apex of a week of activities that Principal Kelly Withers called “the Raider experience”: a four-day endeavor of team-building, self-exploration and service.

The process is part of the school’s recently approved renewal plan, offering charter-like flexibility in terms of scheduling, curriculum, personnel and budgeting. At South Rowan, the plan focused on a personalized education experience that taps into students’ unique passions and life goals.

A large facet of this included increased course offerings and college-style scheduling.

Peyton Rohletter, a senior, praised the new, more personalized method of course selection.

“It really gave me more freedom to pick out exactly what I wanted,” Rohletter said, pointing out the benefit of being a senior: getting to register first.

But as seniors moved on from scheduling, their focus shifted to another Raider-centered priority for the 2019-20 school year: service. During the first three days of school, seniors volunteered at 10 community sites, logging a total of 500 hours of community service.

“That was a really eye-opening experience for me,” said Rohletter of his time volunteering at Main Street Mission. “You hear about these struggles people have all the time, but to see it in person was different. I was taken aback by how many people depend on Rowan County for so much.”

Senior Harlee Honeycutt dressed in a fleece blanket cape and carried a doll on the end of a fishing pole that was named Jerry Garcia. Jon C. Lakey/Salisbury Post

Freshmen through juniors worked in classroom-size teams to assemble bicycles, constructing a total of 42 to be distributed to area elementary schools and students in need.

The collective effort, Withers said, is meant to further communicate the definition of leadership among the Raider community: being a leader means having to give back, said Withers.

“We really wanted to take these first few days to instill a sense of pride in our school and what it means to be a Raider,” Withers said, adding that the school had preluded its Monday pep rally with visits from 40 alumni who shared their paths to success with students.

Withers said the focus on each of these visits had not just been jobs or education but the obstacles these professionals experienced and overcame along the way and South Rowan’s pivotal point in the path toward success.

And the students’ position along that path brought them back toward the organized chaos of a celebration Monday, as students inch closer toward graduating and enrolling in a four-year degree program, enlisting in the armed services, or joining the workforce, said teacher Ashley Lanning.

“It’s been an awesome four days delving into the future goals of our learners, helping them navigate the struggles of scheduling all while giving back,” Lanning said.

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