Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Gaston Day fifth- and sixth-graders explore marine life

Fifth and sixth grade Gaston Day students traveled to the Barrier Island Environmental Education Center for three days last week to learn about local barrier island ecology, marine life and the joys of a mud pit.

The education center is on Seabrook Island in South Carolina.

Photos courtesy Holt Harris.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A look at Akhil Singh's summer India trip

Here are some photos from Country Day senior Akhil Singh's most recent India trip. Read the previous post to learn about Akhil's involvement in bringing light to Indian villages. (Click on the photos to enlarge.)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Akhil Singh brings light to more Indian villages

Akhil Singh, a Country Day senior, returned to India this summer and helped install solar-powered lights in three villages.

By Jeff Siner/

(I wrote about Akhil and his quest to bring villages light in an April story.)

He raised the money for an organization that installs the lights, called Light a Billion Lives, headquartered in New Delhi.

But instead of visiting villages as he has in the past, Akhil lived in them for two weeks.

"It was really humbling, but at the same time it's a whole different part of the world," he said.

He had to endure living with an old man who was convinced Akhil was trying to rob his village, getting sick once and quickly learning the colloquialisms of the Hindi dialect the villagers spoke.

"It was good material for my college essay," he joked.

But his trip was also enjoyable. Akhil said he liked the communal aspect of the village and how important family and community were to the people.

"You get the whole village together in the evening time, and you eat dinner together and sit at the marketplace together," he said.

Akhil has now lit five villages -- at a cost of about $3,500 each -- and is in the process of funding a sixth. He tackled learning how to fundraise and ask corporations for donations with no experience, but he's been successful: Since 2010, he's raised more than $18,000.

"The corporate fundraising turned around really well, and I may be lucky enough to get an additional three villages," Akhil said.

He'll continue his fundraising efforts this year and go to India again next summer to install more lighting.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sixth-grader's startup idea accepted by QC Forward's Social Innovation Accelerator

Rishi Kulkarni's business idea won second place earlier this year at Charlotte Startup Weekend's competition, and now his idea has been accepted by the Queen City Forward's Social Innovation Accelerator.

Photo by John Simmons/
That program will provide 10 weeks of coaching and mentoring to refine the business plan, said his mom, Kavita Gupta.

Rishi, now a sixth-grader at Providence day, has the idea to create a social network called Wiz Kids Draft for middle and high school students. On the website, students would create an academic profile, follow universities and track their progress. The site would also encourage students to explore science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); motivate students to attend college and provide a career path by connecting them with college guidance counselors.

Gupta said because Rishi has school obligations, she'll attend the training in his stead, but that he will still be involved in the process.

"The Accelerator is a great development, and it will provide valuable learning experience for Rishi," Gupta said in an email. "I hope this will inspire and excite other students to explore entrepreneurship and business."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Olympic senior learns valuable lessons at Livingston & Haven

Between a full-time job life-guarding, interning for the industrial technology company Livingston & Haven and embarking on a mission trip, Jenni Kesel, 17, had an action-packed summer and said she learned a lot along the way.

At Livingston & Haven, Jenni worked at the department in charge of making prototypes involving solar power. She helped create the new solar-powered cell phone chargers now at Carowinds.

In addition to doing a lot of hands-on engineering, Jenni said she learned a couple of important lessons from the internship.

"First thing, never be afraid to ask a question," she said. "At first, I was really afraid to because I felt like the underdog coming in, especially because I was the only girl intern."

Jenni said she initially felt insecurities about having to prove herself among the men. "I felt like I had a reputation to build, but I learned not to worry about it. The point of me being there was to learn."

Another lesson Jenni learned was to accept times when she failed and to learn from them.

She said she used to get frustrated when she was building something that would break or wouldn't work because she felt like she was creating more problems instead of helping.

"I had to take time to humble myself and say, this is why I'm here, to learn."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Color Purple" lead Keston Steele makes magazine cover

Keston Steele, now a senior at Northwest School of the Arts, is on the cover of "Dramatics," the Educational Theatre Association's monthly national magazine that covers high school theater.

Keston played the lead role of Celie in the production.

The picture was taken during a performance of "The Color Purple" at the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Neb., this summer.

About 75 students from Northwest School of the Arts went to Nebraska for the festival after struggling to raise about $130,000 to get there. The festival is considered the World Series of high school theater, and Northwest was the first North Carolina school to get an invitation in 33 years. Students involved said both the musical and the festival were opportunities of a lifetime.

Northwest was also the second high school in the country to get permission to perform "Purple." The musical was chosen to be the festival's featured performance.

At the festival, Ariel Blake, who played Squeak in the musical, was scouted and received a scholarship, said Andy Lawler, a Northwest teacher. Ariel is now attending the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

CMS kids can now compete for "Rocking the Belk Bowl Contest"

Belk's "Rocking the Belk Bowl Contest" is returning for a second year to award Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools a total of $150,000 in technology grants.

The contest is open to all CMS elementary, middle and high schools.

Participating schools have the chance to win one of three $25,000 grants plus $75,000 in cash awards from Belk for improving schools' technology and learning. Some tickets to the Belk Bowl,  a college football game played each year at Panthers Stadium, will also be awarded to some students and staff.

To enter, students must create designs incorporating educational and Belk Bowl themes and display them on school rocks or bulletin boards.

Schools can submit photos of students working on their designs as well as a 30- to 60-second video explaining their school's need for a grant.

Submissions are due by Nov. 16. For more information, email April Smith at

Saturday, September 7, 2013

East Gaston grad perseveres to become Navy pilot

Courtland Savage used to be afraid of flying.

He'd never had his first flight until 2008, when he was starting his senior year of high school at East Gaston High.

Today, at 22, he's an officer in the Navy and in pilot training.

Courtland, from Mount Holly, said he never would've stepped foot in a plane if it hadn't been for a teacher who said he and his classmates needed to seriously consider their futures.

He said he always wanted to be a train conductor, but discovered that wouldn't be a sustainable living. That's when he considered the military, and his love for planes from afar. He recalled enjoying trips from Mount Holly to Charlotte with his dad and watching airplanes from Charlotte-Douglas International.

"I'd sit in the car and watch planes go off," he said. "I always thought they were cool."

So Courtland went to a flight school in Lincolnton to face his fear. "I realized that's what I wanted to do. I fell in love with it."

Courtland took out a loan to pay for flight school (that he's since paid back) and earned his private pilot's license in December 2008. A couple of months later, he finished high school early and joined the Air Force.

He trained in San Antonio ("The first day or so was just terrible, I didn't see myself making  it all the way"), and then technical school, and then he worked in C-17 maintenance in Charleston.

In Charleston, Courtland began earning his bachelor's degree in aeronautics, and graduated in July 2012.

Then came the time to take aptitude tests to qualify for air training in the Air Force. Courtland didn't pass the first test, and he took it a second time without passing again.

But he wasn't deterred. After looking into the Air National Guard, a recruiter told him the Navy was looking for pilots. He'd just have to pass the test, which includes math, reading comprehension and aviation questions.

Courtland tried the Navy's test twice and didn't pass. But he still didn't give up.

After three weeks of non-stop studying, Courtland took the Navy's test a third time (the maximum number of times the test can be taken). And he passed. "I knew it was my last chance," he said.

Photos courtesy Angela Savage
Courtland was honorably discharged from the Air Force and enlisted in the Navy. After officer training in Rhode Island, he is now in flight training in Pensacola, Fla. Courtland said he's loving learning to fly, and is excited for the next adventure. He's also glad he persevered.

"I knew it's what I wanted to do, and I didn't want to do anything else, so I knew I had to try my hardest and keep going at it and keep studying."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Gaston Day grad's art chosen for D.C. exhibit

Holland Haag, who graduated from Gaston Day School this spring, won a National Gold Key in the Scholastic competition for her ink drawing, "Drenched," and the art has been chosen for display in Washington, D.C.

This summer, Holland's drawing has been on display at Parson School of Design in New York.

The President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities chose her drawing, along with the work of 43 other students from across the country, to be a part of the Art.Write.Now D.C. exhibit. The drawing will be shown at the U.S. Department of Education this month.

Holland now attends Clemson University.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A quick word on rolling admissions

Be aware of rolling
admissions, too.

(Photo courtesy
In today's Young Achiever page, I wrote a guide on the three most common ways to apply to college: early decision, early action and regular decision.

There is another option, called rolling admission, which means your chance at admission is greatest the earlier you submit an application. The school fills enrollment spots as they receive applications, and don't necessarily save a certain number of slots for different deadlines.

For rolling admissions, applying as early as possible is the best policy.

A few schools in North Carolina do rolling admissions, including UNC Pembroke and North Carolina A&T State University. After its first two early action deadlines, Guilford College switches to a rolling admission policy.

As always, it's wisest for students to research each school's policies on admissions.