The Polar Express made its way into the Phoenix Central School District in the days before Christmas, leaving gifts and holiday cheer in its wake at Emerson J. Dillon Middle School.
For more than 15 years, teachers and community members have donated gifts ranging from jewelry to board games, and students then “shop” for their families. After perusing the hundreds of items, students bring the gifts to the library, where teachers and community volunteers help them wrap and label the presents.
According to EJD school psychologist Jill Lunn, who helps organize the event, Polar Express gets bigger every year. The far-reaching event impacts hundreds of students and families, with the givers often receiving the gift of giving and the holiday spirit.
Coming off a championship season in 2016, the Phoenix Central School District’s marching band had high expectations going into this year, and their final performance at the Carrier Dome did not disappoint.
The Firebird contingent, under the director of Nick Gerling and assistant director Michelle Rudy, cruised to a state title in the Small Schools 2 Class to cap off a stellar fall season. The winning show, “Life on the Inside,” was a transformative piece that combined props and music to propel the Firebirds to the top of their division with a score of 86.4.
“It means that all of the time and effort going into what they’re doing has paid off,” Gerling said. “It’s time well spent.”
While the Phoenix marching band enjoyed its late-season success, Gerling noted that the season had some challenges along the way.
“They started off slow and steady and we really picked up speed during our third competition at West Genesee,” he said. “After that, they were improving five to six points every week. The students stayed driven and confident, but knew never to get comfortable and always stayed humble. While the staff worked to inspire the students during practices, the students ended up inspiring us throughout the entire season too. Together we were a great team.”
Gerling said watching the students experience so much success is a testament to their commitment.
“They’re an asset to the music program. They’re dedicated, responsible, hardworking leaders of the district,” Gerling said.
Emerson J. Dillon Middle School classrooms transformed into a job fair during a career exploration event Nov. 16.
Phoenix students in fifth through eighth grades had the opportunity to attend three separate career day sessions where they met with employees and experts from a variety of fields. Representatives from healthcare, law enforcement, arts, business, architecture, technology, engineering, automotive and other job sectors were available to provide first-hand insight and advice to the students as they prepare for the future.
“We have more than 40 people representing as many career fields as we can,” said EJD counselor Andrew Quirk. “For our fifth- and sixth-graders, this serves as the foundation of their exploratory search, and our seventh and eighth-graders can build on their already established skills and interests.”
The event enabled students to ask questions about specific jobs and learn more about the education and skills required of certain positions. The format of the event also allowed students to gain a thorough understanding of their desired career paths, whether it be a blue-collar or white-collar position.
“We think outside of the box and really try to bring in as many CiTi BOCES programs and local connections as we can,” Quirk said. “It’s great having current and former students come in and talk about their own experiences.”
Six Phoenix Central School District student musicians recently demonstrated their talents during the annual Junior High Area All-State Music Festival.
Held in Cortland, students from 46 school districts statewide participated in either treble choir, mixed chorus, orchestra or concert band. The 93-member concert band was comprised, in part, of Emerson J. Dillon Middle School students Virginia Bednarski, Chloe Calkins, Lily Roberts, Alex Olschewski, Aidan Trumble and Sarah Andrews. They performed “Symphonic Overture” by Charles Carter; “Into The Raging River” by Steven Reineke; “Songs from the Heartland” by Russel Mikkelson, Lisa Galvin and Zachary Roberts; and “Musical Haiku #14 Never Forgotten” by Stephen Melillo.
“Phoenix is very proud to be the third largest district represented in this year’s band,” said EJD band teacher David Frateschi. “The Phoenix Central School Music Department is also very proud to be included in the National Association for Music Education’s top 100 schools in America for Music Education for the 2016-17 school year. Special thanks go out to the Phoenix administration team and the board of education for their continued support of our students here in Phoenix.”
The 2017 John C. Birdlebough High School commencement ceremony marked a milestone for all graduates and it served as an especially memorable experience for Ryan Luke and Breanna Backus.
Seated among their classmates during the ceremony, their names were announced as the recipients of the Robert & Roberta Hurd Scholarship. Luke received a $40,000 award, while Backus earned a $10,000 secondary scholarship.
The awards were part of a nearly $1 million bequest gift from the Hurds, alumni of Phoenix schools who wanted to give back to the community after they passed away.
“The Hurds were amazing people,” said Wyatt Parker, a JCB graduate who was the recipient of the inaugural scholarship in 2015. “They lived in a community that they loved, and that loved them back. (This scholarship) will hopefully inspire future recipients to reach for the dreams they may not have been able to grasp otherwise.”
Award recipients must fall within the top 15 percent scholastic rating of his or her class. The recipient should also demonstrate some level of financial need and show moral values reflected by personal action and respect for family members, fellow students, teachers and the community. Each scholarship will be paid in equal yearly installments over four years if the students remain enrolled in college and in good standing.
As John C. Birdlebough High School seniors prepare for the next chapter of their lives, many received a financial boost during the annual scholarship and awards night.
The Phoenix chapter of Dollars for Scholars presented more than $46,000 in scholarships to members of the graduating class. Additionally, several privately funded awards were given to graduates who met specific criteria, ranging from high academic achievement to strong leadership and citizenship.
“We would like to thank our volunteers for all their generous contributions,” said Dollars for Scholars President Wendy Dunnigan.
JCB guidance counselor Paul Hurlbutt, who served as emcee for the evening, echoed those sentiments and lauded the students for their achievements. He noted that the accomplishments were a reflection on the recipient, his or her family, the school district and the community.
“It’s a pleasure to work with these young men and women,” Hurlbutt said. “I applaud them and all of you who continually support them as they grow and leave a lasting impact on everyone they meet.”
The John C. Birdlebough track and field area was bustling with excitement May 11 as dozens of volunteers and hundreds of spectators cheered on athletes in the 2017 Oswego County Olympiad Invitational.
More than 450 student-athletes -- representing all nine component school districts in the county, as well as the Center for Instruction, Technology & Innovation -- participated in the third annual Olympiad. Participants wore school colors and displayed school spirit while parading around the track to begin the day.
“This is such an awesome day,” said Angie Neiss, a teacher at JCB who helps coordinate the Olympiad. “Everywhere you look, all you see is smiling faces. There’s nothing better than that!”
Fulton native Tim Conners, a cancer survivor who lost his sight while battling T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, served as emcee for the event. He encouraged participants to strive for the seemingly impossible and to overcome adversity one day at a time.
“It’s impossible until you do it,” Conners said as the Olympiad got underway.
Inspired by Conners’ words, student-athletes took to the track for their respective events. In addition to distance races, participants tried events such as shot put, softball throw, long jump and other activities.
“So many people helped make the Olympiad a success,” Neiss said. “Our student-athletes, volunteers, spectators and donors made this possible. What a great event!”
Juniors and seniors in the Phoenix Central School District received a sobering lesson during a recent mock DWI presentation.
Every-other year, in the weeks leading up to prom and before summer break, the district teams with the Oswego County STOP DWI program to teach high school students about the dangers of drunken and distracted driving. This year, students learned about the legal and personal ramifications of impaired driving.
“Twenty-eight people a day die from impaired drivers,” said Bob Lighthall, the Oswego County STOP DWI coordinator. “If you go out and decide to drink, make sure you have a plan. We don’t want to have any empty chairs on graduation day.”
In addition to staging a fatal DWI crash, local first-responders were on scene to provide a realistic portrayal of the death notification, the court process, and the lasting impact on all family members and friends.
“The decisions you make have lifelong consequences,” said Oswego County District Attorney and coroner Greg Oakes. “Impaired driving related deaths are foreseeable and avoidable. Have a plan to get home safely.”
Following the presentation, students had an opportunity to ask questions and were provided with additional resources related to impaired and distracted driving.
The Michael A. Maroun Elementary School gymnasium was abuzz with excitement as nearly 65 students showcased their experiments at the annual science fair.
Students from kindergarten through fourth grades created projects pertaining to chemistry, biology, earth science and physics. Tables lined the gym with volcano eruptions, solar systems and magnetism displays, with students explaining their findings to a panel of judges. Each participant received a certificate and a handful of students earned additional awards for overall presentation in their respective category.
The event was sponsored by the MAM Parent Faculty Organization, which lauded the students’ accomplishments and encouraged the students’ continued interest in scientific research.
“Completing a science project allows children an opportunity to use critical thinking and problem solving skills in identifying a scientific question, figuring out how to answer their question and answering it,” the PFO said.
The Phoenix high school auditorium was abuzz with laughter, talent and excitement recently as nine John C. Birdlebough students vied for the title of “Mr. Phoenix.”
The sixth annual pageant featured contestants in ninth through 12th grades who competed in different activities. Participants demonstrated their talents, ranging from music to artistic expression and even culinary creations, as they attempted to win the judges’ votes. An evening wear segment and question-and-answer session gave the contestants another chance to impress the panel of judges before tallying the scores.
For senior Noah Neverette, his creative song, eloquent public speaking abilities and his superhero-inspired evening wear propelled him to the top, and he was crowned “Mr. Phoenix.” Neverette edged out his classmates Michael Faber, Matt Vestigo, Cade Reed, Johnathan Garofalo, Ethan Remington, Zach Neupert, Garrett Frink and Dixon Ameele for the title.
According to JCB English teacher and senior class adviser Lisa Spereno, the event was a tremendous success and raised more than $400 for the junior class.