Faculty Spotlight: Audrey West

By Kate Krauser

Audrey West is one of the newest faces at Oak Hall’s Lower School. She is a Gainesville native, and attended Gainesville High School. “I have thought about living elsewhere, but Gainesville is home for me, and I believe it always will be,” she said. “Growing up in Gainesville is unique since it is home to the University of Florida, Tom Petty, and Bo Diddley,” she continued. The literary-focused third grade teacher enjoys teaching reading the most. “I feel like literacy is very important and I enjoy watching students relate to different texts,” explained West. 

West decided to pursue teaching when she began working at her daughter’s preschool. From there, her love of teaching flourished. West attended Santa Fe College, where she majored in organizational management. “I never intended on being a teacher,” West said. When she decided to become a teacher, West utilized the Department of Education to earn her teaching qualifications. 

Before Oak Hall, she worked at Metcalfe Elementary in Gainesville. During her first year of teaching, she met Mandy Ferwerda, one of the two current Lower School music teachers. After West’s first year at Metcalfe, Ferwerda left Metcalfe and joined the Oak Hall family. After the 2018-19 school year ended, a spot became available to become part of the third grade team. Michelle Mills, Lower School Division Head, reached out to Oak Hall teachers and asked if they knew anyone who would be a good fit for the job. Ferwerda told Mills about West, and emphasized how West was an excellent teacher. After the application and interview process was complete, it was determined that West was the best fit for the job. 

When West isn’t teaching, she enjoys weather forecasting, which always been an interesting topic to her. “I have always loved weather and taking pictures of weather,” she said. West took an online class for backyard weather forecasting and uses local online data to make her own weather predictions. “I like to look at long-range models and try to make my own weather predictions,” West explained. 

As for this school year, she is excited for the Lower School’s new reading curriculum, “Fountas & Pinnel”, which the faculty worked hard to accomplish. “I am super happy to be at Oak Hall and I love being an Oak Hall Eagle,” she proudly exclaimed.

LS Chess Team Aims for Victory

By Josh Fernandes

The Oak Hall Lower School Chess Team is one of the more successful teams at Oak Hall, having won multiple chess championships. One of the reasons for the success is because of Coach Tim Tusing and his years of experience. Tusing works with all of the students and helps them become better chess players. Part of the success comes from how hard the students work. Tusing said that other chess teams practice one day a week for one hour, but his chess team practices Monday through Friday for two and a half hours each day.

Tusing used to play chess when he was little and would like to pass on his skills and love of the game to the next generation. He started to teach chess when his son came home from school one day and told his mom there was a chess team at his school. Tusing’s wife told him that he should go and help the chess team because he knew how to play chess. When he got there, the teacher that taught chess at the time told him, “You know how to play, you can do this,” Tusing said. 

As time passed, Tusing’s program became more competitive. Tusing asserted, “Chess is a battle to the death in the mind…There is nothing more satisfying than winning a chess game, and there is nothing more devastating than losing it.” Tusing loves not only the game of chess, but the competition it brings. So much so, that he has gone to 12 chess competitions every year since 1997, and has been to roughly 276 chess competitions overall, bringing home 18 national titles. 

Students from junior kindergarten to 5th grade can join the team. Tusing encourages others to join the chess team if they want to “expand their ability to think”. Chess helps cognitive processes and strategic thinking. Chess also gives the added benefit of planning ahead, not just in chess, but in life. Members of Tusing’s team are taught to plan up to 10 moves ahead. He helps his team not merely to plan for the next move of the game, but to go for the win. Because of the hours of dedication, hard work, and the ability to constantly learn the game, Tusing’s chess team is incredibly successful, and one of Oak Hall’s most decorated programs. 

Photos provided by Corinna French

Varsity Football Team Beating the Odds

By Aiden Wacksman

On Friday, Sept. 13, the Oak Hall Eagles’ varsity football team handed the 9th-ranked St. Joseph’s Academy Flashes its first loss in 697 days with an exhilarating 28-14 win. This victory proved to be especially important, as the Gainesville Sun had the Eagles losing to the 2A powerhouse by nearly four touchdowns. Even when trailing 0-7 in the first quarter, the team remained strong and rallied back to beat the Flashes. Two crucial third quarter touchdowns and an interception late in the fourth secured the victory for Oak Hall.

“I could tell from watching the film that the Flashes were very athletic and well-coached,” said RJ Fuhr, Oak Hall’s varsity head football coach. He believed the Eagles would have to play a “near-perfect game” in order to win. 

It wasn’t until right before halftime that the Eagles knew the victory was within reach. “The touchdown we got before the half really shifted the momentum,” Fuhr noted. He added that the opposing players at halftime were “absolutely exhausted.” Seeing the tired Flashes provided a confidence boost for the entire Oak Hall team.

The Eagles received the ball to begin the third quarter, and drove down the field to score a touchdown. This was the first time Oak Hall had the lead, and the pressure was beginning to build on the Flashes. On the next possession, the Eagle defense stood strong against St. Joseph’s, forcing a punt. When Oak Hall got the ball back, Eagles running back Ryan Nolan made an impressive 24- yard run into the endzone, making the score 14-7. The momentum began to favor the Eagles, and Oak Hall made yet another big stop on defense. On the ensuing drive, the Eagles extended the lead to 21-7. “At this point in the game, the [Flashes] knew that they were in for a fight,” Fuhr said. After getting the ball back, St. Joseph’s scored its first touchdown since the first quarter. At the end of the third quarter, the score was 21-14, in favor of the Eagles.

At the start of the fourth quarter, Oak Hall scored its fourth touchdown of the game, giving the Eagles a 14-point lead. This lead, however, was put in jeopardy when the Flashes moved the ball to the Eagles’ 30 yard-line with two minutes left. Just when the game appeared to be getting much closer, cornerback Jacarree Kelly came in clutch with an outstanding interception. “Right before the snap, I saw the quarterback look at my receiver, so I stepped away to fake him out because I knew he was throwing the ball to him,” he said enthusiastically. The quarterback threw an inaccurate pass, and Kelly came up with a game-clinching play. Fuhr noted that “when [Kelly] made the interception, it allowed me to breathe a little easier.” Oak Hall left St. Augustine with an important and exciting 28-14 win that Friday night. “For a young team like ours to go on the road and beat a team like St. Joseph’s, it’s awesome,” Fuhr said happily. 

On Friday Sept. 20, Oak Hall played the Evangelical Christian Sentinels at home. Even with an excellent comeback late in the first half, the Eagles lost a very close game. The final score was 29-36.

“We made a couple of mistakes, but in the end, I’m proud of our team for hanging in there,” Fuhr stated.

Homecoming Week Preview: Activities for All Divisions

By Shailey Klein

Oak Hall School’s Student Government Association (SGA) is looking forward to putting on a spectacular homecoming week this year, while working alongside administration, faculty, and students. This year’s homecoming week is Oct. 13 through Oct. 19, and includes students from the Lower School all the way to the Upper School. Senior Emma Anderson, SGA President, is looking forward to fantastic week. “All of the officers and I have been working hard to increase school spirit and make this the best homecoming week possible,” she said enthusiastically.

This year, many new activities have been implemented in hopes of increasing school spirit across all divisions. Despite Homecoming Week mainly being targeted for the Upper School, there are modified dress-up days for the Lower and Middle School listed below. A new addition to Homecoming Week is the student vs. faculty dodgeball game featuring Upper School students facing off against the faculty from all divisions. Buffy McTureous, Athletics Administrative Assistant and Upper School Spirit Club Faculty Sponsor, is spearheading the push to make school spirit better than ever before. “The goal for Spirit Club is to get the faculty and students involved in school spirit,” she said. “We hope to get everyone involved with the dodgeball game during homecoming week,” McTureous continued.

Another highlight to Homecoming Week is an all-school parade which runs through the Lower School Circle the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 18. Ultimately, the goal is to unite students, faculty, and staff across all divisions and celebrate Oak Hall leading up to the football game Friday night, and the Homecoming dance for the Upper School students Saturday night. 

Homecoming Week officially begins Sunday, Oct. 13, from 1-4 p.m. with the now-annual “Deck the Halls” in the Upper School. “Deck the Halls” is a competition where each grade decorates its hallway a different theme, while each grade is aiming to make its hallway the most spirited. Last year, the Class of 2021 and Class of 2022 tied for first place with the themes being Hawaii and Alaska, respectively. This year’s theme for the week is “Color Wars,” and each grade is assigned a specific color to deck its hall.

Freshmen, Class of 2023: Neon Green

Sophomores, Class of 2022: Neon Orange

Juniors, Class of 2021: Neon Pink

Seniors, Class of 2020: Neon Blue

Monday, Oct. 14, the theme for the Upper School and Middle School is “Merica Monday,” which requests students to dress in their most patriotic attire, while the Lower School is participating in pajama day. The Upper School activity during lunch is Powderpuff Football, where the girls from each grade take the field in a competitive flag football game coached by the football players. 

The Upper School and Middle School theme for Tuesday, Oct. 15, is “Tropical Tuesday,” which equates to dressing up in beachy attire, while “Tie Dye Tuesday” is the theme for the Lower School. The Upper School activity is the “Newleyweds Game” during lunch. In this activity, the Homecoming Court is participating in “Minute-to-Win It” games, as the students from each class cheer on their Homecoming Court representatives in the gym. 

Wednesday, Oct. 16, the Upper School’s dress up day is VSCO girls vs. E-boys, as the boys dress up as trendy teenage girls flaunting scrunchies, oversized t-shirts, and Hydroflask water bottles; while the girls dress up as guys who don all black clothes, hair, nails, etc. as well as skateboards (although skateboarding in the halls is not allowed!). The Middle School is participating “Wacky Tacky Day,” while the Lower School has “Wacky Hat Wednesday”. During lunch on Wednesday, the Upper School is participating in, and watching, an intense game of “Powderbuff Volleyball” where each grade in the the Upper School fields a boys volleyball team, coached by the members of the girls varsity volleyball team.

Thursday, Oct. 17 is the BIG color war day. Students in the Upper School will sport their grade’s color in their outfits and accessories in hopes of being crowned the most spirited grade. The Middle School dress up theme is “Blast from the Past”, where students can dress up from the time period of their choice. The Lower School is participating in “Silly Sock” day. Many Upper School students are able to wear their Homecoming t-shirt which is their grade color that day. SGA partnered with McTureous to give students the opportunity to sign up to order a t-shirt by Sept. 24. In addition, one of the most highly anticipated activities during Homecoming week occurs during FLEX period. From 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the gym, the kindergarten through 12th grade faculty is challenging the Upper School students in a game of high-stakes dodgeball. First, the Upper School classes compete against one another to be crowned as the Upper School Champion. Then, the Upper School Champion compete against the entire faculty to be named the All-School Champion. Students in the Middle School will watch the dodgeball games, along with the Upper School students, cheering on their peers.

Finally, Friday, Oct. 18 is the busiest day of Homecoming Week. The all-school theme for the day is “Burgundy & Gold Spirit Day,” so be prepared to sport your best Oak Hall gear, face-paint, etc. The entire school is going to be on a half-day schedule with classes ending at 12:30 p.m. From 12:30 – 1:30 p.m., students have the opportunity to eat lunch, and then Upper School students can finish up their floats for the Homecoming Parade. At 1:30 p.m., the first ever Homecoming Parade will feature a float from each grade in the Upper School, clubs, sports teams, and the Homecoming Court. The parade will run through the Lower/Middle School Circle, as students line the sidewalks to watch.

Immediately following the parade, a pep rally is scheduled in the gym at 3 p.m. for Upper and Middle School students, to get everyone excited for the football game at 7 p.m. that evening. Before the football game, one big tailgating party is occurring in the Upper School circle, known as “Fall for the Arts”. This event has food, bounce houses, music, and lots of fun for the whole family! More information for this event can be found here!

To conclude a fantastic Homecoming week, the Homecoming Dance for Upper School students is from 8-11 p.m. at the Gainesville Woman’s Club Saturday, Oct. 19.