Faculty Spotlight: Gianna Hooper

By Ava West

Oak Hall’s new Upper School biology and bio med teacher, Gianna Hooper, has gone from playing volleyball in high school and college to coaching the OHS junior varsity team. Hooper grew up in Chipley, Fla. which is very close to the Alabama state border. During high school, she played volleyball and graduated in 2017 among just 136 people. After graduating, she moved to Bay Minette, Ala. to attend school at Coastal Alabama Community College where she received her AA degree and continued playing volleyball. To further her knowledge of science, she went to Chipola College in Marianna, Fla. where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in secondary science education with a specification in biology.

When Hooper’s husband, Parker, got accepted recently into the University of Florida’s Dentistry School, she decided to apply to teach locally. Oak Hall happened to be trying to expand its integrated sciences program. When she applied, she included her coaching resume for volleyball. The first-year teacher decided working at Oak Hall was a great fit, especially given its historically successful volleyball programs. “I got to start coaching volleyball before I started teaching [this school year], so I got introduced to the culture of Oak Hall a lot sooner,” she said. “I wasn’t shocked by the level of intelligence and hard work that Oak Hall students have to offer,” she continued. Since Hooper loved her high school experience, she is thrilled to be able to teach science and coach volleyball, two of her passions in life.

OHS’s newest biology teacher, Ms. Gianna Hooper

The junior varsity volleyball team knows Coach Hooper as the “competitive, knows how to get things done [type of coach],” said freshman volleyballer Elise Burris. While some Oak Hall students only see the rigorous science teacher side, what most students don’t know is that she is a huge Marvel and Harry Potter fan and jams out to country music. “I love Brooks and Dunn… [I’m the] biggest Brooks and Dunn fan,” she said excitedly. So next time you see her, maybe bring up some country music or questions about music as Hooper is a self-acclaimed expert at musical trivia.

Hooper loves teaching at Oak Hall so far. “It has been a challenge to make class more interesting for upper class students,” admitted Hooper. She likes to make classes more intriguing by making it very hands-on with plenty of labs. Hooper’s classes consist of reading through the biology textbook and having projects that show the creative side of her students. She tries to veer away from basic note taking in class and instead uses lesson outlines and the textbooks vocabulary words.

Oak Hall is very lucky to have such an innovative new teacher! Good luck to Ms. Hooper on her first year!

One School Musical Presents: The Battle of Boat

By Kyleigh Lewis

One of the best traditions at Oak Hall School hails from the theater department. The One School Musical allows students from third grade until senior year to participate, and they always deliver an outstanding production.

This year’s musical The Battle of Boat is set in the midst of World War I. “[The musical] follows the adventures of a group of children trying to do their best to help the war effort,” said musical director and Upper School music teacher Erin Cushing.

“We think an interesting fact is that there are no adult characters in the show, all the characters are aged from eight to 18 – just like [the kids in] our One School Musical,” she continued.

This specific musical was chosen for the importance of connecting families and performers, and to accommodate the size of the cast. In fact, more than 100 students are participating in this year’s musical. In addition, The Battle of Boat was chosen to bring the performers out of their comfort zone and get them into their characters that hold a significance for the theme of the musical. In addition, Cushing and US theater and One School Musical director Brooke Molitor wanted to try something new and less out of popular demand. “Unlike last year’s funny and very popular show [Seussical: The Musical], this year’s drama is new and has only been performed a few dozen times internationally,” said Cushing.

Seventh grader Caitlin Broska has participated in the One School Musical since she was in third grade. While Matilda is her favorite musical she has acted in, she feels The Battle of Boat is deeper than other musicals. “While there are funny parts, overall, the plot just hits different,” she said.

The actors have been on an emotional rollercoaster throughout each scene they uncover; these feeling have made the actors and directors appreciate this musical even more. “We didn’t realize how impactful this story would be on us,” noted Cushing. “The material is thoughtful and beautifully written, and we are so excited to share the story of these characters!”

Some challenges the actors have faced, is getting into the mindset of what it was like for children in 1916, trying to survive and help the war effort during World War I.  As they go through the process of separating the character from themselves, they have learned the motives and life circumstances of these young characters who are the same age as they are.

Overall, the thing that The Battle of Boat cast want their audience and supporters to take away from this show is that the story touches on numerous feelings; yearning, lost, forgiveness and redemption. They want their audience to feel the emotions and energy of the characters they play. “We want our audience to leave having laughed and cried with our characters on stage,” Cushing expressed.

The Battle of Boat will be performed Oct. 19-21 at the Cofrin Theater. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by clicking here!

Faculty Spotlight: Audrey Jones

Jones lets us in to her family’s world of fostering

By Elizabeth Birkner

Audrey Jones is not only the interim director of the Middle School, but she is also a foster mom. Her family fosters children locally, but also fostered children from the Texas/Mexican border. Jones began fostering in 2020, after she heard about the crisis happening in the south. From here, her family’s fostering experience flourished.

By reaching out to the Office Refugio Resettlement, a governmental organization that has a program for fostering unaccompanied minors, their fostering journey began. “As a kid I imagined having a family blended of biological and adoptive children. The adoption process is so costly, it wasn’t really an option for us,” Jones said. “Foster-to-adopt is a potential through local fostering but that goal faded as our three children got older,” she continued.

Ms. Audrey Jones

They started fostering for different lengths of time and explained that the children she would take in were 10-years-old and younger, as that was what was best for her own family. Though she took three years of Spanish in high school, there was still a language barrier and she needed to learn a few more terms, especially those words that are important to young children. Her family chose to foster younger children because older fostered kids have different needs and have conversations that she could not quite manage. While the family of five went to work and school during the day, the foster children would attend a place that provided educational and medical help, which worked well considering Jones works school hours.

She enjoys welcoming people from other cultures, which then helps expand her and her family’s culture. She also noted the differences between the parental angle of fostering children from the border versus fostering children from Florida. “Parents on the other side of the border would do anything to get their kids to a place for a brighter future… so they end up needing care to fill the gap. Some parents on this side of the border aren’t doing the things to give their kids a brighter future so [the child is] removed from the home,” she explained. “The main difference as I see it is irrelevant since either way kids need help.”

Whenever a call was made, asking the Jones family to take in an unaccompanied minor from another country, the only information they received was the age and gender of the child. “It wasn’t until they were brought to our home that we learned their home country and their name,” Jones stated. “After we helped them settle and got them to sleep, I’d lay in my bed baffled. Sometimes for hours. Each time, I’d find their home country on the map, read current events happening there and learn about their food and culture. The responsibility and weight of having someone else’s beloved child in my home was never light,” she said empathetically.

A day in the life of the Jones Family

While the situation at the Mexican border has been politicized, the Joneses story is not political; it’s about helping people who need help. “My mom’s maternal grandparents were Lebanese refugees. My mom’s father was orphaned. With those stories in my blood, I viewed this situation less as a political issue and just as a people issue. If someone is in front of me with a need, I need to just do the next right thing,” Jones mentioned. Because of politics, however, the program that allowed Floridians to foster unaccompanied minors was shut down. Thus, fostering local children became the only option.

Within her own family dynamic, her biological children play well with the fostered children, and like to push them on swings and engage in other fun activities together. “Please don’t let me paint the picture that it was always rainbows and butterflies. Some days were annoying for our own children. There were crying toddlers, messes everywhere and a very distracted mama in the house. My children were predominately amazing though. They’d play chase, silly games and help with mealtime,” she said.

The Jones family is currently fostering a little girl named M.G. M.G. loves to attend Oak Hall sports games and cheer on the school. The young girl has an Oak Hall shirt that she loves to wear to OHS sporting events, and she especially loves the student section!

Jones is very grateful for how supportive the community has been on her journey. She feels it is amazing to see the students showing compassion, concern, and interest in what she does. She explained that she really appreciates it when people drop off outfits and show other acts of care. Jones explained that the goal is never adoption; it is to reunite the child with their parents.

Some of the children the Jones Family fostered