Category Archives: Middle School

Faculty Spotlight: David Pickens

By Amanda Malnik

Even though Oak Hall Middle School teacher David Pickens has worked at Oak Hall for 31 years, his history with the Oak Hall community began in kindergarten. 

Pickens was born in Chicago, Ill., and moved to Gainesville, Fla. when he was a young child. Except for the two years of elementary school Pickens spent in Georgia while his father served in the Army, he attended the Lower School (formerly known as Martha Manson Academy) and Oak Hall until graduation. 

After graduating from Oak Hall, Pickens went to Furman University in Greenville, S.C. For many generations, his relatives attended either Furman University or Clemson University because both are in close distance to Pickens County, Ga., the place where his father’s side of the family lived since the 1700s. Pickens ultimately chose to attend Furman University as it shared many of the same qualities as Oak Hall. 

Pickens initially majored in biology but soon gained a passion for history and politics, thus graduating with a degree in political science. Following college, he returned home to Gainesville, unsure of his next step in life. The summer after graduating, however, he received a call from Mac Hall, the Athletic Director and Head Football Coach of Oak Hall at the time, asking if he was interested in a position as an assistant football coach. He took the job and had much more involvement in the sports program that year as he was then given the opportunity to coach the junior varsity boys basketball team in the winter. In the spring, Pickens continued his involvement with Oak Hall sports and was the pitching coach for the baseball team. Alongside coaching, Pickens was also a substitute teacher at Oak Hall throughout the year as well as doing maintenance work around the school. The following school year, he was asked to teach an algebra and pre-algebra class. The prior year reminded Pickens of his love for Oak Hall as well as his respect for his teachers when he was a student, so he gladly took the opportunity. Eventually, Pickens ended up teaching 10th grade world history in addition to the math classes he taught and sports he coached. In his fourth year at Oak Hall, he began teaching eighth grade American history, the class he has been teaching ever since.

Pickens’ passion for teaching derives from his devotion to conceiving a plan that effectively utilizes a student’s time in the classroom. He aims to engage students in the content, as well as invoke discovery of the content. He uses his knowledge and skills as a coach and translates that to the classroom. “When you coach a basketball practice, you’re trying to make use of every single minute that you get. The ball is in their hands, you’re putting them in these situations and letting them work on these skills,” Pickens noted. 

OHS Junior Thespians Take on Largest Festival in Country

By Jenna Poppell

The Florida State Junior Thespian Festival is the largest junior thespian festival in the country and gives middle school theater students all around the United States the opportunity to work together. “In addition to competing, students have the opportunity to collaborate with other middle school students from a variety of backgrounds and share meaningful experiences within workshops, master classes, and shows,” said Brooke Molitor, Middle and Upper School theater teacher. In order to attend the festival, students qualified in multiple events at district festivals. These events included monologues, duet acting, solo musical, costume design, improvisation, and ensemble acting, amongst others.

At the festival, the students performed their events, participated in workshops, attended master classes given by professional actors and producers, and saw a variety of plays and musicals. This is an exceptional experience that middle school students can grow and improve from. Molitor explained that the festival is not a competition and the students do not compete with one another, but try to improve their individual scores instead. “No two actors are alike…therefore adjudicators are not comparing any two performances; they are evaluating each event on an individual basis,” she said. “I encourage my students to aim for a score that is higher than their score at the district festival; I want them to focus on improving and growing, instead of ‘beating’ their peer,” Molitor continued.

Oak Hall’s Middle School students have been participating in the Florida Junior Thespian Festivals for the past four years, when Molitor joined Oak Hall. Prior to that, the troupe participated in other junior thespian activities. “We have had an active Junior Thespian Troupe for several years, but only recently began competing at the state level,” explained Molitor. On Feb. 8, Oak Hall’s Junior Thespians performed at the festival again. Katelyn Berthy, an eighth grader and junior thespian, enjoys the freedom this program allows for her artistic abilities. “It gives me a space to be creative, and I get to sing which is something that I am very passionate about,” she said. This will be Berthy’s third year as part of the thespian troupe and has previously competed at two state competitions. She will be participating in a solo musical from, “Waiters” the musical, a duet with fellow eighth grade thespian, Grant Curtis, singing from “Thirteen” the musical, and a monologue from, “Have You Heard”. “My favorite part about Junior Thespians is getting advice from experienced peers and spending time with my favorite people,” said Berthy. 

MS Soccer Players Leave Mark on Varsity Teams

By Mac Fogler

For the 2019-20 soccer season, Oak Hall was not able to field Middle School soccer teams, forcing the middle school players to play on the varsity level. This can be very difficult since the Upper School players can be bigger, faster, and stronger. Oak Hall, however, has some very talented youngsters who were very successful on the soccer field this season. Maggie Fogler, Bilal Al-Takrouri, and Jamie Robinson Wilmott, all eighth graders, consistently started for the varsity teams and all made a big impact throughout the season. Robinson Wilmott was a stalwart on the back line for the boys, while Al-Takrouri moved all over the field, a true jack of all trades. Fogler was very successful at forward for the girls. These Eagles will be an integral part of Oak Hall’s future in the sport. 

While the boys season was not as successful as they would have hoped, the future is bright with these young stars leading the way. Both Al-Takrouri and Robinson Wilmott feel that the opportunity to play up was great for their development as players. “It was hard at first, but then it got better when I got used to it,” said Al-Takrouri. “I think it made me a better player in the long run because it made me tougher when I had to go against bigger stronger guys,” he continued. 

Jamie Robinson Wilmont (No. 9) passes the ball to teammate Jackson Mast (No. 21)

Robinson Wilmott agrees that playing on varsity has helped him become a better player. “If I played middle school [soccer] I don’t know if I would have gotten as strong,” he explained. Playing on the same team as older kids was scary, as it was hard to know if they would fully be accepted. “When I first started, I thought that I was gonna be just that one guy that nobody talked to, [which] turned out not to be true,” said Robinson Wilmott. “My favorite part of the season was playing with the seniors because all the seniors are hilarious,” he continued. 

Al-Takrouri and Robinson Wilmott, as well as the other middle schoolers on the team, are beloved by their Upper School teammates, and the success of the future of the program looks promising as these athletes continue to grow athletically.  

Eighth graders Jamie Robinson Wilmont (No. 9) and Bilal Al-Takrouri (No. 7) join their teammates for the National Anthem

The girls varsity soccer team won a district championship this season, thanks in no small part to Fogler’s contributions. The eighth grader was a big-time player for the Eagles this season, scoring and assisting on many goals. “I knew coming in that it would be a challenge, but it was so much fun…everybody was so nice,” she said. “I loved the girls so much and Coach Wharton was great!” 

Congratulations to these young Eagles on their fantastic seasons and we will all be looking forward to what they do in the future!

“Coffee With the Counselor”

By Jenna Poppell

This year, new Middle and Upper School Counselor, Darcy Paré, is hosting “Coffee With the Counselor”, an event held once a month where she meets with the students and parents of Oak Hall School. The meetings are at 7:45 a.m. in the Upper School Media Center.

During these meetings, Paré discusses important topics she feels are beneficial to the students. “Some of the topics I may present on include, but are not limited to, helping students with depression or anxiety, online safety, reducing the stigma of mental health, or any topics requested,” she said. Earlier this year, Paré sent a survey to Oak Hall’s student body to figure out what Oak Hall students struggle understanding, and need help with. She saw a pattern that students were not sure what a school counselor does and does not do, so she decided that she would go over this during her first meeting.

“I thought this event would be helpful to build rapport, clarify my role, and answer any questions students/parents have,” she noted. “In these events, I would hope to get feedback on what other needs or areas of interest students/parents have,” Paré continued.

Paré, who has dual master degrees in education, and education specialist in mental health counseling, will use the feedback she gets to build on what goes into future “Coffee With the Counselor” events. The next event is on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

Winter Concert to Feature Songs By Bublé, Chili Peppers

By Amanda Malnik

On Sunday, Dec. 15 at 3 p.m., Oak Hall students from sixth to 12th grade are performing holiday songs at a family-friendly winter concert in the Oak Hall theater for the local community to enjoy.

Numerous songs, chosen by Middle and Upper School music teachers Jason Stahl and Dr. Domonique Clance, will be performed by all students enrolled in band class in the Middle and Upper Schools. Since the beginning of October, students have been rehearsing in band class, as well as after school and on the weekends, to learn the many styles displayed in these songs. Middle School students are performing a variety of songs by artists such as Michael Bublé, The Vamps, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. 

“Our Upper School musicians have also put together a handful of small ensemble pieces to be presented between the larger numbers,” Stahl noted. “These include works by the Pentatonix, a piano duet featuring Anya AitSahlia & Amelia German, and a septet playing a mash-up of music from ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’” he continued. A small choir is singing “Carol of the Bells” and a large choir, featuring 45 voices, is singing a traditional Hebrew piece called “Bashana Haba’ah”, accompanied by a quartet of piano and strings. 

Poster for winter concert

“Finally, our Upper School classes will combine forces into a 50-piece orchestra to present a musical retelling of ‘Dr. Seuss: The Grinch’,” Stahl said. “This large-scale piece will be narrated by Akhila Nataraj & Rinnah Mesadieu under the backdrop of a lush musical score largely based off of the original 1966 Holiday Special with hints of modern ‘Grinch themes’,” he elaborated.

Sophomore band member, Asher Dobrin, is one of the many students that is performing on Saturday. He is looking forward to performing the orchestra piece from “Dr. Seuss: The Grinch” on his upright bass. “[In the concert] there are lots of different components, from jazz and rock to classical,” Dobrin explained. “Everyone’s instrument gets a showing; you can hear everybody.”