From academics to athletics: Highlights from the 2016-2017 Birmingham school year

Special to the Times

Coach Emanuel Bell led the Wenonah Girls' High School basketball to the Class 5A state basketball title for the fourth straight year in 2017. Coach Bell is battling lung cancer. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./For The Birmingham Times).
Coach Emanuel Bell led the Wenonah Girls’ High School basketball to the Class 5A state basketball title for the fourth straight year in 2017. Coach Bell is battling lung cancer. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./For The Birmingham Times).

A visit from the then-director of the Central Intelligence Agency, more than 1,500 works of art displayed throughout the cafeteria and hallways at an elementary school art show, athletic teams winning state championships were some highlights of the 2016-2017 year for Birmingham City Schools. Here’s a few of the highlights. For even more achievements, visit the school system’s website at www.bhamcityschools.org.

  • Former CIA Director John Brennan visited with 50 Birmingham City Schools’ honor students in September 2016 to discuss the agency’s career options and his desire to see more diversity within the organization. Congresswoman Terri Sewell joined him during the appearance, which was Brennan’s first time to visit a group of high school students in Birmingham.
  • Three Birmingham City Schools’ students and three BCS employees were selected as finalists in the Next Gen competition for their ideas on how to make Birmingham’s future brighter. The first place winners were Jackson-Olin High sophomore De’Angelo Mitchell’s idea on creating a class to help students prepare for job interviews and the workforce, and Jackson-Olin High math teacher David Petitt’s idea on revitalizing Ensley by rehabbing abandoned homes.
  • Arrington Middle School’s new public speaking club studied President Barack Obama’s farewell speech in January 2017 before writing farewell messages to him. The club used principles from author Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly-Effective Teens” to drive home the importance of success in the letters they sent.
  • EagleBots, EPIC Elementary’s newly-formed robotics team, took home top prize at its first competition during the FIRST Lego League Birmingham Qualifier in January 2017. The team, which consists of fourth and fifth graders, ended its competition season by competing  in the 2017 Alabama Robotics Competition at the University of Alabama. The team finished 4th out of 17 teams in the elementary division.
  • Five students from EPIC, Glen Iris Elementary, and Washington K-8  served as flag bearers during the U.S. Davis Cup, which was played at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in February 2017. The students play tennis for the nonprofit James Lewis Tennis Scholarship Foundation. Selected for their achievements on the court and in the classroom, the five joined 45 other students as flag bearers.
  • Green Acres Middle School received a $1.49 million grant to improve school innovation and curriculum. Also, the school’s cheerleaders won first place in the small squad division for cheerleading in the Birmingham City Cheer competition at Ramsay.  This is the second year in the row the school received the first place cheerleading award.
  • For the second year in a row, Huffman High School physics teacher Justin Sanders was selected to host the Best Buy Geek Squad Academy at Huffman, July 26-27, 2017. The Geek Squad program, worth $80,000, will provide classes on robotics, music and video production, electronics, and computer programming. The classes are for ages 13-18. Registration remains open at http://www.bhamcityschools.org/Huffman.
  • Theatre students from Jackson-Olin and Parker high schools earned superior ratings at the annual Walker Trumbauer Festival, a prestigious theatre competition, in December 2016 at the University of North Alabama.
  • Forty members of Martha Gaskins Elementary School’s Beta Club visited the White House,  notable D.C. monuments, the new National Museum of African-American History & Culture and other landmarks in December 2016.
  • In April 2017, 45 Parker High School seniors secured $244,600 in academic scholarship offers during Birmingham Rotaract Signing Day. Myharri Mackey received scholarship offers from four schools, totaling $100,000. She accepted a full-ride scholarship from Alabama State University.
  • In May 2017, the Duke University Talent Identification Program (Duke TIP) honored Phillips Academy student Mikaela Ravizee for her exceptional scores on the ACT. Duke TIP’s Seventh Grade Talent Search identifies students across the United States who have scored at or above the 95th percentile on a grade-level standardized test. As part of the program, these academically-talented students take above-level college-entrance exams to learn more about their abilities.
  • The Ramsay High School football team in December 2016 won the 6A state football championship in 2016. The last time Ramsay had a football team was in 1976.The varsity team was revived in 2013. When Coach Rueben Nelson Jr. wasn’t coaching his team or teaching at Ramsay, he was pursuing a master’s degree from the Alabama A&M University. He graduated one week after winning the championship game.

    Coach Rueben Nelson Jr. cradles the championship trophy and football he received after his Ramsay Rams defeated Opelika 21-16 in Jordan-Hare Stadium  to win the Class 6A Alabama High School Athletic Association state football championship on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016.
    Coach Rueben Nelson Jr. cradles the championship trophy and football he received after his Ramsay Rams defeated Opelika 21-16 in Jordan-Hare Stadium to win the Class 6A Alabama High School Athletic Association state football championship on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016.
  • The Sun Valley Elementary chess team won first place team at the Montevallo Scholastic Chess Tournament. Chess teams from throughout Jefferson and Shelby counties competed in the event in April 2017 at Montevallo Middle School. Four Sun Valley chess students also placed in individual competitions. Sun Valley teacher Brad Fournier is the team’s chess coach.
  • More than 1,500 works of art were displayed throughout the cafeteria and hallways in May 2017 at Tuggle Elementary School as the school hosted its first art show. Students from the school’s art club served as gallery docents or project specialists, giving brief presentations to guests.
  • For the fourth straight year, the Wenonah Girls’ High School basketball team won the Class 5A state basketball championship. Five of the seven senior basketball players received college basketball scholarships. A sixth senior will enlist into the U.S. Air Force. Their coach, Emanuel Bell, led the team to its 2017 victory while battling lung cancer. He remains in treatment. Several local and national organizations have honored Bell for his commitment and dedication to basketball.
  • Woodlawn High School track star Jayla Kirkland won first place in the 60-meter dash in the New Balance Nationals Indoor in March in New York. Jayla ran 7.27. The national record for that race is 7.26. In June 2017, she will compete in the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, N.C. In the fall, Jayla will attend Florida State University on a full-ride track scholarship.
  • Years after cursive writing instruction was removed from Alabama classrooms, it returned in January 2017. Birmingham teachers started teaching cursive writing to third graders after the Alabama House of Representatives passed an act in May 2016 that cursive writing be in Alabama schools by the end of the third-grade year for the 2016-2017 school year.
  • The school system’s Pre-K department received Birmingham Rotary grants totaling $90,000 for teacher and parent resources, a $10,000 Alabama Power Co. grant to cover additional playground equipment and classroom materials. Also, funding from the 3-mill tax that was passed in 2015, has helped grow the number of Pre-K classrooms from 37 to 41.