While Onslow County’s teachers are focused on making sure that students know they care during this time of remote learning, scores of Swansboro High School students and friends turned the tables on Friday afternoon and showed their love for their principal Dr. Helen Gross.
In a tribute organized by a couple of parents, Jackie Rodriguez and Jennifer Hall, Gross’s supporters showed up on Friday in a vehicle parade – a device that has become popular during this time of social distancing – to honor the beloved principal.
Mrs. Rodriguez said the turnout was “amazing” with fire trucks and police cars joining students and supporters, all of whom kept a safe distance.
“I was humbled and honored to see the turnout,” she said. “My main mission was to surprise her and make her aware of how much we appreciate her. She’s an amazing leader and human being.”
Gross, presented tokens of appreciation including cards and flowers, said she appreciated the show of support in what has been a tumultuous time.
“I was humbled and overwhelmed by emotions by their thoughtfulness,” she said. “It has been such a hard few weeks for our senior class as they have missed key milestones in their lives, yet here they are showing their appreciation for our work to keep them informed and engaged in our school community.
“We will begin working on graduation celebration plans … with these seniors and it is so nice to see their positive energy as they continue to make the best of the situation. Simply put, we have the best students around!”
Onslow County Schools announced graduation plans for the Class of 2020 last week. (See related story.)
“She is always thinking of things to do for the students,” said Isaiah Rodriguez, an SHS senior and Jackie and Robert Rodriguez’s son. “It’s time we show her how much we care about her.”
Bronson Hall, an SHS senior, credits Jackie Rodriguez with the organization, but indicated he was happy to be a part of it.
“As a military kid, I have had six principals and none of them stand out like Dr. Gross does,” Hall, son of Jennifer and Wayne Hall of Hubert, said. “She goes above and beyond for her students, faculty and community. She genuinely cares for the well being and success of her students and goes out of her way to make sure they succeed and grow.”
Rodriquez has similar feelings about Gross.
“Dr. Gross has an amazing positive attitude,” Rodriguez said. “She is always involved on how to make things right. She always listens to what ‘we the students’ want and need.”
That ability to listen, Rodriguez, 17, said, is the trait of a great leader.
“She is always looking for ways to reach out, whether it’s fun things or giving us resources to help us during this crisis,” the Hubert youth added.
Hall, 18, said Gross has stayed connected during the pandemic.
“She’s done a great job of listening to the students and parents and understanding the uniqueness of the situation, while also keeping morale and school spirit up,” he said.
The global pandemic has cast a pall over the lives all students, but especially the senior class.
Like her fellow seniors, Maddie Smith, 18, daughter of Drew and Lori Smith of Hubert, said she did not think the coronavirus would end her senior year.
“I first heard about the coronavirus during our first day back for second semester in Health Science 2,” she said. “At first when I found out we would be out, I was OK with having a break, but I was concerned how we were going to still have schoolwork, and I didn’t expect to be out longer than that. I also expected to go back at some point.”
Rodriguez said he was OK with the break, at first, in order to “play it safe.” When it became apparent the school year would end through remote learning, he added, “I think it’s a great back up plan and experience.”
Losing the last half of senior year is a disappointment, according to Hall.
“Seniors really don’t get to appreciate a lot about the ending of our senior year,” he said. “There’s no closure. But at least it’s not a hurricane.”
Smith said it is disappointing.
“I think the most disappointing part of not going back is … not having my last prom, and walking across the stage in front of my family and friends in my cap and gown,” she said.
Rodriguez said he could cope with missing some things. But, he added, “Graduation is different, it means a lot to my family.” And, “I was looking forward to our class trip to Bush Gardens.”
Hall, a member of the Pirates baseball team, said losing his senior season is tough.
All three seniors are now looking ahead to the next chapters of their education, college.
Smith will attend UNC Greensboro and plans to major in dance choreography.
“As of right now my college has said that they are open for the fall semester, and I hope it stays that way,” she said.
Rodriguez has enrolled in Methodist University and is committed to play basketball. He hopes the pandemic will not delay the start of fall semester.
Hall said a late start doesn’t concern him too much, as long as he doesn’t have to start classes remotely. “I would rather wait a month and start late than learn more advanced courses on a laptop.” An NROTC scholarship recipient, Hall is enrolled at the University of South Florida.
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For more on this story, purchase a copy of the May 13, 2020, Tideland News.