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Jennifer Wahl Communicates Complex Mathematics

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Jennifer Wahl discovered her purpose in first grade. She would be a school teacher. For the next 15 years that dream persisted and became refined as she progressed through elementary, middle, and high school. Jackson Academy is glad to welcome Wahl’s focus and passion to our community as she teaches mathematics in the Upper School.

“You have to be careful because her mom makes the best cupcakes in the world and she can kill you with one finger,” a teacher at Winfield High School jokingly warned Wahl’s classmates. Wahl’s mother served in the Army Special Forces and specialized in hand to hand combat before opening a fabric store in Winfield, Alabama, where she and Wahl’s father raised their six children. Wahl’s father served in the Air Force and now works as a mechanical engineer.

Although she knew she would grow up to be a teacher, Wahl did not decide which subject-area would be her focus until her final year of high school. Several teachers helped her recognize her ability to communicate the complexities of mathematics. When her fellow students repeatedly asked for her to explain how to solve calculus problems they studied during her senior year the teacher finally told her, “They want you, not me. You’ve just got a knack for explaining it.”

Wahl studied math education at Auburn University and was in the Honors College all four years. She also worked in the career center as an employer relations student assistant. She met her husband, Stephen Wahl, a graduate of Jackson Academy, the night before Auburn would defeat Oregon in the 2010 national championship. They were married in December of 2014, after Stephen completed his first semester of medical school at the University of Mississippi. Wahl taught at Brandon High School from 2014 until 2017. While there, she took advantage of development opportunities and found her footing in the classroom.

Although Stephen’s match day may mean moving to a different city for the Wahls, for now Jennifer enjoys living close to his family and working at a school that feels like home. Her days start with an energetic group of humorous, interested students, and throughout the day Wahl is excited to visit with students between lessons. Wahl said, “From the first time I came here everyone was so nice I felt like I was already a part of the family.”

Students Tour Texas Colleges and Universities

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Students (from left) Garrett Clarke, Jarvon Gaines, Kelsey Ford, Max Rogers, and Elliott Butler toured several Texas universities together with Jackson Academy Counseling Department staff members. Not pictured: Sean Lackey.

 

As their bus pulled through College Station they watched the busy pace of a college campus. It is a pace that Garrett Clarke and Max Rogers will be diving into next fall as they enter college. For Jarvon Gaines, Kelsey Ford, and Elliott Butler there is still another year and a half at JA, but college decisions already loom on their horizons. Counselors Amy Bush, Paula Pratt, and Danny Robertson led the group through its three-day tour, guiding students to ask questions and observe different schools’ cultures.

“I think these kids realized, if they hadn’t before, that the town that the college is in is just as important as the college itself,” said Bush. “The surroundings and community play a big role in the campus, and vice-versa.” The students were interested in majors ranging from per-veterinary to petroleum engineering. Despite these differences, they agreed that experiencing the atmosphere and size of a campus was an integral part of discovering whether or not it was a good fit for them.

“I wanted to go the next day,” said Kelsey after visiting Texas Christian University. Perfect fall weather accompanied a great visit throughout their three days in Texas. Bush said, “There is no greater advantage to a student than being on the campus, getting to see what the school is like, what the school is about, because no two campuses are alike.”

For the seniors on the trip, the visit did exactly what it was meant to do: helped them move toward confidentially making a college decision. “We’re really close to deciding where we want to go,” said Garrett.

Robot Dash Encourages Accurate and Proficient Coding

Congratulations to the top-scoring teams in the Fourth Grade Coding Competition. Each of the 20 teams had to complete five increasingly difficult challenges utilizing a coding robot named Dash. These challenges required teams to create a sequence of coded commands to complete a series of complex moves and tasks. Points were awarded based on accuracy and proficiency.

First place went to the Stargazers (Rebekah Brooke Benson, Crystal Gao, and Sanders Reeves).

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Second place went to the Dazzling Dashes (Mary Lamar Chustz, Sara Kate Long, Chappell Lang, and Julia Thompson).

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Third place went to the Bulldogs (Jack Voyles, Alex Martin, Larsen Robertson, Jake Pratt, and Evan Adams).

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“Each team exercised excellent teamwork, perseverance and deductive reasoning,” said Lower School STEM instructor, Cliff Powers. “I’m so proud of each of their accomplishments.”

Intergalactic Artist Speaks in Chapel

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Frank Ordaz spoke to JA’s Upper and Middle School students in chapel while visiting Mississippi to create a documentary of his journey as an artist and Christian. “I knew I was an artist by the time I was 7 years old,” he said. He painted the worlds of “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “E.T. the Extraterrestrial,” and many more before God invaded his galaxy with the gospel of grace.

“Non-Christians want to see authentic Christians,” Ordaz told students. “They are looking to see if you walk as Jesus did.” He experimented with world religions, but when he met a true follower of Jesus Christ everything changed. The man whose faith inspired Ordaz’s was a reputable sound engineer in Hollywood, but it was his humility that earned him respect and brought the gospel to life for Ordaz.

Ordaz describes his former self as extremely arrogant, but now he displays the same humility that first drew his attention to Christ. He graciously shared wisdom gleaned from his experience with students who are interested in working in the arts. He told students that to truly thrive as a Christian artist you must have a good support system, and be excellent at what you do.

After working as a matte painter for the movies, Ordaz went on to work as an illustrator. At the request of former first lady Barbara Bush he created the artwork for the 2006 White House Easter Egg Roll. In 2011, Ordaz returned to his first love: oil painting. His fine art landscapes and portraits are sold through shows he attends and his own venue in Auburn, California, where he resides with his wife Jana. The couple has two sons.

JA parent Anthony Thaxton met Ordaz at a Christian arts workshop where Ordaz invited Thaxton to help him share his story. In the three years since their first meeting the men have filmed in California, Mexico, and Mississippi and have become dear friends. Ordaz’s story includes the flamboyance of Hollywood but is ultimately a story of how one man’s humble faith set another free to discover his true Father and, through knowing him, his identity and purpose.

C Spire Coding Competition

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Pepper the humanoid robot visited and even danced with JA Upper School students Preston McWilliams, Burkette Moulder, Ashton Berry, Kit McCormack, and teacher Sarah Shaw as they participated in a coding competition. C Spire hosted its second C3 high school competition at its headquarters one day before national S.T.E.M. day.

The C3 program features a computer coding challenge that students work on with the help of a C Spire employee and an adviser from their school. The students solved a series of puzzles that grew more difficult as they progressed. Competing against 29 other schools, our students placed within the top 10 teams at the event.

“It gave them exposure to coding,” said Shaw, “and kind of opened their eyes to that field and what’s available and how it works.” The all-day competition is designed to show students the career options available in tech-related fields like computer science and information technology. C Spire hopes to help students discover the world of coding as a gateway to a career.

Jackson Academy was represented by three senior students in the 2016-2017 C3 competition. Only 13 teams participated a year ago. As the program has already grown to involve 30 schools, JA students who participate in the future can anticipate friendly rivalry.

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