The Duneland School Corporation, comprised of is five elementary schools (grades K-4), two intermediate schools (grades 5-6), a middle school (grades 7-8) and a high school (grades 9-12), serves over 5,000 students from a 92 square-mile area including Westchester, Jackson, Liberty and parts of Pine Townships, all located in Porter County. That’s no easy task. But a team of nearly 330 professional staff, counselors, administrators and specialists, in addition to specialists assigned by the Porter County Special Education Interlocal, and a support staff of over 400 who provide instructional assistance, transportation, supervision, secretarial, maintenance, cafeteria and custodial services throughout the school district, makes it all possible. Parent volunteers, parent organizations and advisory groups are active at each school level and provide a viable link for home, school and community. The result is the Duneland Difference.
Several Duneland Schools have been recognized by both the national and state departments of education for academic excellence. Duneland students continue to receive state and national honors in mathematics, art, business, music, communications, media, science, speech, debate, world language, social studies and athletics. We take a look at just three of this year’s graduating seniors who are exemplary of the Duneland Difference and have many honors and awards as a result of their dedication to academic success.
Hannah Van Drie
Hannah Van Drie is a senior at Chesterton High School who will attend the University of Pennsylvania this fall and she says she plans to pursue international relations and languages. She transferred to Chesterton High School her freshman year from Valparaiso since her father is an assistant principal at the high school and her family wanted her to be in the school district. She has been involved in a number of extracurricular activities and is the senior class vice president and has been helping to plan her class’s graduation speakers and ceremony as well as their senior banquet.
Van Drie has also been involved in the Chesterton High School girls’ basketball team, although this year she didn’t play. She explains, “This year I was injured and didn’t play. Instead I helped coach the team as the assistant junior varsity coach. It was a really awesome experience and I’m so glad I decided to do that. As a player I just played, but as a coach I had to think about the personalities of the players, what they are good at and what they could be good at, and you have to consider the bigger picture.”
She has also been part of Chesterton High School’s international baccalaureate diploma program. This is a challenging two-year program of courses taken in grades 11 and 12 with a curriculum provided to Chesterton High School by the International Baccalaureate World Organization. “The curriculum is used worldwide and the two-year program culminates in a series of exams that cover the core subjects and different languages. It’s a different version of advanced placement and I really liked it. It’s a smaller group of kids than the AP program and a lot of my best friends are my classmates. We do a lot of fun extra projects together like camping and breakfasts and there is a community service aspect to it so the goal is to be a well-rounded citizen. I would hope that this helped in my college acceptance process because the courses were hard and I think they view that favorably,” Van Drie says.
There are a number of other extracurricular activities Van Drie has been involved in, including the track team as a thrower. “I throw shot put and it’s a lot of fun. It’s different from the other events and we have a lot of fun. I am also part of the Natural Helpers program. People are nominated every year to go on a retreat and I went my sophomore year. I am also the vice president of the National Honor Society, and I was involved in the Future of Chesterton Foundation. Through this group we worked with the town of Chesterton and looked into a Sister City program and how to implement it. I am also very involved in my youth group through Calvary Church in Valparaiso,” she says.
Van Drie says her teachers have been instrumental to her success. She says, “One of the biggest components over the past two years that has been part of my success is my teachers who are very committed and invested to each student’s success. I struggle in math and always have, but every single one of my math teachers go the extra mile, have lunch with me, meet me before school, so I can master and understand the material. I think that through the problems I’ve had with math and the way the teachers have supported me, I’ve been able to really work hard on things I’m not necessarily interested in but I realize if I push myself I can achieve a lot more than I thought. Facilitating desire for educational excellence motivates most of Chesterton’s teachers. It has been a great experience for me ever since I’ve been at the high school. I’ve gotten to know myself and our class accepts people for who they are. They say hi to each other even if they don’t know who they are.”
Micheala Sosby of Portage is a senior at Chesterton High School who attended St. Patrick’s Catholic School through eighth grade. She will matriculate to the University of Missouri this fall to study convergent journalism. “I am pursuing a wide field of journalism and this program offers everything—online, broadcast, and print news reporting. It’s a more modern way of evolving the platforms. I can see myself working at a magazine or with a microphone, I can’t decide.”
Sosby says it was her experience at Chesterton High School that led her to the life decision to pursue journalism as a career. “My freshman year I signed up to take expository writing because I always loved writing. This class incorporated photography and it was a wakeup call for me. Art and writing all came together and I realized it was a career. I decided to join the school newspaper and I wrote during my freshman year and got to know people in the school better. My sophomore year I was news editor and it was a little difficult because it was a leadership role and was everyday writing. I realized I loved the newspaper. I went to Indiana University’s high school journalism institute and my junior year I took the editor-and-chief class and learned to manage the paper and techniques for helping everyone fulfill their talents. We learned about using a website for an online presence for the newspaper. Everyone had one so we went ahead and made one and it was a little rough looking but we were surprised and it worked out well. Now we’re on Twitter and Facebook and it has opened us up to feature videos and podcasts. You can get out of newspaper as much as you put in. I love the school newspaper. Now I’m feature editor my senior year,” says Sosby.
That experience and dedication, not to mention a healthy dose of raw talent, led Sosby to national and state recognition for her stellar work. She explains, “This past March I sent in a portfolio to the Indiana High School Press Association which was a compilation of the all the journalistic work I did in high school—design pieces, photographs, writing, and online work. I won the Indiana State Journalist of the Year. It was a really cool experience. They then sent the portfolio on to nationals and I was one of six runner ups. It went a lot farther than I thought it would.”
Sosby was also involved in other extracurricular programs at Chesterton High School and outside of school, including Natural Helpers, National Honor Society, a Young Voices writer for the Times of Northwest Indiana, Club Interact volunteer program, and she serves on the Power of Youth Council for the United Way of Porter County. She also tutors students at Westchester Intermediate School and participated in the Future of Chesterton Foundation.
She says that the International Baccalaureate program has been key to her academic success. “The International Baccalaureate program is very rigorous and has helped me to realize my potential. There is a focus on global learning and if I was a doctor or a journalist or whatever my career, it has helped me learn a lot about the world outside of the United States. I feel like a global citizen now instead of just a citizen of the United States. All of the teachers and administration at Duneland have been extremely patient with me and have always instilled in me motivation to be better. All the teachers I’ve had have been the most helpful and influential people in my life. They know I want to learn and they help me be more responsible and realize that after high school, that’s not it. I have to keep working hard and there’s a lot more to do. I couldn’t see myself anywhere else,” says Sosby.
Elizabeth Benson will matriculate to Harvard this fall where she plans to study biology to become a veterinarian. She has been part of the Duneland School system since sixth grade when she attended Westchester Intermediate School. She is the class of 2013 valedictorian and was recently named a National Merit Finalist. She has been successful not only academically, but also in her many extracurricular activities. Benson says, “I’ve been involved in girls’ soccer all four years, three years on varsity and for two years as co-captain. That was my main activity and I enjoyed being in a team environment, and it is really a blast. I love soccer and so between that and the girls and the coaches, it’s a lot of fun but it’s also a significant time commitment. We spend the summer training together and practice and compete throughout the year, but we are all very close and that makes it all worthwhile.”
Benson has also been involved in the Natural Helpers Program. “Students are selected by anonymous votes as people who are good listeners or those who providesupport in serious situations. We go on a retreat and coordinators conduct exercises to make the listeners even better and more useful to others, effective with trust and other aspects of helping people. I enjoyed the program and have gotten a lot out of it and I returned as a leader this year to give others the knowledge I got out of the program,” says Benson who has also been active in the National Honor Society, Spanish Club, Club Earth, Ski Club, and the Future of Chesterton Foundation.
Recently, Benson and her colleagues were able to participate in a Guatemala Service Trip through International Baccalaureate program and she says the program has been important to her successful academic career. “I was really attracted to the International Baccalaureate program because it is holistic in that it is not just challenging in one subject, but it challenges me in every subject. That’s what I wanted out of my educational experience. I like the small class sizes we have, like 22 kids per class is the biggest and others are smaller. The curriculum is more advanced material too. For example, a normal academic tract is taking U.S. history in your junior year, but we took History of the Americas which included Canada, and Latin America. There is a worldlier look at the materials, like Theory of Knowledge which looks at how you perceive your reality, your surroundings, and how that is shaped by factors. They try to incorporate independent learning and we have to do big research papers. There are also assessments and tests, but they are more involved and not typical assessments,” Benson says.
Her teachers and staff have given Benson the support she needs to be successful in her life. “I am very happy with how the Duneland Schools have prepared me and my classmates. I think we are all very equipped with the directions in life that we are going. Besides great teachers, they are mentors. The school does a really good job of getting us involved and giving us opportunity outside of school within the community, like the Rotary Club, the Future of Chesterton Foundation, competitions, leadership symposiums, and they do it for the benefit of the students,” she says.
Jacqueline Santos has been extremely busy at Chesterton High School, taking advantage of the many extracurricular clubs and activities the school offers. She says, “In high school, I've been involved in Drifters Show Choir, Sandpipers Show Choir (Dance Captain), WDSO Radio (Music Director), Quiz Bowl (Varsity), National Honor Society (president), Progressive Media Outlet (co-founder/co-president), French Club (member), and CHS Spring musicals.”
Santos will attend Columbia University in New York this fall where she plans to continue her work in music and the arts. She says, “I'm planning on double majoring in music theory and composition and creative writing. I really love the music department at CHS. I specifically chose to join the Duneland school system for high school so I could participate in its show choir program. It's been an incredible experience.”