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Bracing for budget shortfall

By Dakota Wasson/J-Line Writer ~

The threat of budget cuts, teacher layoffs and program whittling is looming over Atascocita High School. It’s present in the faces of teachers, on the minds of administrators and in the fears of students.

“You see it in the teachers lounge and in the atmosphere,” said AHS Principal Dania Rovegno. “They’re worried.”

The budget worries stem from a $27 billion state shortfall, which is expected to result in cuts to public school funding. Humble ISD anticipates a $31 million budget gap.

Superintendent Guy Sconzo has said that 580 administrative and teaching positions need to be cut district-wide. About 350 first-year teachers, including 32 at Atascocita High School, have already been told that their contracts may not be renewed. The Humble ISD school board is scheduled to vote on the non-renewals on March 29.

If vacancies open up in the district, the 350 teachers will be the first ones to be rehired, according to Rovegno. AHS will only hire back teachers who have resigned on their own or those who are part of the 32 contract non-renewals.

Even with the stress and worry of being laid off or knowing they might not come back, AHS teachers have remained professional in the classroom, said Rovegno. The teachers still have a job to do, and students still in front of them, she noted.

However, AHS Associate Principal Ted Landry admitted that the learning environment, along with the way teachers teach, may be affected.

“The effects of the possible loss of teachers depend on the teachers’ strategies and teaching and different ideas,” said Landry. “Hopefully the quality of learning won’t be affected.”

 A rally on March 12 drew thousands of teachers, students, and parents to Austin, where they demonstrated against education cuts and urged legislators to dip into the state’s $9.4 billion Rainy Day fund.

Rovegno said she has been assured by Sconzo that no elective department or extra curricular activity program will be eliminated entirely. The cuts depend on the number of students signing up for a class and the number of teachers available to teach that subject.

“We trust our students, that whatever situation or environment they’re put in they will do their best, and it’s the teachers’ job to hold and deliver the information,” Rovegno said.

Some classes, such as A.P. or dual credit classes, may have a larger number of students to accommodate everyone who signs up. Other classes may stay the same, with an average of 32 students, according to Landry and Rovegno.

“It’s going to be difficult, but we have great teachers and employees,” said Rovegno. “We work as a team and I am confident that our teachers will find a way to make it work.”

Posted in J-Line Buzz, News66 Comments

“I’m sort of sad”

By Bri’Anna Dilbeck and Camela Bluford/J-Line Writers ~

From freshmen to seniors, from Gold House to Red House, from classroom to band room, students at Atascocita High School are wondering and worrying how their education will be affected by potential budget cuts and teacher layoffs.

“I’m sort of sad,” said Daniel Orlas, a freshman, who voiced a sentiment shared by many students facing the loss of teachers.

About 350 first-year teachers have been told their contracts will not be renewed because of district budget woes. At AHS, about 32 teachers would be affected by the non-renewals. The loss of teachers could also result in larger class sizes, district administrators have said.

“It’s really stupid and sad. Really, it’s just sad and it’s hard for other teachers to find jobs,” said Betty Yifter, an AHS junior. “We won’t learn anything because everybody will make trouble and the teachers won’t be able to control the students.”

Like other students, Yifter was concerned that larger class sizes will make learning harder for students. “Education next year will be difficult,” Yifter said.

Sophomore Monica Garcia is also distressed by the possibility of losing teachers and having as many as 40 students in one class.

“It doesn’t feel right, I mean they didn’t do anything wrong,” Garcia said, referring to the teachers who may lose jobs. “One teacher and less students means a good education, but one teacher and lots of students means no education.”

Posted in J-Line Buzz, News135 Comments

District budget woes cut deep

By Dakota Wasson/J-Line Writer ~

The Texas budget crisis hit home this week when about 350 Humble ISD teachers on a first-year probationary contract found out that their contracts may not be renewed at the end of the school year.

More than 30 Atascocita High School teachers were told Thursday that Superintendent Guy M. Sconzo would recommend not renewing their contracts. The announcement came during an after-school meeting marked by tears, grim faces, and shock.

The non-renewals are a result of an expected $31 million gap in Humble ISD — one of the many Texas districts facing money troubles because of a $27 billion state budget shortfall.

To balance the budget, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Republican leaders in the Legislature have introduced bills to reduce education spending, according to a Feb. 14 article in the New York Times.  The cuts represent the largest budget cuts to public education since World War II, according to the New York Times article.

Each of the AHS teachers whose contract may not be renewed received a letter from Sconzo that read in part, “Humble I.S.D. will be facing the most devastating local budget deficit we have ever experienced … Unfortunately, preparing for the worst must include staffing reductions in all levels and in all functions in our district.”

The Humble ISD Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on Sconzo’s recommendation on March 29.

Humble ISD will have to reduce staffing by about 580 positions, according to a Feb. 7 letter from Sconzo to House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.  In the letter, Sconzo outlined the possible impact of the staff reductions, including boosting high school teaching loads to as many as 220 students, “virtually eliminating” arts education electives, reducing coaches, and nearly doubling the loads of counselors and school nurses.

In addition, teachers will likely go from teaching five-period work days to teaching six out of seven periods with one conference period.

 “This level of reductions will result in taking leaps backwards in all we have tried to do to further student learning,” Sconzo says in the letter.

Worry about the budget cuts has been hanging over AHS for weeks, as teachers  wondered whether they would be losing their jobs or feared that some programs will be eliminated.

“I am concerned that our AG/FFA program could lose some funding that is important to our operations and travel,” said AHS Agricultural teacher and FFA staff Traci Hendrix.

The overwhelming task of having larger classes and more students also concerns teachers. Science rooms, meant to hold 24 students, are already holding 30 or more students without budget cuts and teacher reductions, according to dual credit chemistry teacher James Simms.

“Larger classes lead to more discipline problems, make it harder to work with struggling students, and make it harder to teach overall,” said Simms. “In science, larger classes are going to create a much greater chance of an accident happening.”

Posted in Education, J-Line Buzz, News0 Comments

“A learning experience that feeds the mind and soul”

By Kaley Consford/J-Line Writer ~

Tap, tap, tap, tap tap, tap is all you hear as nervous students drum their pencils on their desks, wipe their sweaty palms on their jeans, and gnaw at their already chewed down fingernails.

These are AP students subjected to the stress of preparing for college.

Stress is a common factor when students introduce themselves to the college lifestyle. The massive amount of work required and the expectations raised can often cause college students to be unsuccessful. This is why numerous schools offer more advanced and rigorous courses known as Advanced Placement, or AP, which help students prepare better for the future.

The opportunity to be better prepared for college, and to reduce the stress for students has been shown to be beneficial. According to the  New York Times, the emotional health of college freshmen who felt stressed by the pressures of high school has declined to the lowest level since in 25 years.

Ashley LaFleur, an Atascocita High School senior who takes three AP Dual classes, is one of the many students who believe that college preparation classes are extremely advantageous.

“Even though my classes are hard and take up all of my free time, I feel like they’re better preparing me for college, and that I have a good understanding of what is expected of me,” said LaFleur.

More and more students are already starting to plan ahead at a young age in order to ensure that their future in college will be successful. According to the University of California at Santa Barbara, nine out of every 10 U.S. high school sophomores intend to pursue post-secondary education.

Mallory Everett, an AHS freshman who plans to take AP next year, is one of the students trying to prepare themselves for the future of college.

“It’s really hard to think about college already,” said Everett. “But in reality it’s really close, which makes every student really competitive.”

The competition to be accepted to college and the requirements needed to be considered for admission has created renewed reasons for most sophomores to take AP classes.

“I chose to take World Humanities, which includes Pre-AP English and AP History, so that it would challenge me, and help me face and adapt to the struggles there will be in college,” said Everett

AHS teacher Sharon Finley, who teaches AP-Dual Credit English Literature and Composition, knows firsthand the qualities that students must have to succeed in an AP-Dual Credit class, and what the consequences are if students are not prepared.

“Only students who are willing to work should take an AP/dual credit class,” said Finley. “The classes are rigorous and do require time and effort; students unwilling to commit the required time and effort will be unhappy, frustrated, and stressed.” 

AP classes help increase the chance of having a successful college career in the future, said Finley.

“I hope my students feel that every day is a learning experience that feeds the mind and soul,” said Finley, “I hope my students are better thinkers, better students, and better people for our time and it is a privilege to work with AP/dual credit students.  I know it, and I never forget it.”

Posted in Education, J-Line Buzz47 Comments

Swimming into the future

By Alex Lance/J-Line Writer ~

Just days before the big race, Morgan Pfeil was pumped and ready to jump in the pool.

Pfeil, an Atascocita High School swimmer, and her teammates Rachel McKenzie, Sierra Trambaugh, and Britney Fant, had been preparing for this moment for months.

They were going to swim the 200-yard freestyle relay at the 5A Texas State Swim Championship in Austin, Texas. This would be the first time a relay squad from AHS had gone to state, the first time each swimmer would compete at a state competition, and the first time a girl from AHS had qualified for the 100 backstroke at a state meet.

All the relay team members are freshman, except for Pfeil who is a sophomore. The anticipation was almost too much to bear.

“I’m excited about just the atmosphere that the state meet will have,” said Pfeil, a few days before the big event.  “And all the excitement and intensity, but most of all the competition.”

McKenzie was especially looking forward to competing against all the fast swimmers. She wasn’t just competing in the free relay, though. She would also be swimming the 100 backstroke.

“Since the beginning of the year, I always thought she had the chance to go to state,” said their coach, David Pink.

The swim team has been practicing since school started back in August. Recently, they began drilling short sprints to prepare the girls for the 200 free relay, said Pink.

“We had to go to practice in the mornings and work our butts off,” said McKenzie.

The team did not know if they qualified for the state competition until just a week before the meet. They should have received the news two weeks earlier, but inclement winter weather in north Texas forced the postponement of some regional meets.

This left the team uneasy until they found out whether they had qualified or not.

“I was looking at my iPhone in the kitchen, babysitting my kids when I saw the results,” said Pink.

The relay team and McKenzie both qualified for 13th out of 16th in each event. Now, their only goal was to finish higher at the state meet and get the best time possible.

The girls had an official send-off outside the AHS natatorium on February 17, then they started their three-hour trek to the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swim Center at the University of Texas at Austin with Pink.

“The trip there was a lot of fun because we got to bond with some of our team,” said Pfeil.

The girls had competed in many meets this season, including district and regional. They knew the state meet would be different, but they didn’t know the magnitude of what they would find.

“When I looked over at the stands I saw so many people,” said Pfeil, “It was jaw dropping!”

At the February 18 preliminaries, the relay team and McKenzie both had good times, which qualified them for the finals.   

The next morning, the girls woke up knowing that this Saturday would be one of the highlights of their swim career. They had only one thing on their mind:

To swim as fast as possible.

None of the meets they had ever competed in had ever compared to what they were going to do that day.

“Standing behind the blocks right before I was going to swim was so nerve-wracking,” said Pfeil.

When all the swimming was over and everyone was out of the pool, the girls had placed 10th in the 200 free relay and McKenzie got 11th in the 100 backstroke.

They had surpassed their goal of placing higher than 13th.

The four swimmers left the meet with grins on their faces and excitement about what lies ahead. This competition was over, but their high school swimming careers were just beginning.


Posted in J-Line Buzz, Sports0 Comments

Atascocita to Africa: Changing lives one by one

By Jordan Anholt, Kelli Hinojosa and Alex Rynearson/J-Line Writers ~

Water. H2O. Agua. No matter what people call it, nobody can live with dirty water. But many people in South Africa have to.

In poor parts of South Africa, people don’t have access to clean water and have to drink contaminated water from canals, wells in the ground, or from the rivers. The diseases in the water often lead to sickness or death.

In December, the H2JoJo project, which was started by Atascocita High School teacher Tara Bain, went to Africa with the hope of helping South Africans without access to clean water.

The H2JoJo team raised money from schools and the community in the Humble ISD to purchase five massive water containers — one 10,000-liter container and four 1,250-gallon cans – for schools in South Africa.

 “We live in a world of luxury. We think we need things, but it’s really just a want,” said Bain. “If we wake up and it’s cold outside and we don’t have the warmest jacket, it’s not the end of the world. But when the kids in Africa wake up and don’t have water, they think it’s normal.”

Bain wanted to teach people to realize that they often don’t understand how much others are suffering in South Africa due to filthy water.

When Bain went to Africa, she was accompanied by seven students, including her two children Stone and Scarlett; and four teachers from the Humble school district. The students from Atascocita High School were Paola Beltran, Nick Brooks, and Anthony Lewis.

Although the team’s primary goal was to provide clean water to five schools, they also distributed food, toys, and some clothes. They gave gifts to orphans, and uniforms and shoes to 15 students.

They also met one 11-year-old child who could not walk after being stricken with polio. The girl’s grandmother, who she called “Gogo,” carried her until she grew too heavy. From the age of 3, the girl had been stuck in the house.

For Christmas, the H2JoJo team gave the young girl a wheelchair, allowing her to finally leave the house.

Another highlight of the trip was seeing three of the five JoJo cans put to use. Often, the entire community came out to watch, with children pressing their ears against the containers to hear the “whoosh” of the water pouring through the faucets.

“The kids are very happy, really smart,” said Shannon O’Brien, one of the teachers who journeyed to South Africa. “It makes you cry because you realize how important this is to them.”

Posted in J-Line Buzz, Special Reports2 Comments

“It’s not the end of the world”

Nelspruit, South Africa, a city of 3.5 million people, is in the Mpumalanga Province in the southern part of the country. It is 9,000 miles from Houston. Map by Jzaan Hammack & Jack Lee

By Alex Lance/J-Line Writer ~                                  

One ocean and 9,000 miles away lies a land utterly different from anything most Americans have seen before.

Nelspruit, South Africa.

Its official name is Mbombela. The city in the province of Mpumalanga was renamed in October 2009 to bring back the original heritage of the country.

About a month ago, a group of students and teachers from Humble ISD traveled to Nelspruit to help provide clean water to five different schools.

They called their mission the H2JoJo Project

While they were there, the group noticed a significant difference between South Africa and the Atascocita area.   

Here in Atascocita, there is often a common misinterpretation of the people in South Africa and the lives they live. Some people see TV commercials depicting starving children with gloomy looks on their faces and think this is all South Africa is.

It is not true.

“They all seemed really happy,” said Shannon O’Brien, one of the teachers who went to South Africa.

Most of the children in South Africa do not feel as if they are as poverty-stricken. The life they live is all they know and many children are not really sure what a life with luxuries, such as TVs and computers, is actually like, said the H2JoJo group. 

“I wanted to be able to get a chance to take students over there and teachers over there, so they could know that everything is not like it is here in America,” said Tara Bain, leader of the H2JoJo project.

When the H2JoJo group was in South Africa, they toured one of ten stadiums created for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The stadium, located in Nelspruit, was actually built on land that used to belong to a white farmer, said Bain.

Many blacks lived and worked on this farm. When the farm was sold, all the people who were living on the farm were left without jobs and homes and became “displaced,” said Bain.

Apartheid ended almost 20 years ago, but traces of segregation can still be found all over the city — from the upscale neighborhoods to the townships located on the city boundaries.

“It looked like pre civil rights,” said O’Brien.

Blacks in South Africa were forced to live in townships, or homelands, during the apartheid era to confine all the colored people into one area outside of the city. Even after apartheid ceased, most families stayed in the townships instead of moving into the city.

Most South Africans living in the townships are without basic needs such as clean water and adequate housing. The lack of these basic needs can lead to deadly diseases such as malaria, cholera, and other diseases, according to

Even though they struggle to get necessities everyday, homeland residents find pleasure in their daily lives. On the other hand, some people in the Atascocita community might get upset when the smallest things don’t go their way, said Bain.

“If we have a bad day, or if we get our cell phone taken away, we think it’s the end of the world,” said Bain, “But if they don’t have water at the end of the day … it’s not the end of the world for them.”

Posted in J-Line Buzz, Special Reports0 Comments

The H2JoJo journey

The H2JoJo Project, the brainchild of AHS Teacher Tara Bain, brought clean water to South African schools and a new awareness of global issues to AHS. Click on the Special Reports page for stories about the project, the people, and the issues. Visit the H2JoJo page for videos and slideshows.

Posted in J-Line Buzz, Special Reports0 Comments

From their hearts to yours

By Alex Lance/J-Line Writer ~

Most people are feeding and changing diapers for their baby at eight weeks. But for Jennifer Guidroz and her husband Jake, it was a completely different story.

Just five weeks after being brought into this world, Nathan Guidroz was strangely silent, not eating, and having difficulty breathing. Guidroz, a communication applications teacher at Atascocita High School, knew something was wrong with her child, but his pediatrician thought nothing of it.

“His cry disappeared and he began to wheeze,” Guidroz said.

On August 7, 2008, Guidroz went to her son’s doctor and told them to do something about her son because Nathan did not seem well. They immediately took him to the emergency room, then to Memorial Herman Hospital.

That night, Nathan was diagnosed with Atrioventricular Canal Defect Complete (AV).

Almost all children with AV are diagnosed in the womb. AV is a congenital heart defect that causes the middle wall of the heart not to form. This then causes the chambers of the heart not to form. Most children would have surgery to rebuild the wall of the heart at four to six months.

After being released from Memorial Herman on August 21, Nathan went straight to Texas Children’s Hospital.

“I feel good when I am in Texas Children’s,” said Guidroz, “That probably sounds bad saying that you like being at a hospital, but I just feel good there.”

Just six days later, surgeon Charles Fraser performed surgery on Nathan to rebuild his middle wall of his heart. He was only eight weeks old.

“He was in so deep,” Guidroz said.

They had to perform surgery on the infant right away since he had been going without medicine or treatment for such a long time.

“We didn’t have a choice,” Guidroz said.

If Nathan did not have the surgery, he could have died. His surgery went “wonderful” and the baby had a quick recovery. After the surgery Fraser told the parents that their tiny son’s heart had been the size of a six-year-old heart, but went down 30 percent during the surgery.

Nathan was released from the hospital on September 5, 2008 — the day before Jennifer and Jake Guidroz’s birthday. They share the same birthday.

“I never left Nathan’s side,” said Guidroz, who stayed with her son through everything. The only time she did not sleep with him was when he had to stay in ICU over night.

Nathan is now two and a half years old. He is smiling and running around like a normal toddler. There is always the chance of another surgery, but for now the Guidroz family is enjoying their life as it is.

Guidroz and her husband also raised awareness for heart disease by participating in The Heart Walk on November 6, 2010. This was their first time doing the walk, but they raised $2,215 –$715 over their goal. A health Nathan toddled along the route with his parents.

Guidroz has also started a website called, where they share their story and give other families a forum to share their struggles.

Nathan “is alive and well today and truly a miracle,” Guidroz says on the website. “We cannot share his story enough!”

Posted in Features, J-Line Buzz2 Comments

Hip-hop hooray


Meriah Christine performs at the AHS Hip-Hop talent show.

 By Bri’Anna Dilbeck/J-Line Writer ~

The sound of squeaking sneakers resounded throughout the PAC as different hip-hop dancers stomped and slid their way across the stage. The bass pounded through the floor. And the performers belted out routines with energy and enthusiasm.

Welcome to the Atascocita High School Hip-Hop Talent Show, 2010-style.

The November 19 show, which had numerous acts, suffered some wrinkles due to a number of last-minute cancellations by performers.  But, as the old show business saying goes, the show went on — even with the new and unexpected performers.

“The Hip-Hop Talent Show was started in 2006 by Sigma Beta and it was a way to get kids out to portray their rap skills,” said Laquietta Harden.

Many students have previously attended the show and supported it, according to Harden. They enjoyed watching their friends unveil their hidden talents.

 Hostesses kept the audience entertained between performances with jokes, music, and by playing music and allowing audience members to dance.

“I enjoyed the show very much,” said performer Jamal Rosemont.

Though the seats in the PAC were not completely filled, the reaction of audience to the show made it feel as though they were. Screams, whistling, and shouting could be heard as numerous students, parents, and siblings showed their support for the performers.

“The show was very fun,” said performer Leigh White.

The joy of just being on stage could be seen on the performers’ faces. It was evident in the sparkle in their eyes and the smiles they flashed.

The show ended with the judges’ deliberation and an award presentation. Winning first place for group performances were Chris Carter and Jawan Givens A.K.A. Fatal Attraction. In second place was Jamal Rosemont and Meriah Christine. Coming in third was ADAJ.

For solo performances, first place went to Jamal Rosemont; second place was Leigh White; and third was Meriah Christine.

Posted in Features, J-Line Buzz1 Comment

Pink cause nets green

A month-long campaign to raise breast cancer awareness, spearheaded by Atascocita High School teacher Monique Zibi and the French Club, raised $3,294 — about $700 more than last year’s fundraising drive.

The money was raised through the sale of tee-shirts, baskets, and participation in the “Race for the Cure,” according to  Zibi.

The campaign culminated with a “Wear Pink” Day on October 28, when hundreds of staff members and students donned pink attire to support the cause.

“It is so exciting to see the way that the staff, students and parents have responded to the campaign,” Zibi said in an email thanking school employees for their participation.

Zibi also appplauded Blue House 1 secretary Patti Stevenson for overseeing tee-shirt orders and delivery.

Posted in J-Line Buzz, News0 Comments

Never forget: AHS students inspired by a survivor’s story

Holocaust survivor Al Marks shares his story with AHS World Humanities students

Al Marks was only 13 when he and his parents were captured by the Nazis and sent to the infamous Auschwitz death camp.

The boy was sent to a series of labor camps and eventually liberated. His parents, however, were chosen for “special treatment” by Dr. Josef Mengele, who became known as the “Angel of Death.”

Marks never saw them again. They were among the estimated 11 million people — including six million Jews — who were exterminated by the Nazis.

Marks shared the story of his ordeal Thursday to a rapt AHS World Humanities class, where he described the pain of seeing his parents for the last time, the suffering he witnessed in the camps, and the chilling experience of coming face-to-face with Mengele, who performed gruesome human experiments on inmates.

Marks’ story left many in the class in tears – and forever changed.

“It was a really powerful emotional experience,” said sophomore Chelsea White. “We all felt the power of his words move through us. We all had deep feelings about our families and ourselves.”

Now a balding, bespectacled and gray-haired man in his late 70s,  Marks survived four camps (Auschwitz, Melk, Mauthhausen, and Ebensee) before being freed by General George S. Patton’s 3rd Cavalry Army.

After his liberation, Marks’ life brought him to Houston in 1948 on a scholarship. He went on to marry his high school sweetheart, serve in the U.S. Army, and conduct a Big Band orchestra. Since his retirement, he has been speaking to groups about his experiences during the Holocaust.

For the students in Wyatt Bingham and Gabriela Diaz’s course, hearing directly from a Holocaust survivor deepened their understanding and emotional connection to the lessons taught in the classroom. After Marks’ speech, the students were assigned to write letters to themselves and their parents reflecting on what they had learned.

“A lot of us are changing who we are because of him,” said White, who rushed home to tell her parents how much they are appreciated. “His speech did change how we feel about our parents and ourselves.”

Look in the Slideshow archive at the top to see a slide show of images from Marks’ visit.

Posted in J-Line Buzz, News1 Comment

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