Category Archives: Feature

Elec Simon inspires students with music

Every year, the high school invites someone to speak to the students. In past years, motivational speakers have included men like Marc Elliot and Jeff Yalden, but this year was like no other.

Self-taught musician, Elec Simon, spent his morning at the high school on Thurs., Oct 16.

Simon began his journey on Broadway, performing with STOMP, a music and theatrical performance combination, when he was just at the age of 22. Simon still occasionally performs with STOMP, marking 2014 as his tenth year working with the musical program. Since then, he has branched out.

Simon travels to schools to send a message to students. He talks less about an “anti-bullying” message and more about life itself.

“[Elec] really had a great message. He made us all think about how grateful we should be for the things in our lives and made us all realize that we don’t know what a person’s situation until you really get to know them,” junior Taylor Calvert said.

Simon was inspired by tragedy. When he was 16, he received the news of his best friend’s death. While his name was unmentioned, Simon says he does these presentations in honor of his friend who was bullied into taking his own life.

“Kids are mean nowadays, and respect is the number one issue,” Simon said. “Kids are dying and committing suicide, and the kids might get picked on, and they don’t tell the teacher and the next morning they wake up and hear about that kid blowing their brains out. Treat people right. It’s that simple.”

After working with STOMP full time, Simon made a decision while at a hotel in Lima, Peru.

“I left [STOMP] on my own,” Simon said. “I was like it’s time for me to go to schools and stuff like that so that’s when I left the show because I felt I had to give back and do something to help these kids.”

Simon reaches out to students with music. It is a way to get people involved and interested in what he is saying.

“I use music as bait to pull the kids in,” Simon said. “Like with the elementary kids, it’s tough…. A lot of people can come in and do assemblies, but… how can you get the kids attention?”

People were definitely intrigued by Simon’s association with music.

“[Elec] was different than any other speaker, which made him entertaining,” sophomore Gianna Flasco said.

Simon spoke about his life, telling stories and playing music. He says everyone should smile and speak nicely to others because kindness could change their mood completely.

“There’s always going to be someone mad at the world because they’re mad at their life,” Simon said.

Most students were very pleased by the show Simon put on.

“[Elec was] by far the best speak Stow has had since I have been here,” junior Taylor Calvert said.

Listening to Simon’s message inspired many of the students in several different ways.

“I think he taught us that believing in ourselves gets us extremely far and that you need to not worry about what other people think and just be yourself,” Calvert said.

Simon hopes students will remember not to “let anyone tell you can’t do anything. You want something? Go get it.”

Gym teacher Shaun Fennell shares his secret hobby

Although many students tend to think their teachers do not have a life outside of school, often times teachers have interesting, and unexpected hobbies and talents. The majority of teachers also do not tell their students their secret passions.

Take gym teacher Shaun Fennell, for example, who plays the drums in his free time. Fennell has been playing for a while.

“I have been playing the drums on and off since I was about 5 years old,” Fennell said.

Any musician will say they have a reason or overall inspiration as to why they play music and why they chose the instrument they play. Sometimes, a musician’s inspiration is based off of personal experiences or important people in their lives.

“I started playing the drums because my dad was in a band and music was always on in my house,” Fennell said. “We had drums in our basement since the day I was born and have just always been interested in them.”

Playing an instrument is a lifelong skill. Being able to play an instrument will never be unneeded.. There will always be a need for people who can play instruments.

Fennell also said he was inspired and likes to play the drums because he “will be able to do it [his] entire life, unlike playing football or baseball.”

There are a vast amount of people who are inspired by music to express themselves, so they can express themselves. Most musicians say the only way they know how to express themselves is through playing an instrument.

“I just love that people can express themselves through music,” said Fennell.

Being in bands is common amongst musicians. When a performer is in a band, they often tend to improve often because they practice frequently.“I have never been in a band but would love to one day play at least one song live on stage. Mostly I just play as a hobby to relieve stress and have fun. A buddy of mine who plays the guitar and I have played together. We learned a couple of Metallica songs and can play them pretty good,” said Fennell.

Although being in a band is not necessary, without being in a band, someone can still be a musician and enjoy doing what you do.

Fennell also said, “I would like to eventually be in a band but it is not something that I need to do. I am satisfied just playing every now and then in my basement as a hobby.”

Some players choose to stick to a certain instrument and focus on it. While musicians can play multiple instruments, not all do.

“When I was in fifth grade I played the trumpet, but was bored with it and that’s when I first started taking drum lessons. Like I said before, the drums were always around growing up. I would hear my dad play and I just loved the sound and the beats. I never really had an interest in any other instrument,” said Fennell.

A musician’s style is the genre or type of music they play the majority of the time. Normally a musician is known for their special style that is usually unique to that specific individual and their style cannot be found anywhere else.

“My favorite thing to play is a hard rock song or just creating my own beats,” said Fennell.

Musicians’ styles are often based off their favorite band or artist, song, and genre of music they enjoy listening to. Not only do musicians get their style off of their favorite music inspirations, musicians often pick styles that fit what they like to play.

“My favorite band growing up was Metallica and Nirvana they were really big in my high school days. My favorite song of all time would have to be One by Metallica. I used to listen to only hard rock growing up. Now as an adult, I listen to many different genres and I am finding new artists that I really like. Right now I am really into Reggae Rock and just recently went to a concert to see one of my new favorite bands,” said Fennell.

The longer someone has been playing a certain instrument, and with the proper amount of practice given, the better the musician will likely be. Although the number of years been playing does not always determine how good someone is at playing that particular instrument.

“I’ve taken lessons on and off for about five years. Some when I was younger and some as an adult. Most recently was about three years ago but I had to stop because my first son was born and we started to get really busy as a family. I do plan on taking lesson [again] in the near future,” said Fennell

Even though quantity does not always mean better quality, it often relies on how much the musician practices.

“I would label myself as an okay drummer. I can play pretty much anything as long as I have the time to practice. At this point in my life, I am pretty rusty because I have not played or practiced in a few years, just because I am very busy being a father and husband,” Fennell said.

While being a musician full time and attempting to go professional takes dedication, and luck to succeed in, most musicians have a “backup” career or an average job. Most musicians work normal, everyday jobs during the week, and come home and play their instruments on the weekends.

“In order to be a professional drummer, your entire life would be playing the drums. Growing up I was interested in many different things, like sports, and did not practice or have the drive to dedicate my life to becoming a professional.” Fennell said.

Playing an instrument is not the easiest thing to do, so many admire musicians for that reason. Some students realize how difficult it is to master certain instruments, and admire Fennell for being able to play the drums as well as he does.

“I feel that it’s really cool that he is a drummer, and that means he has great upper body strength,” sophomore Andrew Rodgers said.

Students who are just finding out about Fennell’s unknown hobby are blow away and completely shocked Fennell had not told anyone about his hobby. Fennell’s students had no idea he could play the drum and they completely love it that he plays the drums.

“Fennell’s secret hobby is the most amazing thing ever. That just raises his rank on the best teacher ever chart,” sophomore Kayla Haren said.

Former teacher Brenda Walko sews dresses for African children

Living in a nice community and going to a suburban public school can make someone forget about the troubles outside of his country. Former high school teacher, Brenda Walko has taken on a challenge to help others across the world.

Walko was surfing the internet when she came across an article on Facebook about a woman named Lillian Weber and an organization she was helping.

Weber is a 99-year-old woman who resides in Iowa. She makes a dress everyday, and in the last two years, she has made over 840 dresses. Weber will turn 100 in May 2015 and plans to reach a goal of 1,000 dresses by then.

Weber has been sewing clothes for Little Dresses for Africa since 2011. She and a group of women, who are almost all over the age of 80, decided to support the organization together.

“I was watching a documentary about the [nonprofit] organization, and thought it would be a great idea for some of us to get together to help some people who live so far away,” Judy Noel, one of the group’s members, told Quad-City Times.Walko saw Weber’s story, heard about LDFA, and she was inspired.

“I thought if she could do this at 99-years-old, I can do this,” Walko said.

Started by Rachel O’ Neill from Michigan in 2008, LDFA has spread its efforts across the country. This Christian charitable organization provides relief to children in Africa. Even though all 47 countries in Africa receive most the generous donations, other nations in need accept dresses; some even go to parts of the United States.

The LDFA motto is “We’re not just sending dresses, we’re sending HOPE.” Each donation will make a huge difference in the lives of many.

“They go to Appalachian, where there is a lot of poverty, and also somewhere in South Dakota,” Walko said.

With the help of Neelam Bhatia, Miranda Senn and Lisa Myers, Walko has made 80 dresses in three weeks. The teachers gave her materials to turn into cute dresses for the girls.

“She is using material that would usually be wasted, [but she uses it] for something good,” junior Roman Lovell said. “The situation is beneficial for both parties. Mrs. Walko finds good use of what would be [thrown away], and whomever receives the dresses are getting new clothes.”

Walko also obtains fabric from thrift shops and some of her family and friends. She will take any left over material or pillowcases. The pillowcases are ready hemmed at the bottom, so they are very convenient to sew.

According to LittleDressesForAfrica.org, “The pillowcase pattern has been around since the pioneer days and is easy enough for even a novice seamstress…. With just a little help, they can be turned into bright little sundresses, perfectly suited for the African climate.”

The dresses are also sewn with adjustable straps, so as the girls grow taller, they can still wear the same dresses. The dresses also come in many sizes, so girls of all ages can have one.

One can donate a check to LDFA, 24614 Curtis Drive Brownstown, MI 48134.

Donations can also be made through their website LittleDressesForAfrica.org. Both the dresses and money are greatly appreciated by the founders and each little girl in a struggling country.

“There are collection places around the united states and then they like missionaries to take them so that they do not get into the hands of people who might not get them to the little girls,” Walko said.

According to O’Neill, 2.5 million dress have been sent to other countries so far.

Walko does not have a specific goal for the amount of dresses she will make; however, she is going  to “keep doing it as long as I want to. I think I will be doing it for a long time. It is a good retirement [activity].”

To help continue the efforts, Walko is willing to teach anyone who is interested in making dresses for the organization. She would love for anyone to help those who are in need.

Any student or teacher who wants to donate scraps of fabric to Walko, principal Kathy Thomas collects the items in her office for Walko.

“[These women] will be changing so many lives. We should contribute, as a school and community, as much as we can,” junior Mackenzie Bowers said. “Helping out even in the simplest way will benefit so many people worldwide.”

Even if it is a big step, like creating a sewing party like those that happened in Dover, Delaware; Akron, Iowa and Richland, Washington, or giving a dollar to the cause, students and educators from the high school should try to help the organization. An easy step would be by giving Walko bits of fabric.

Walko said, “[With each dress,] a little bit of Stow is going to Africa.”

Visit littledressesforafrica.org for more information.