Hero of Hope

Students in Greenville High School’s engineering-centered Early College High School program – Maci Rice, Aniya Johnson, Damian Lewis and Aalexiah Nixon – share in an embrace with math teacher Casey Chaney, who was selected as the Greenville Independent School District’s Hero of Hope. Chaney’s commitment to shaping the lives of young people as chancellor of the Early College High School program inspired 23 of her students to nominate her for the honor.

While technology continues to evolve and the job skills needed for someone to remain competitive in the professional world constantly change, old-fashioned “good habits” like time management, determination, teamwork and being “teachable” are still valuable lessons to pass along to young people.

Casey Chaney, math teacher and Chancellor of Greenville High School’s engineering-centered Early College High School program, is someone committed to supporting students as they learn both up-to-date and timeless job skills.

As GHS’ Early College High School program entered its second school year this fall, that commitment was recognized as 23 of Chaney’s students showed their appreciation by nominating her as the Greenville Independent School District’s first Hero of Hope of 2019-20.

“She is the most supportive woman I know,” wrote Lizzi Doty, one of the students who nominated Chaney. “She is like a mom. I love her and wouldn’t be where I am without her.”

Early College High School is a four-year program that allows students to earn – at no cost to their families – an associate’s degree in engineering along with their high school diploma upon graduation. The program is funded through a grant and is a partnership between GISD, Paris Junior College and robotics development company Innovation First International.

“The program is called P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School), and with P-TECH we have industry partners. Ours is Innovation First,” Chaney explained. “With that partnership, in addition to getting an associate’s degree, the students get a leg up on the competition because they get industry experience along with the theory, and with any job it’s important to have both the experience and to know the theory.

“In their first year, the most difficult challenge that the students face is that, even though they don’t take their first college-level class until the beginning of their sophomore year, they have to spend their freshman year preparing to work at a college level,” Chaney continued. “They’re fully capable, but they just haven’t been pushed that hard yet.”

The specialized nature of the program has the students attending every class with each other throughout their school day, which has led to strong bonds between many of them.

“My favorite thing about the program is the people, because we became like family,” sophomore Aalexiah Nixon told the Herald-Banner. “I enjoy coming to school, and the teachers in the program are understanding, fun and loving, but their expectations are high.

The family-like relationship between the students in the program has even impressed Chaney.

“This has been both a rewarding and a challenging job.” Chaney said. “But they’re all very close and call each other regularly … They’ve also helped keep their classmates’ notes up to date during long absences.

“They really work to make it a safe place for each other,” she added.

Several of Chaney’s students were eager to share what they liked about their teacher and the program.

Freshman Maci Rice was inspired and encouraged to join the program by her mother, who is an engineer herself.

“Since I was in the fifth grade, I’ve wanted to work for NASA as a meteorologist,” Maci said. “The teachers are wonderful and they come up with a lot of hands-on activities.”

Meanwhile, sophomore Aniya Johnson is excited about how the program has led her to discover strengths and talents she didn’t know she had previously.

“I’ll be the first generation in my family to go to college,” Aniya said. “When I started, I was thinking that I wanted to be a doctor, but now I want to be an engineer.

“When I started using SolidWorks (drafting software), I found out that I was good at it,” Aniya added. “I stayed after school one day, and designed a tailgate for a pickup truck.”

Several students, like freshman Damian Lewis, also appreciated the opportunity the program offers at no cost to the students and their families.

“It’s a good opportunity for me financially and I’ve always been good with my hands,” Damian said. “My cousin and I have built stuff together like a dog house and a TV stand.”

Jenny Gonzalez, like 22 of her classmates, made sure to write on a Hero of Hope nomination form how much Chaney’s support meant to her.

“She has truly motivated me and my entire class and has poured her entire career and soul into us,” Jenny wrote. “I had never really believed in myself until her.

“I would do anything for her, just like she has for me,” Jenny added.

As a bit of advise for future students who opt to take part in the rigorous Early College High School program, Aalexiah stressed the importance of perseverance.

“Don’t give up,” Aalexiah said. “At the end of last year, we were struggling, but when we saw how well we did on the STAAR test, it was all worth it.”

Chaney was officially recognized as Greenville ISD’s Hero of Hope for September at the district’s Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday.

Travis Hairgrove is a news reporter and features writer at the Herald-Banner and covers city government for many municipalities in Hunt County. To reach him outside of business hours, email THairgroveReporter@gmail.com.

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