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Principal’s Award winner finds her voice speaking up for new high school

South Boston News
Waller
SoVaNow.com / May 23, 2019
Jillian Waller, a vocal advocate for upgrading Halifax County High School, won this year’s Principal’s Award at HCHS — an achievement for which she shares the credit with the high schools’ new student leadership program.

“The most I’ve ever taken out of a class is not about the tests or scores or anything, but the skills and experiences,” she said.

Accepted early decision at Virginia Tech, where she will continue her education after high school, Waller made two trips to Richmond earlier this year to advocate for a local sales tax bill to help pay for the high school overhaul.

Through the HCHS leadership program, taught by Melanie Saunders, Waller said she found her voice in speaking up on a matter of great interest to her and her classmates. She and others wrote letters to the newspapers, composed speeches and learned the tenets of effective advocacy and leadership.

As she waded into the debate over what to do with HCHS, Waller found herself moved to speak up about the situation. In that, she leaned into her training from leadership class.

She described her concerns as, “The danger of the school [to students], of having 55 exterior doors and it’s not really been been renovated like the middle school.”

Waller pointed to the dangers of an intruder breaking into the existing HCHS facility, the poor construction that led to mold problems in some parts of the building, and the potential danger of bricks coming loose in some walls. In some areas, the mortar has crumbled or was so poorly done from the beginning that the masonry is starting to shift.

“We’ve had that problem since the year it was built,” Waller said of the falling bricks.

When Waller wrote an editorial in this newspaper, she said that she immediately received feedback, both positive and negative. The commentary represented the myriad opinions across the county regarding the high school.

“People immediately came up to me,” Waller said.

One of those who approached Waller was Del. James Edmunds, who asked her to speak before the Virginia House of Delegates in favor of his sales tax bill, HB 1634. Waller and another student from the leadership class traveled to Richmond to lobby the House.

“She is extremely professional, calm, cool, collected,” said Edmunds.

In her speech Waller compared the high school to other schools she had visited for interscholastic activities. She also conveyed to lawmakers what students say about their own school. Edmunds said Waller’s testimony helped sway some delegates who might have voted against the bill otherwise.

“It was so impactful,” Edmunds said.

He later invited the students back to successfully lobby the Virginia Senate. Although she is an accomplished speaker, and plans on double majoring in Political Science and Communications at Virginia Tech, Waller said she was not interested in running for office in the future.

“I get a little bit tenderhearted sometimes,” Waller said in explaining why she thought she would not become a politician.

She also said she was not planning on writing another editorial. “If I felt the need to, I would.”

Outside of her advocacy, Waller volunteered as manager on the tennis team and the ACE team. She has played golf since her stepfather introduced her to the sport in sixth grade, and she recently won a coach’s award for her time on the high school golf team. When not at school, Waller volunteers at First Baptist Church in Millstone, which she attends.

Waller also helps organize the Comets Crazies. She said, “My stepdad’s the basketball coach, so you know I was definitely involved in that [the Comet Crazies].”

Despite being a busy student, Waller made the enormous effort to join in the debate about the high school. She explained that she decided to take action for the sake of her four-year-old brother, who she hopes will enjoy a better facility.

Edmunds said, “One thing that stood out to me, and this is true for both students, is the fact that they took a lot of time to face a daunting committee, they did all of this for a school that they’ll never set foot in.”

“It’s really about the people inside of it [the high school], not the building itself,” Waller said.

She added, “I just really like to help people.”

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Comments

Prime example of the school system not teaching but brain washing kids to tote the government line. HCHS and Edmunds should be ashamed of using a student to do this. I thought that he was supposed to be a republican (low taxes, less government) He sounds like a RHINO to me.

Comments

Socialism is apparently being taught in the high school. That blame falls on Lineberg and Edmunds. He will not get my vote again, even if I have to write myself in..

Comments

I am so tired of all the negative comments about anything having to do with a new school. You don't like Jillian's beliefs and viewpoints, well that is your opinion, but she is entitled to her own. Anytime people post comments about brain washing and forcing views, just remember that the same could be said about the opposition, your views, and the people who share them with you. To Jillian, you are an extraordinary young lady and had the courage to speak up for something you believe in, which is unheard of with your generation. I applaud you, wish you well, and know that you will go far in life with much success. Also, remember to vote in November!

Comments

Amen CometPride...the people of Halifax County need to listen to those that work and attend the school. The naysayers probably dont contribute much to this county anyway, so they can keep whining like babies and spend the rest of their lives being miserable. The rest of us in this county will drive forward, get an awesome high school, and grow Halifax County!

Comments

I would you to point out where anyone has said anything about Jillian. She isn't a public servant. Nobody is putting her down and if they are, shame on them. The people in charge are to be held responsible, just as the ones who were supposed to be in charge of maintaining and upgrading the facility. The next school will last 30 years until they will want a new one built.


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