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Bringing the world to work with her

On Kyna Southworth’s tenth birthday, her parents told her that their family was moving to Niger, West Africa. Her parents had signed a contract to teach school there for two years.

Two years turned into three years in Niger, then to three more years in Japan and then a move to Uganda, where Kyna graduated from high school. When Kyna left for college, her parents moved to Egypt where, on a visit with her boyfriend, Kyna became engaged.

The thought that her globe-trotting childhood has translated into 15 years in the American Midwest makes Mrs. Southworth smile. In college, she planned to sign up for the Peace Corps. But in truth, the Oak Hills High School counselor brings the world with her to work every day.

“It shapes the way I look at everything, the way I relate to people,” she says, perched in her bright, cheery office with artifacts from abroad and photos from her childhood travels. “Everybody has their own framework for thinking, and being able to grow up around so many people with different frameworks has made me a flexible thinker.”

Mrs. Southworth’s peripatetic childhood initially left her with a transitory feeling about her surroundings. But 15 years at Oak Hills High School, in a role she loves, made her feel the high school’s slogan -- ‘You belong here’ – certainly included her. “I’ve really settled into what I love to do, which is to help families and students navigate resources to be successful. It’s become my little area of expertise,” she says.

More inclined to give students options than advice, Mrs. Southworth does share wisdom gained from her global childhood. “I would just say the world is bigger -- and at the same time smaller -- than you think. And it is so much bigger than ourselves,” she says. “In America, we get so caught up in thinking the world revolves around us, but it doesn’t. I think America has so much to learn from the world around us, and the people who share that world with us.”

teachers in hallway

A Highlander family tradition

Bridgetown Middle School custodian Terry Moore smiles and shakes his head at the memory of it. A snowy, slippery day and, at student dismissal, then-BMS assistant principal Jill Wolfe singing and dancing her way across the school’s crosswalk – in 5-inch heels. 

“Cars are stopping and people are hanging out their windows taking pictures of the assistant principal doing the cha-cha,” Mr. Moore says. “And I’m thinking, I’m related to her.”

Slightly. Mr. Moore is Mrs. Wolfe’s dad. (As her father tells the story, seated in his daughter’s office, Mrs. Wolfe moon-walks by.)

Besides the close, loving relationship between the two, the story reveals something more. Although it’s a big district, Oak Hills Local Schools is at heart a family. It’s filled with people like Mr. Moore and Ms. Wolfe, who will do anything to give OHLSD students a good day, and whose roots in the district go deep.

“The best thing about Oak Hills is the people – they truly care,” Mr. Moore says. “There’s magic in these buildings. There are things you as a parent can’t do by yourself.”

In addition to watching their four children, four nieces and a nephew graduate from Oak Hills, Mr. Moore and his wife Beverly are enjoying seeing their four grandchildren grow up in the district as well. “I don’t know of a school anywhere where I’d rather my grandchildren go. The education level is so far above par and, for the money we spend per student, the bang we’re getting for our buck is incredible,” he says. 

As he watches his daughter leave after a long day at work – “Bye, Pumpkin,” he tells her – Mr. Moore prepares for his shift to continue into the evening. Besides his daughter and himself, Mr. Moore’s wife and sister-in-law spent years teaching in the district. 

“Our family doesn’t have a ‘story’ – we have a tradition,” he says. “This is what we do. If the school is open, we are here.”

family photo

A teacher – and mom – with ‘more to give’

When C.O. Harrison Elementary School teacher Emily Amlin sits down to discuss challenging topics with her students’ parents – IEPs, 504s, behavioral issues, counseling needs – she brings with her a special credential. As the single mother of six adopted children, she has dealt with all those issues herself. She knows what it’s like to feel overwhelmed by her children’s challenges, and to feel overjoyed at their success. And she knows, first hand, what a difference a teacher can make.

“The teachers here at C.O. – I can get choked up and emotional. Some of my children have had a hard time academically and handling the trauma they’ve experienced, and I’ve always felt very supported by the staff here,” she says. “Just as I love the tricky kids in my class, the teachers have loved my tricky kids.”

Ms. Amlin’s interest in adoption grew out of the example set by her parents. When their own biological children – Ms. Amlin and her brother – were grown, her parents adopted three young brothers. “I was given the opportunity to see how hard adoption was, but also what a blessing it was,” she says. Later, as a teacher, she signed up for classes to become a licensed foster care provider after one of her students in foster care was at risk of being moved to a new setting. While the student stayed in the district, Ms. Amlin realized foster care and adoption were “something I could do,” she says. 

She adopted two sisters and closed her foster-care license, thinking her family was complete – then realized that she had more to give. She adopted another daughter, closed her license and five years later adopted another daughter, and then a brother and sister. 

“There is some sacrifice but the benefits outweigh it. There were many, many times when I cried, or thought, ‘What am I doing?’ But what would I rather be doing with my life?,” she says. “I love that people see the joy, but there’s hard in there, too, but that’s OK. I’ve learned I can’t be afraid of what’s hard. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. It’s like we have to teach the kids with growth mindsets – every time you do something hard, the next time it won’t be as hard, or you’ll have the confidence that you can get through it.”

man in army unform

Paul Limpert: Resourcefulness, determination and courage

In his honors entrepreneurship, sports management and marketing, and personal finance classes at Oak Hills High School, business teacher Paul Limpert stresses the qualities that will make his students successful business leaders – self-discipline, integrity, dedication and teamwork.

As it happens, they’re also the qualities that made Mr. Limpert a successful soldier.

After a noteworthy high school career in which he earned academic honors and was elected class president and captain of multiple athletic teams, the Pittsburgh native earned admission to West Point. It was followed by Army Airborne School, Army Rangers training, armor officer training and then serving as a company commander during Desert Storm.

His job was essential to the effort: coordinating the work of medics, mechanics, engineers, ammunition handlers and fuelers to support an armored division pushing forward to engage with Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard.

Mr. Limpert’s resourcefulness, determination and raw courage came sharply into play in the early winter of 1991, on a moonless night when his division had pushed into Kuwait. The Iraqis had left mountains of rock and sand to deter U.S. troops. The tanks could go over them, but the 63 essential supply vehicles couldn’t. Nine times that night, Mr. Limpert and his driver set out in the utter darkness of the desert to find a safe route for the supply vehicles, taking enemy fire on several of their attempts. When they found safe passage, Mr. Limpert moved his company into defensive formation, and they moved out, delivering crucial supplies and aid to the armored division.

For his courage and leadership, Mr. Limpert was awarded the Bronze Star with V device – a special designation that recognizes he put his life in danger – at a ceremony in the desert.

“It’s imperative that we get our kids to take charge of their own destiny,” he says of his teaching role at OHHS, echoing the key to his success years ago in the desert. “I tell them, ‘You’re capable of more than you can fathom.’”

man playing cello

Opening children’s minds with music:

Delshire Elementary School music teacher Bryan Berwanger believes music should be a moving experience – literally. His cheerful, orderly classroom intentionally has no seats so children are up, tapping out beats and moving to rhythms. 

“My focus has been enjoying music and feeling the music and feeling the pulse and the beat – that’s important to me,” he says. “It’s internalizing it rather than memorizing it.”

Mr. Berwanger has played music his entire life, including playing in a jazz band and performing on weekends while he worked a day job in sales. The turning point that propelled him into teaching was volunteer work at a day shelter for homeless families. “I’d go in once a week and take instruments and crafts to make our own instruments. I started to really enjoy it – we called it ‘Music with Mr. B.,” he says. “I was seeing different kids every time, and I started to think, ‘What would it be like if I had consistency – the same kids every day?’”

Mr. Berwanger had the support of his wife and his employer, but the path to a degree in music education wasn’t straight or easy. After starting school at Northern Kentucky University, he had to leave after the first semester, when family concerns took top priority. Once he could resume his studies at Xavier University, his passion and commitment paid off. He was offered, and happily accepted, a teaching position at Delshire Elementary even before he graduated. “I always wanted to teach at the elementary level. My thought was, if I can get them young and give them a love for music, it can last for life,” he says.

Now in his third year, Mr. Berwanger invests heavily in building relationships with his students, and in collaborating with colleagues across the district. He is certified in ORFF-Sculwerk, an approach dedicated to creative music and movement, which features instruments and teacher-created music. 

“Music opens students up to seeing patterns and rhythms in life. It opens their minds to see outside the box – it opens their minds to experience life more fully,” he says.