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A Season to Celebrate Graduates: Talia Newell

Talia Newell wanted smaller — but that didn’t mean she wanted less.

At Phoenix High School she found the smaller class size that she needed along with a supportive staff that felt like a family and enriched her high school experience.

Newell tried Kalamazoo Central and Loy Norrix before following a friend’s lead and enrolling at Phoenix. Newell is now a 2020 Phoenix graduate and plans to attend Kalamazoo Valley Community College in the fall.

Newell enrolled herself and was a little worried about stepping into a totally new environment, but, “the people were nice. I had nothing to worry about. Once I got into school, I didn’t have to worry about drama. The people were friendly — students and staff.”

She enjoyed the smaller classes — her largest class was computer science with 25 people. Most classes were under 20 students, she said. Because she was working, she did find it difficult to participate in the school’s extracurricular activities, such as basketball, cheerleading, and the social justice book bowl. But, principal Mark Hill made sure to find a way to include her.

He invited her to serve as a Student Ambassador, which provides input on how the school operates and participates in the superintendent’s Student Advisory Council. Students apply to be an ambassador, which includes filling out an application with personal goals and suggested improvements for the school.

 “They pick who they think would be good, who can step up and have an outspoken voice for what they believe in,” Newell said. “We talked about college and how to keep people in school,” she said. “We talked about George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, the community and things that affect our classmates.”

The focus was not just on feelings, but on problem solving and coming up with actions that the students could take to better the situation, she said. The school supported students’ involvement in community projects and protests.

“Mr. Hill always wanted us to be outspoken and to use our voices,” Newell said. That support and encouragement is what she will remember the most as she leaves Phoenix, where she feels like students are given the opportunity to succeed — maybe more than one opportunity if they need it.

 “Everyone at that school wanted us to feel like we could talk to anyone,” she said. “All of my classmates felt comfortable going to any of the staff members. The staff do their jobs but they were also family. We could talk about things hurting us or good news like a new job. Even if you don’t say anything, they’re so close to us they can notice things on our face.

“And I love Mr. Hill. He’s always there. He’s a man of his word. If he says he’s going to do something, he gets it done.”