#1StudentNWI: Merrillville Pirates give back to the community

#1StudentNWI: Merrillville Pirates give back to the community

What’s happened: holiday wishlist program gives back to the community

This past holiday season, the Merrillville High School (MHS) Student Government sponsored its annual holiday wishlist program, a project that gives back to families in the Merrillville community. 

In the fall, social workers from the Merrillville Community School Corporation (MCSC) identifies families or students interested in participating in the program. These participants remain anonymous and are given identification numbers. Each participant creates a wishlist of items they need or want such as clothes and shoes or even toys and games. From there, staff and clubs at all Merrillville schools are sent the list of numbers and are asked to select one if they are interested in sponsoring a participating family or student. All they know from the sheet is the participant’s number and a short description including their age, gender, and what school they are from.

The week before holiday break, the student government collects and distributes all of the gifts from the sponsors to the participants. Families and students pick up their gifts from their school’s social worker, keeping the process confidential.

Cheryl Austin, Co-Sponsor of MHS Student Government, has been helping organize this project for three years.

“MCSC is like a family,” Austin said. “We take care of each other. All recipients are MCSC families, so it feels good to serve ‘our family.’ For MHS Student Government members, it is a highlight of our community service projects completed during the school year. Giving high school students opportunities to serve their community will leave a positive impact on them as they grow into future leadership roles; at least that is our hope. We want them to learn that serving others will bring joy into their hearts and lives.”

This year’s process was altered to meet COVID-19 safety guidelines. In years past, student government members would help distribute the gifts to the schools and would even send Santa to go visit the elementary students. This season, the student government members helped from a distance, donating to the cause and letting the social workers and club sponsors take control of the project. Santa was also able to visit younger classes virtually via Google Meet. 

“MCSC amazes me,” said 6-year Student Government Co-Sponsor, Sheryl Loving. “Administration is caring for the students and staff and that has contributed to the generosity that is shown toward this program each year. It makes my heart happy to know that sponsor contributions allowed students in need to receive gifts during the holiday season.”

Overall, the project was yet again a great success.

“It is so rewarding to think about those kids who got to open more gifts than their families could afford to buy on Christmas morning,” Austin said. “Knowing that together, we were able to make 124 students and 44 families so happy makes all of the effort worthwhile.”

Student spotlight: Noelia Arichavala

Junior Noelia Arichavala demonstrates all of the qualities of an outstanding Pirate. Her dedication to her studies, creativity, caring personality and persevering attitude have led her to the top.

Arichavala has been attending Merrillville schools since kindergarten. She is now a 3.8 GPA honor student taking advanced classes such as AP Chemistry. In her free time, she enjoys playing with her dogs or simply snuggling up and watching TV.

Arichavala has been playing the cello since fifth grade and is now a performer in MHS’s Advanced Orchestra. In her years of practice, she has not just learned how to play her strings but has fallen in love with her work and the comfort it brings her.

“I love how passionately my heart, mind, and soul connect to the music we play,” Arichavala said. “I think it’s spectacular how, as an individual, I can feel the high quality of the energy from playing with my class. I can sense the angry, ecstatic, and euphoric emotions in each and every intense piece we play.”

Since the age of six, Arichavala has loved to swim. Now, she is a third-year competitive swimmer on the MHS Swim Team. Through the sport, she has gained discipline and individuality. 

“One of my favorite memories from swimming is from a meet freshman year against Hobart High School,” Arichavala said. “I had been working so hard to improve my butterfly technique to get a better personal record. My original time was 1:34, and my goal for that meet was 1:30. As soon as I dove into the water, I felt I was 20 times stronger and faster than ever. When I touched the wall pad I immediately looked above me to see the time board, and I got a 1:21. That was the best feeling in the world.”

After graduation in the spring of 2022, she hopes to attend Indiana UniversityBloomington to study animal behavior. 

“I’ve always loved animals. Ever since I was a child, I grew up watching Wild Kratts on PBS Kids. That definitely stemmed my passion for animals,” Arichavala said. “I love this career choice so much that when I decide to stop working at a zoo, I’ll open my own non-profit wildlife rehabilitation center.”

Teacher spotlight: Alison Skertic

Alison Skertic is a teacher who goes above and beyond for her students, making her a favorite of many. 

Skertic grew up in Illinois and graduated from New Trier High School in 1982. She went on to attend Indiana University, majoring in journalism and English.

“I wasn't sure what I wanted to major in when I went to IU, but I knew it would involve books or writing,” Skertic said. “I started taking journalism classes my sophomore year and working on the school newspaper, and I fell in love with it. The atmosphere and camaraderie are really special, and I knew I had found where I belonged.”

After college, Skertic went on to work for the NWI Times as an editor and staff writer. Her job included working with other writers to improve their stories, laying out pages, and even writing some of her own articles. 

She loved her job, but would often work night shifts. The irregular hours made it difficult to balance her family and work, so in 2007, Skertic decided to retire from her career at NWI Times and began teaching at Merrillville. She currently teaches journalism, newspaper, yearbook, and English. 

“It's been really fulfilling for me to work as the journalism teacher the past few years,” Skertic said. “I enjoy helping students tell the stories of our school. I really believe in the importance of a free press, and I think it's important for students to learn to become responsible consumers of the news.”

Outside of school, Skertic loves being in nature, whether it be going on a hike or camping in the woods. She also enjoys spending time with her daughters. 

Skertic is not only an educator, but someone who is always there to lend a helping hand or offer advice in times of need. Her kindness and motivational attitude have made positive impacts on many of her students.

“Compared to other teachers, I’ve been able to express myself the most freely around Mrs. Skertic,” said Senior Erin Escobar. “She has always approached me in a way that led me to consider her almost like a mother figure. I can happily make jokes or talk about serious subjects, making her room as well as her presence very safe for me.”

In loving memory of Bruce Woods 

Bruce Woods, a former educator and admired member of the Merrillville community, passed away on Tuesday, January 5 at the age of 78. 

Woods built a legacy at Merrillville High School from 1971-1999 as an English teacher and department head.

“Woods was a teacher who brought out the best in his students,” Merrillville School Board Member Mark Lucas said. “He was the type of teacher who students remembered as they furthered their education.”

He also founded the Merrillville Education Foundation, serving as the president for over three years and head of the Grant Committee since 2002. His dedication to the foundation was essential to its success in supporting programs and raising funds for the Merrillville Community School Corporation.

Mary Hoffman, former principal of John Wood Elementary, worked by Woods’ side as the executive director of the foundation. 

“He was always willing to help in any event that we had and was always thinking of ways to help students succeed,” Hoffman said.

Woods had a love for the Region that he displayed through his dedication to preserving its history through various organizations in the community. He tirelessly dedicated his time and energy to many charitable organizations.

“He was also an outstanding volunteer throughout our community,” Lucas said. “His service to NWI was second to none.”