• Harrison Park Embraces Its Inner Panther

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    Harrison Park, which transitioned from a K-8 to a middle school this fall, recently held a school-wide vote for a new mascot. According to Principal Leah Dickey, these first few months as a middle school have been pivotal for students as they navigate the new exciting normal and establish an identity as a school and community. Picking a mascot has been an important part of that journey.

    “I have been amazed at how smoothly things have gone,” Dickey said. “Our students have really started to accept each other's differences and become a solid school community. It has been exciting to see kids join in the comprehensive middle school experience and be on the ground floor of creating traditions and a positive climate for everyone.”

    Dr. Daniel Carpenter is Harrison Park’s climate specialist and his portfolio includes empowering students to become school leaders. To that end, he launched the school’s first ever Where Everybody Belongs (WEB) program this year. WEB pairs eighth graders with their sixth-grade counterparts in a year-long leadership initiative. They also host Fun Fridays, during which WEB students celebrate their friends’ week of hard work with music, popcorn, and drinks during dismissal. It was their idea to turn staid school assemblies into passionate pep rallies.

    Dr. Carpenter advised students as they planned their first ever pep rally as a middle school, but, true to the goals of the WEB program, eighth graders really took the lead.

    “We have been planning that pep rally for about two months,” Dr. Carpenter said. “Our fall pep rally committee decided to have two emcees. We had students audition to perform in the rally and WEB Leaders judged, gave feedback, and then extended offers to our students to perform in front of their peers.”

    And perform they did. The student-run assembly was a joyful and talent-filled feast for the senses and included the introduction of the newly elected members of the Harrison Park student council and student body president.

    Every performance was punctuated by Principal Dickey taking the stage to let students know what the mascot wouldn’t be.

    “The mascot is not the dragon!” she announced, on the heels of a performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” by the school’s dance team.

    “The mascot is not the penguin!” she said, over the cheers that had yet to die down after the school’s band and choir gave a rousing rendition of “I Got a Feeling” by the Black-Eyed Peas.

    “The mascot is not a goat!” she said, following Isaiah Hutton’s swoon-worthy karaoke rendition of Billie Eilish and Khalid’s “Lovely (Welcome Home).”

    “The mascot is not a phoenix!” she said after seventh-grader Itiel Orozco-Vargas graced the stage to honor Hispanic History month with a traditional dance.

    After much fanfare, it was finally time for Principal Dickey to unveil the mascot. When she informed the frenzied crowd that they were trading in the bulldogs for the panthers, the entire auditorium erupted into deafening cheers. Students jumped to their feet to celebrate, hugging and high-fiving. A few even raised the roof.

    And then it was time to go. Hundreds of freshly minted panthers filed out of the auditorium and into the bright October day.