Where Are They Now: A Look at Six of Dare County’s High School Graduates
My Outer Banks Home interviewed graduates from all three county high schools and traced what has happened to them since leaving our small community. We’ve also asked the folks who graduated from our county schools to reflect on what their formative years were like in local schools. As you read through the following narratives, take a moment to appreciate the educators who have made an impact on Dare County students – students who have since graduated and are now blazing their own paths in other parts of the world.
In a world often measured by standardized test scores and GPAs, there are other ways to evaluate a life lived fully.
Cape Hatteras Secondary School – Class of 1999
Tonya Midgett grew up on Hatteras Island, and though she has moved nearly halfway around the world, she still is surrounded by water and carrying on a tradition that has been in her family for two centuries. Midgett grew up in Salvo and graduated from Cape Hatteras Secondary in 1999. After attending Appalachian State University and spending several years working on the Outer Banks, at the age of 28, she decided to honor her family’s 200-year tradition and enlist in the United States Coast Guard.
“It is something I had only dreamed of as a small child,” Midgett says.
Now living in Guam, she is a boatswain’s mate at the USCG Station Apra Harbor. “The Coast Guard as a whole has been a wonderful experience for me.” She adds, “I will be the first to admit that Guam is not a place I ever imagined myself being; however, it has been very rewarding both personally and professionally.”
Midgett says when you hear the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child,” it couldn’t be truer than for those who grow up on Hatteras Island.
“What made Cape Hatteras special then (and now) is that the teachers take an active role in the future of their students,” Midgett says.
“My middle school science teacher was also my high school basketball coach and she instilled in us the importance of hard work and dedication both on and off the court.”
The Hatteras native says the school’s Distributive Education Clubs of America program is top notch. “I really can’t say enough about this. The skill sets learned through this club are applicable no matter what career path you choose.”
In her adult life, the best piece of advice she’s received is from former Senator Marc Basnight: “With that wry smile of his, he said, ‘you should always be trying to better yourself.’ I think those are words to live by.”
Manteo High School – Class of 2004
Jamie Crutchfield has always been the creative type, so graphic design was a natural fit for this Manteo High School alumna. After graduating in 2004, Crutchfield attended UNC-Wilmington where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in studio art. Not one to draw a linear path between college and career, Crutchfield moved to Thailand to teach English in a Buddhist monastery and then in a rural Thai public school for a year.
“I have traveled all over Southeast Asia, New Zealand, and Panama. When I returned to the States, I moved to Northern California where I enrolled in post-graduate work at Cuesta College and earned a Certificate of Specialization in Graphic Design and a Certificate of Achievement in Web Development Technologies,” explains Crutchfield.
Now living in Morro Bay, CA, Crutchfield opened her own graphic and web design business two years ago and currently works with clients in the wine and craft beer industries, the political nonprofit sector, health and wellness industries, and film and production studios. Crutchfield considers herself lucky to be able to work creatively every day. “Problem-solving, adapting to constant changes in technology and working with a wide range of projects and personalities are all challenges that stimulate and inspire me to be a lifelong student of design,” she says. “The creative potential within the digital realm is truly limitless and I am continuously motivated to push my craft in new directions.”
Born and raised in Nags Head, Crutchfield says Dare County was a wonderful place to call home. “At Manteo High School, my classes in journalism, civics, English, and art were the basis for my career interests and exposed me to a broader world view,” she recalls. “These courses not only gave me a foundation for collegiate life, but also honed personal idiosyncrasies that build strong character.”
“The art of communication and asking questions is surely the most valuable skill a teacher can share with a student to find solutions for problems that face humanity today.” When asked, Crutchfield will name Vikki Barnes, Robin Sawyer, and David Guiley as a few of the inspiring educators “who had a profound impact on my life.”
Cape Hatteras Secondary School – Class of 1989
Phillip Vernesoni recalls being a young child tagging along with his father, a diesel mechanic on Hatteras Island. “I would ‘chase tools’ from time to time and I enjoyed seeing how engines were made and how they work.” He didn’t know then that he would choose a career path similar to his father’s.
A 1989 graduate from Cape Hatteras Secondary, Vernesoni went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at N.C. State University and now works with Lear Corporation, a Top 5 Tier 1 automotive supplier in Greenville, SC.
The company supplies seats and electronic components to all of the world’s major automotive original equipment manufacturers. Vernesoni works at the Duncan, SC facility where he makes seats for BMW’s X3, X4, X5, and X6 vehicle lines. His job has taken him everywhere from Atlanta, GA and Dearborn, MI to Greenville, SC and Munich, Germany.
“I have had several titles including product engineer, program manager and my current role is commodity leader, which means I have engineering and quality responsibilities for about 30 different suppliers.”
Vernesoni says his father was the biggest influence in choosing the career path he did. “At one time, he serviced most of the charter and commercial fishing vessels on the island.” Vernesoni enjoyed growing up surrounded by family on Hatteras Island. “At Cape Hatteras, my graduating class had about 34 students in it and the classes were small, so the teacher-to-student ratio was very [low]. In contrast, my first class at N.C. State had more than 200 in it, so there was a little bit of culture shock there.”
A baseball player and wrestler in high school, Vernesoni says he had a good relationship with all of his high school teachers. “Each of them gave some wisdom along the way.”
Manteo High School – Class of 2001
Jon Harris said if he told his teachers at Manteo High School that he was a chef now, they wouldn’t believe him. “I just wasn’t that kid back then. I took calculus and AP classes and loved computers.” But after graduating from Manteo High School in 2001 and studying computer engineering for two years at N.C. State University, he realized he was pursuing the wrong career.
The summer after his freshman year in college, Harris got his first taste of working in a kitchen at Nags Head’s Penguin Isle restaurant under Chef Lee Miller. “I just loved the fast-paced environment and thrived in it.”
Son of John Harris of Kitty Hawk Kites and Donna Haddon of Donna Designs, the young Harris left the college life and began working at the Red Sky Café in Duck under Wes Stepp and was hooked after a few years. He attended the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in Professional Studies in Culinary Arts Management.
Now Harris is the executive chef at J. Christians Restaurant in Wallingford, CT and has had that title for four years.
“It requires a lot of hours and is a very stressful job, but I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way,” he says. “The family and camaraderie of a restaurant and the fact that I am able to express my creativity at my job is what really keeps me motivated. I do what I love and I love what I do.”
Harris said that he had a great academic experience at Manteo High School. As far as growing up in Dare County, he said that it was awesome. “I really couldn’t ask for a better place to grow up.”
Chefs Lee Miller and Wes Stepp inspired him towards going to school and finding a career in cooking. But Harris adds, “Ultimately, I have to thank my family for pushing me to go to CIA and helping me out in the process.”
First Flight High School – Class of 2009
Katlin Allsbrook knew from a young age that she either wanted to be a doctor or a teacher. Now at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital she has found the perfect combination of both.
A 2009 graduate of First Flight High School, Allsbrook attended N.C. State University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in genetics and a minor in zoology. She is now completing her master’s degree in medical genetics at the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and is slated to graduate in May of 2015. She says she realized she wanted to be a genetic counselor as early as her freshman year in high school.
Working at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, which is ranked third out of all children’s hospitals worldwide, is an inspiration for her. “It really motivates me knowing that I get to work side-by-side with some of the top medical professionals in the country,” she says. “It’s incredible to look back and see how much I’ve learned in the short amount of time I’ve been here.”
“Another thing that motivates me is the patients who I get to work with. They all have such a unique story and being able to help them understand their medical conditions and improve [their] quality of life is worth all of the hard work.”
Allsbrook hopes to move back to North Carolina when she graduates. “In retrospect, I really didn’t take advantage of living on the Outer Banks when I was growing up. I took for granted being in such a beautiful place where I could see the ocean every day. Now that I’m a 12-hour drive from both home and the ocean, I wish I [had] gone to the beach more and taken advantage of all of the unique things that the area has to offer.”
Allsbrook adds that she had some amazing teachers during her high school years with whom she had strong bonds and connections. “I would consider them my mentors during my high school years. They challenged me to be a better person and invested in my success. I don’t think I would be where I am without them.”
Manteo High School – Class of 2002
“I was always fascinated by the Wright Brothers Memorial and found it inspiring every time I passed by it. I dreamed of being a pilot one day and, really, the Outer Banks is an aviation enthusiast’s dream.” He also fondly remembers his formative years, “playing for the [Manteo] Redskins Football team, walking around downtown Manteo with friends and of course spending my weekends on the beach.”
Now at 30, Hudgins (son of Tommy’s Gourmet Market owners Lucinda and Stuart Hudgins), is a captain and F-15 fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. A 2002 graduate of Manteo High School, Hudgins has earned a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Colorado at Boulder, a master’s degree in international relations from American Military University, and a Certificate in Non-Profit Management from Duke University. While he now calls Raleigh home, he confessed, “Summer time on the OBX is a dream and kept me coming back each summer during my four and a half years at college in Colorado.”
While deployed in Afghanistan, Hudgins also discovered another mission he was driven to pursue. Along with three other Air Force captains, Hudgins started the non-profit group, Flying Scarfs. The organization, created in 2011, is aimed at helping disadvantaged Afghan women sell handmade scarves. According to the Air Force Times, the captains launched Flying Scarfs after visiting the Bagram Air Field Bazaar. Within its first year, the nonprofit made approximately $40,000 and gave those profits back to the Afghan women.
The group has branched out to include the sale of Kenyan handbags. Hudgins said the group has taken a village market and given it internet power. The products are now sold worldwide. “Flying Scarfs,” the website reads, “is a social enterprise creating intelligent solutions for peace, stability and economic freedom around the world.” Their mission is “to promote microeconomic development around the world in order to provide comprehensive networks of stability.”
Hudgins received the Presidential Service Award and the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal for his role in the creation of the Flying Scarfs. flyingscarfs.com
Of his time spent within the Dare County school system, Hudgins said, “Going to school at Manteo was absolutely fantastic. My classmates were great and the teachers were even better. I ended up making a few, lasting relationships with some of my teachers that I wouldn’t trade for the world. A lot of my current success in my career can be directly attributed to the great teachers I had at Manteo High School.”
For many of our local children, Dare County and the coastal lifestyle are all that they know before graduation. Eventually, they receive their high school diploma, toss their mortarboards in the air and say their final goodbyes to teachers, counselors, and coaches of Dare County schools. Perhaps there are more indicators of a school’s success than the state’s Department of Public Instruction “report cards” which rate each district and each school for performance factors. If pursuit and success in a wide variety of careers is any indication, the students from our county’s schools (and the teachers who taught them) have proven more than any test scores can reveal. ♦
Dare County Schools: A Look at the Numbers
Just last month, Dare County schools were recognized by North Carolina State Superintendent June Atkinson for having the second highest four-year graduation rate in the state. Twelve of the state’s 115 Local Education Agencies (LEAs) were recognized with plaques at a luncheon held in Durham. For the 2013-14 school year, Dare County’s district achieved a combined graduation rate of 93.3%. “This progress is the direct result of the work done in many of these districts and schools to ensure that nearly every student who enters high school leaves with a diploma. I applaud the superintendents, principals and teachers for their commitment to their students’ success,” said Atkinson. She continued, “Our statewide graduation rate has climbed from 68 percent in 2006 to reach a
record high of 83.9 percent in 2013-14.”
The award winners are as follows:
LEA NAME & GRADUATION RATE
Avery County Schools 95
Dare County Schools 93.3
Union County Public Schools 92.6
Newton-Conover City Schools 92.5
Alleghany County Schools 92.2
Yancey County Schools 92.1
Perquimans County Schools 92.1
Cherokee County Schools 91
Caldwell County Schools 90.9
Catawba County Schools 90.8
Burke County Schools 90.8
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools 90.8