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Friday, May 31, 2019

St. Catherine Summer Festival TONIGHT (5-31) and TOMORROW (6-1)

The St. Catherine Summer Festival starts tonight, May 31, from 7 to 11:30 p.m. with their adult-only night.

The Naked Karate Girls band is back. Leave the kids at home and bring some friends and your dancing shoes to enjoy fun music, local food vendors, plenty of adult beverages and selected festival games.

$5 admission per person collected at the gate. No outside beverages or coolers permitted.

Then, Saturday, June 1 from 5:30 to 11:30 p.m. is the main event. Always held on the first weekend in June! Food, drinks, games, a major raffle, bouncy houses, gaga ball and music.

Bring the whole family!

Everything you need to know about the NEW Virtual Reality Arcade in Fort Thomas

By Jessica Eden 

Summer is here and you know what that means — the kids are home for the summer and parents are frantically looking for things to keep them busy. A new virtual reality arcade in Fort Thomas may be the answer you’re looking for…and you’ll probably have fun too!

Magic Realms Virtual Reality is now open! Located at 90 Alexandria Pike in the Fort Thomas Plaza right next to Barre3 Fort Thomas, the shop just celebrated a “Friends and Family Night” over Memorial Day Weekend and it is now officially open to the public.

So, where did the idea come from? Co-owner Mike Reichert says he’s always been open to creative business ideas. I’ve always been interested in different business ideas and these types of businesses exist all over but there isn’t one here,” said Reichert. “This is a perfect location with a big enough space, close to Cincinnati, close to NKU.” This unique business idea will be the first of its kind in the Greater Cincinnati area and was the brainchild of Reichert, Michael Fennell of Fort Thomas and Joe Ferraro of Highland Heights. Fennel and Ferraro are also co-owners of Magic Realms.

Another safe bet for this business — Virtual Reality is currently a thriving industry. Gaming is a huge industry. It’s bigger than movies, books and music combined. It’s something you can do at home with the right equipment but it’s expensive for someone to be at home. It’s the same idea of the arcades in the 1980s.”

This dazzling, new arcade space will have some of the most cutting edge technology in the virtual reality industry. “Most of the bays will be "standard", which means the players get access to an 8' x 8' gaming bay, gaming PC, HTC Vive headset and controllers. Some of the bays will be premium bays which add the KatWalk Mini Omnidirectional treadmill which allows the player to actually run, walk, jump, and crouch using their whole body rather than pushing a button on a controller to move forward in the game. At any given time we will have a library of around 50 games to choose from and those titles will change each week based on popularity.”

The space also features a snack bar, seating area and soon they will start construction on a party room that can reserved for birthday parties and/or corporate events. Did we mention the AMAZING “Ready Player One” mural on the wall? Reichert’s daughter, Haley Reichert, is a Freshman at Highlands and she painted the mural.

So what kind of games are available? There are around 50 different options! “There will be all kinds of games for all kinds of players and skill levels. Everything from the popular shoot-em-up titles to art creation games to space shuttle simulators. There is something for everyone, whether you are a serious gamer, looking for a date night, planning a corporate team building event or just having some fun with the whole family,” said Reichert.

The price to play is similar to movie theater prices. A ‘matinee’ time in the afternoon is cheaper than a prime time slot on a Friday or Saturday night. I’ll be honest— my husband Chris and I both had the chance to get a sneak peek and play a couple games on Friday and, in my humble opinion, it’s a LOT more fun than a movie. “Prices to play vary dramatically depending on the time of day and the day of the week with packages during weekday afternoons as low as $0.25 per minute but Weekend night walk-in rates as high as $1 per minute,” said Reichert. “It's always a good idea to book on our website in advance to ensure your spot is available and it is also cheaper to book in advance.The time frames available for purchase for VR play come in 30 minute, 60 minute and 90 minute intervals.

Although there are no age requirements, there is a waiver that is required for players and the equipment is fitted for a certain height. “There is no age limit to play, however, players under 18 must have their parent or guardian complete our waiver prior to playing which can also be done online. Players under 4 ft or over 7 ft tall may have a less than perfect experience,” said Reichert.

Remember, a virtual reality experience is still a physical activity so safety is still very important. A waiver is required for all players and lighting effects are used in the space. “Due to the nature of VR, anyone who may be sensitive to flashing lights should avoid visiting Magic Realms. Even if not intending to play, we will be using lasers, fog, and other lighting effects at this attraction,” said Reichert.  

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Fort Thomas Police, Schools Partner to Offer Free Family Protection Course for Women

Lt. Chris Carpenter and his wife. Carpenter will help lead these classes at Woodfill Elementary. 

The Fort Thomas Police Department is partnering with Fort Thomas Independent Schools to offer a Family Protection Course for women.

The course will teach women about human behavior cues leading to violence, environmental awareness, techniques for both armed and unarmed defense, bleeding control, and other topics pertaining to the protection of themselves and their families.

Class times will be 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on 6/29, 7/6 & 7/13, all Saturdays and will be held at the Woodfill Elementary Gymnasium. Participants must be 13 years or older due to the nature of the course.

This course is offered free of charge. Thirty spots will be available and you can sign up on the link below:

Free Family Protection Class Signup Here.

Smoothie King Newport Now Open

Construction for a 1,700-square-foot Smoothie King at the Newport Plaza I began in February of this year and now that location is open and ready for business.

The new Smoothie King, located at 96 Carothers Road in the shopping center owned by Albanese Cormier Holdings, opened softly on Tuesday, May 28.

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They are hosting a grand opening party on Saturday, June 8, starting at 8:00 a.m. The first person in line gets 365 smoothies over one year and gets to cut the ribbon to the store. The next 99 people in lines will each receive 30 free smoothies over 30 days.

The first 100 guests also receive free t-shirts and swag bags.

The store has ample space inside and a double drive through to accommodate orders on the go.

Highlands Softball Loses Heartbreaker in Region Semifinals

Bluebirds Fall Short of Fifth Region Final Appearance in Six Years

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. The Highlands softball team gathers one last time after a 4-3 loss to Dixie Heights in the 9th Region Semifinals on Wednesday at Beechwood. Highlands finished the season with a 16-11 record.
The Blue and White stood three outs away from a second straight 9th Region championship game and fifth one in six years.

The Highlands Bluebirds softball team (16-11 overall) clung to a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh in the region semifinals against the Dixie Heights Lady Colonels (20-13) at Beechwood. But the Bluebirds could not hold on as Dixie Heights scored twice in the bottom of the seventh for a 4-3 victory to move on to the region championship against Notre Dame on Thursday.

The teams split during the regular season. Dixie Heights beat Highlands, 7-3 on March 28 in Fort Thomas. But the Bluebirds came back to beat the Lady Colonels, 7-4 in Edgewood on May 17.

"I think we went though some stuff this year and I'm proud of each and every one of them," said Milt Horner, Highlands coach. "They play hard. (Dixie Heights) made some good defensive plays. I'm surprised we didn't hit better."

The Bluebirds managed eight hits in 27 at-bats for a .296 average against Dixie Heights sophomore pitcher Addie Joyce. Senior Rachel Gabbard led the way going 2-for-3 with a double and run batted in. Freshman Anna Greenwell also went 2-for-3 with a double, stolen base and run scored.

"We got overanxious because we hit (Joyce) before," Horner said. "We just didn't hit (Wednesday). We didn't come through when we needed to. We had some girls on base at key times and we didn't drive them in."

Junior Taylar Lorenzen gave Highlands a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh inning. She blasted one over the wall in left field with one out.

"We just made sure our heads were in the game the whole way," Lorenzen said. "Next year, we'll come force and we need to hit (better) next year. But it was a good game and I'm glad I went through it with my team."

Dixie Heights batted .250 (6-for-24) against Highlands eighth grade pitcher Kennedy Baioni and freshman Gracie Schlosser. The Lady Colonels struck out just once and took advantage of nine walks.

Sophomore Brooke Albert led Dixie Heights going 3-for-4 with a double, run batted in and run scored. She singled in sophomore Ella Steczynski to tie the game at 3-3 in the top of the seventh after Steczynski walked to open the inning and Highlands intentionally walked senior Kaylee McGinn. Albert later scored the game-winning run with one out when senior Jenna Slusher drew a bases-loaded walk.

Revamped Central Business District Proposal Approved by Planning Commission

Woodland Place resident, Neil Leyshock appeals to the Fort Thomas Planning Commission. Architect for the project, Sari Lehtinen, and developer, Rick Griewe, sit behind. 

By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor

In a five-to-one vote, the Fort Thomas Planning Commission approved the Phase One proposal for the Fort Thomas Town Center, a mixed-use development located in the Central Business District (CBD) along North Fort Thomas Avenue to the corner of Highland Avenue. The seventh member of the Commission, Dan Gorman, recused himself due to his financial interest in the project.

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The vote came after the second of two public hearings held on the proposal. The first was held in April and drew almost 180 local residents. At that meeting, most who commented expressed strong concerns about the project’s size, scope and placement of a residential garage entry onto Woodland Place, a small cul-de-sac behind the development. The commissioners decided to table the vote and hold a second public hearing on May 29.

Greiwe Development is the lead developer on the project with partners North American Properties, Sibcy Cline and M + A Architects. Rick Greiwe and M + A architect Sari Lehtinen presented at the first and second public hearings.

RELATED: Revisions for Central Business Proposal Announced

About 75 residents attended the second public hearing on the Central Business District development proposal.

New proposal includes significant changes

After the initial public hearing, the developers presented at the city’s Design Review Board. Board members also voiced concerns about size and scope similar to those of the residents. They asked the developers to rethink the project and come up with more options for design.

The developers withdrew the initial plans and went to work on a second attempt that incorporated several changes. New plans were submitted, and the revamped proposal was the focal point of the second public hearing.

Major changes included:
  • Splitting the building into two buildings with a 30-foot public walkway and garden in between. The first building would be mixed use and have three floors as in the original plans, but the second building would be designated all commercial and have only two floors.
  • Lowering the roof pitch and ceiling height to make the larger building 50 feet tall, in line with zoning so no variance would be required.
  • Reducing the number of residential units from 24 to 18. This reduction also brought down the number of spaces required in the residential garage. The new garage plan includes two spaces per resident plus nine visitor spaces.
  • Creating space for a full service restaurant for the first floor of the smaller commercial building. Office space would be available above the restaurant.
  • Making changes in the exterior design elements in the commercial building so that the two buildings look more distinct.
  • Making changes to the placement of the commercial trash dumpster to make it less visible.
  • Increasing the set back for the residential garage entry. 

 Efforts appreciated but neighbors still have concerns

About 75 people attended the May 29 public hearing. It was clear from the new plans shared by the developers that they had taken several of the community’s suggestions and concerns under consideration. About half of those who spoke said they were in favor of the project and half still had concerns, especially about the residential garage entry orientation, which had not changed.

Neighbors living on Woodland Place met with the developers, Mayor Haas and Gorman several times throughout the process. Most recently a group of neighbors that included architects offered options for moving the garage, including possible ramps leading up to the public parking lot. Greiwe said the sloped terrain of the site made alternatives difficult or unsafe and either interfered with the commercial parking lot or created an angle too steep for trash collection trucks to pick up dumpsters safely or to maneuver.

Other concerns voiced by neighbors included lights from the property shining into their homes at night and increased traffic, as well as parking issues especially during special events at the high school. Some small business owners said they would be very interested in the commercial space, but other residents said they were concerned about the viability of the businesses in the development.

Greiwe took the opportunity to address concerns about the retail spaces to introduce David Birdsall, president of 360 Property Partners, a firm that handles retail leasing and management.

Birdsall told the crowd that he thought the project would be attractive to businesses and their customers. "This meets all of our criteria – great demographics, walkable community, dense neighborhood population, well located and major employment centers nearby. Retail is all about the experience, that’s what retail is today...You have the experience of a great community with a small neighborhood retail center. We are very excited. We feel this gives a great opportunity...We think this will be another great thing in our portfolio," he said.

CBD zoning offers Planning Commission more latitude

Zoning Administrator Kevin Barbian gave a brief staff report. He noted that the changes brought the building height to within the required 50 feet limit so no variance would be needed.

He also noted, however, that the formula to determine the required number of commercial parking spaces for the project indicated 60 spaces, and the development has only 40 on site. The developer offered that there were 16 parking spots on the street, but Barbian said these cannot be counted in the formula.

Still, he said, the Planning Commission has some latitude when it comes to parking requirements in the Central Business zone. They could choose to count the on-street spaces and also public spaces available nearby elsewhere in the CBD. He noted that the city owns space behind the Hiland Building across the street from the development that could accommodate 31 spaces.

Another option for flexibility is shared parking. Two different types of businesses with different parking usage could conceivably share a space, he explained. For example, offices might use more spaces during the day, while a restaurant in the same building might have more usage later in the evening.

Barbian said zoning requires three loading and unloading spaces for the amount of commercial space in the project, and the proposed development only has one large space. Again, he noted the Planning Commission would have flexibility with this requirement.

Later in the discussion, Commissioner Jerry Noran explained why it appeared that the Planning Commission did not need to meet all zoning requirements. "We can't change the zoning ordinance. The CBD the only one that there is some latitude, because CBDs are a kind of a strange animal. All the other zones have specific parking requirements and setback requirements...but the CBD zone is different."

Engineer Frank Twehues of CT Consultants reported on a new traffic study which was conducted the week of May 20, 2019 and concluded that there would be some increased delay on traffic flow during peak hours but no significant overall impact.

The Planning Commission discussion and vote on the new proposal 

Inmate Escapes from Campbell County Jail Still Wanted

Police agencies in northern Kentucky are still looking for an escaped inmate.

Jerry Iles, 57, escaped from the Campbell County Detention Center on 5/23/19.

He was serving a seven-year sentence for Burglary 2nd Degree from Kenton County.

Iles' last known address was on 5th Street in Newport.

Records indicate Iles has a significant number of family members living in Covington.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Summer Enrichment course registrations now open

The ever-popular Fort Thomas Independent Schools Summer Enrichment Program registration is now open to the community on a first-come, first-serve basis.

"We hope you will find this catalog contains engaging courses that offer students opportunities to expand their knowledge or refine their skills," said Jamee Flaherty, Assistant Superintendent for Student Services.

She said that most student courses will meet Monday through Friday, and some classes begin as early as June 3.

The course catalog offers classes that range from Basic Care Care to Entrepreneurship to CSI: Fort Thomas and even learning about the magic behind Harry Potter.

Please visit for information regarding summer enrichment course options. Course descriptions and registration link is available now.  Please call Sally Race at FTIS Central Office with any questions: 859-781-3333.

Additional Enrichments Opportunities to Keep School Skills Sharp 

Fort Thomas Independent Schools has partnered with Barnes and Noble in Newport to bring the Summer Bridge Activities workbook at a cost of only $10, price valid through July 15, 2019.

"We have heard that many parents are looking for some type of programming to help students maintain the skills over the summer," said Flaherty. "This resource is highly recommended, has activities for multiple content areas, and has a separate book for each incoming grade level."

This Saturday, June 1, 2019, Barnes and Noble will be donating a portion of the proceeds back to the district for next Saturday's purchases. You can also make your purchase online (June 1st only) at this link. The online code will be sent out in the near future if you want to use this option to purchase.

Highlands Softball Beats Ryle to Open Regional Tournament, Moves onto Semi

By G. Michael Graham 

The Highlands Bluebirds softball team (16-10 overall) has had its issues in recent years hitting Ryle Lady Raiders senior pitcher Hannah Bishop.

Bishop held Highlands to a .087 (2-for-23) clip in a 4-0 Ryle win in the 9th Region championship loss at Veterans Park in Newport last year. Ryle went on to go 0-for-2 in the state tournament.

Highlands drew the 33rd District Runner-up Lady Raiders to open the 9th Region Tournament on Memorial Day at Dixie Heights. But this time, the Bluebirds batted .381 (8-for-21) against Bishop and manufactured three runs on their way to a 3-1 win over Ryle. Ryle had run-ruled Highlands, 16-1 on May 9 in Union.

Highlands saw three players go 2-for-3 against Bishop in freshman Anna Greenwell, junior Abby Rust and eighth grader Carly Cramer. Cramer tripled and had the game-winning single in the sixth inning with Greenwell scoring twice and Rust doubling.

"(Bishop) goes with the double outside, which is a hard pitch to hit, and then she comes high trying to get hitters to chase," Greenwell said. "We utilized all of our skills and abilities from all different spots in the line-up to scratch three necessary to get the much-needed victory vs. Ryle."

Eighth grader Gracie Schlosser threw a complete game striking out three and walking three. Highlands had two errors behind her compared to one for Ryle.

"We definitely played some great defense," said Milt Horner, Highlands coach. "(Seventh grader) Bailey Markus made a great catch in right field. Abby Rust made a couple good catches in center field. But to hold that team to one run after they scored 16 on us in three innings a couple weeks ago was a big turn-around. Gracie Schlosser had her best game of the year. One of the things we've been preaching to her is to own the mound and she's really done a great job of getting back from her (preseason injury)."

Bluebirds Lose Shoot-Out in 9th Region Title Game

Highlands Not Headed to State for First Time Since 2014

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior Cooper Schwalbach steps into swinging motion in the 9th Region championship on Tuesday.
Solid pitching and defense carried the Highlands Bluebirds baseball team (29-10 overall) to four consecutive 9th Region championships.

But on Tuesday in a sixth consecutive region championship appearance, that was not the case. The offense tried to make up for it, but could not in a 12-9 loss to the 37-1 Beechwood Tigers. Highlands last lost this early in the postseason by a 3-0 score to the Conner Cougars in the 2014 region championship game.

Highlands and Beechwood split the two games during the regular season. The Bluebirds handed the Tigers their lone loss, 7-5 at Great American Ballpark on April 26. The Tigers came back to beat Highlands, 16-5 in five innings on May 3.

Highlands specifically could not contain Beechwood senior and the tournament's most valuable player in senior Devin Johnson. Johnson cracked two home runs going 2-for-4 with five runs batted in and three runs scored.

The top five spots in the Beechwood line-up had at least two hits. The eighth hitter in senior Clay Trusty went 3-for-3 reaching base all four teams. Sophomore pinch runner Cole Stammer scored twice.

"That's a great team over there in Beechwood," said Jeremy Baioni, Highlands Head Coach. "(Head Coach) Kevin Gray works extremely hard. In a game like this, you can't give them things. They took advantage of their opportunities. They hit one through nine. You can't pitch around all nine of them. In high school, you're not going to play clean all the time."

A mental error led to a 2-0 Beechwood lead after one inning. With two out, Highlands senior pitcher Grady Cramer got senior Ayden Hutton to pop one in the air. But it landed in short right center field between three Highlands players. Johnson smacked one to left center to give the Tigers the lead.

Highlands came back to trim the lead to 2-1 in the third. Junior Ethan Kavanagh reached on an error, took second on a sacrifice bunt and scored when senior Bryce Ziegler hit a sacrifice fly to right.

Overall, the Tigers went 15-for-32 for a .469 clip. Highlands went 10-for-27 for a .370 average. Senior Cooper Schwalbach led the Bluebirds going 2-for-5 with three runs batted in and senior Trey Gabbard added two hits and a run batted in to go with a run scored.

The Bluebirds took the lead with two out in the fourth. Cramer doubled and senior Kyle Winkler ran for him and junior Nate Gesenhues walked. Kavanagh doubled them in to put Highlands up 3-2.

But Beechwood came back to take a 5-3 lead in the fifth. Johnson cranked a three-run blast before Highlands tied the game in the bottom of the fifth. Ziegler walked and sophomore pinch runner Jason Noe moved to third when senior Trent Johnson doubled. Gabbard singled in Noe and junior Mason Schwalbach singled in freshman pinch runner Nick Robinson to tie the game.

The Tigers responded with four in the sixth and added three huge runs in the seventh that proved to be huge. The Bluebirds made things interesting with four runs in the seventh. Gabbard led off with a walk and scored when Kavanagh drew a bases-loaded walk. Cooper Schwalbach then doubled with two out scoring Mason Schwalbach, Gesenhues and Kavanagh. Beechwood ended the game on a fielder's choice.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Bluebirds Seeking Unprecedented Fifth Straight Regional Championship

Highlands Baseball Looking to Make History

PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands junior Ethan Kavanagh gets in position in a recent game.

9th Region Semifinals:
Highlands 5, St. Henry 2:

The Bluebirds (29-9) advanced to their sixth straight region championship game and seventh in the last eight seasons with the Memorial Day win at University of Cincinnati Medical Center Stadium.

Highlands batted .333 (10-for-3) in the win and held the Crusaders to seven hits. Junior Ethan Kavanagh led the Bluebirds going 3-for-3 with a run and two walks. Senior Bryce Ziegler went 2-for-3 with an RBI. Senior Grady Cramer tripled.

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The Schwalbach brothers also chimed in on the scoring. Senior Cooper Schwalbach scored twice and junior Mason Schwalbach had a two-run single.

Cooper Schwalbach played center field. The field is bigger than many high school fields, but Highlands played one game there during the regular season and one at Great American Ballpark.

"In an outfield like that, you have to commit all-out to get the ball or play it safe," Cooper Schwalbach said. "You can't half-way do anything out there or it will turn into a double, a triple or an inside-the-park home run. Our outfield has actually done a really good job this year judging and playing balls and not allowing extra bases."

Newport Central Catholic Begins Master Plan for On-Campus Improvements

A rendering of an on-campus football field at Newport Central Catholic has made an appearance online and has social media buzzing.

Director of Institutional Advancement at NCC, Kenny Collopy said the field is part of a larger vision on improvements for the private school located at 13 Carothers Road in Newport, but is still early in the process.

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"This whole process really began in the Fall of 2017, but still has a ways to go," said Collopy. "Within our Diocese, we must follow necessary specific steps to be sure we have everything taken care of before we begin detailing and fundraising for such large visions like an on-campus athletic complex, which is only a part of what our focus has been."

Collopy said stakeholders began meeting in the Fall of 2017 with members of the community to discuss the future of the school with regard to enrollment, expansion, engagement and development.

They met with the Administration of the Diocese of Covington in June of 2018 and presented a preliminary vision for a Capital Campaign.  According to Collopy, all schools in the Diocese must receive permission and go through the steps to move forward with any sort of extensive fundraising, renovations or additions to the physical campus.

Collopy said that NCC was granted approval and are now in the beginning stages of creating a Master Plan for the physical improvement of our campus. They have hired Hub+Weber Architects have implemented a Master Plan Committee made up of alumni, donors, parents, and faculty assembling about once a month.

Collopy said aside from the improvements and addition to the sporting fields on campus, they are looking at converting their Science Labs into STEM Labs, an expansion of their black box or the construction of an auditorium and improving the existing religious structures on campus.

"These visions again are in the very early stages of formation," said Collopy. "Obviously, the field has been garnering the most attention as it is a giant project that many do not think possible due to our current land situation; however, it is a reality that this structure can fit on this hill.  We are very much aware of the issues of erosion on the Carothers Road side of our Hill and we are working with the Diocese to take care of this situation before moving forward with anything.

This is why the Master Plan is necessary.  The Diocese will not, nor should they, let us move forward with any sort of rash planning."

Newport Catholic plans on completing their Master Plan by the end of this summer and follow it with a presentation to the Diocese.  The Diocese will then decides if their plan is reasonable enough to move forward with a feasibility study that gathers information on the fundraising capacity of their community.

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After the feasibility study, they must then get further approval to move forward with the fundraising aspects of these projects and essentially start a Capital Campaign.  After the Capital Campaign, construction would begin.

"This is a long process, but we are excited that the process is moving forward and creating an excitement in a community that has seen decreased enrollment over the past few years," said Collopy.

"Our Master Plan may end up being broken into different phases, but again it is necessary to complete this large vision so we can make educated decisions for our future and also have confidence in asking for its support. There are a lot of unknowns at this moment as far as cost and a timeline go.  We are being diligent and deliberate so we can offer the best version of Newport Central Catholic to our students, parents, alumni, and community."

Highlands Theatre Wins Record-Breaking 11 Cappies Theatre Awards

Highlands High School receives 23 nominations for spring musical and critics

The high school Critics and Awards Program known as Cappies has announced the 2018-19 season nominees, and Highlands High School received 23 nominations for their spring musical of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Of those 23 nominations, 11 winners were recognized at the end-of-year gala held at the Aronoff Center for the Arts in downtown Cincinnati on May 23, where winners were announced, including Best Musical for Highlands' rendition of 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The Best Musical Award was the department's first win since 2013.

The 11 wins were also the most in the department history, topping their previous high of seven.

Congratulations to the following Highlands’ nominees and their director Jason Burgess. Winners denoted in bold.

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Up and Coming Critic - Juli Russ
Best Female Critic - Lin DeGraaf
Best Female Critic - Izzy Moses
Best Critic Team
Top Critique - Lin DeGraaf
Marketing and Publicity - Sophia Gamble, Mattie Melson, and Crew
Sound - Steve Lang, Maddi McIntosh, Liam Morris, and Crew
Props - Sydney Earle, Jonah Fessler, Tessa Killen, and Crew
Lighting - David Dierig, Austin Paolucci, Miles Sower, and Crew
Costumes - Annie Perkins, Thaddy Sieverding, Haley Whitt, and Crew
Sets - Allison Bertasso, Daniel Broomall, Lily Shamblin, and Crew
Creativity (Directing) - Vicky Alcorn and Tammy Sanow
Stage Management and Crew - Stella Fahlbusch, Olivia Greenwell, Eleanor Todd, and Crew
Featured Actress in a Musical - Lillian Reynolds
Female Dancer - Lizzy Roeding
Comic Actress in a Musical - Izzy Moses
Comic Actor in a Musical - Grant Sower
Supporting Actress in a Musical - Maggie Seibert
Supporting Actor in a Musical - Braxton Broering
Lead Actress in a Musical - Zoe Zoller
Lead Actor in a Musical - Hank Slaby
Best Song - Pandemonium
Best Musical - 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Student Collaborative Project Takes Learning in New Directions

Highlands Middle School eighth grade students display their 3D models and presentation materials for a project that brought together all aspects of Portrait of a Graduate skills.

Eighth grade students from Highlands Middle School presented on a unique project at the recent Fort Thomas Independent Schools board meeting. The exercise brought together many different aspects of what has become known as the Portrait of a Graduate.

Portrait of a Graduate includes a set of skills students should have upon graduation, and the school district is working to integrate these skills across all grades and all subjects. Students develop skills to play five key roles that were identified by the school community: Creative Problem Solver, Curious Critical Thinker, Global Communicator, Empathetic Collaborator and Courageous Leader.

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Finding projects that build skills in all five areas at once is a challenge. The Language Arts 3D Theme Project successfully incorporated all the key areas in an activity that required students to take their learning in several different directions, incorporating reading, analysis, comprehension, writing, communication, hands-on technical skills and group collaboration.

"It amazes me in my first year at the middle school the amount of different types of learning that we’re seeing. It’s not the sit-and-get type of thing that we’ve traditionally seen in the past. There is constant collaboration, creativity going on in the classrooms. And this comes from our staff, our students. They do a fantastic job, so I just wanted to brag on them a bit," said Josh Feldmann, assistant principal. 

A multi-level, collaborative project

Teachers Amy Fry and Miki Beier worked with the students to develop a project for their unit on the Holocaust. It became a student-led, multi-level, collaborative group project.

"It’s a very large unit that teaches many critical thinking skills,” said Beier. “Students read a variety of novels and had to pick out the theme, analyze the theme, find text evidence to support their theme... This year, Ms. Fry and I were thinking we needed to do something a little outside the box. So, we started thinking about all the aspects of Portrait of a Graduate and how we could tie that into a project. We came up with this 3D theme project."

All of the students read different novels about the topic, she explained. They broke into groups, and each group worked together to pick a theme. They then created a small model that symbolized their theme and would be 3D printed. Each group came up with extended response questions and exchanged them with another group to answer them.

Students were not allowed to state the theme directly in their question. The question, with help from the 3D object, were to be designed to help the answerer discover the chosen theme.

Other than the parameters outlined by the teachers, the project itself was entirely student-led. The students had to rely on collaborative and critical thinking skills to make choices about their themes and how to execute them.

It was a challenge, said Fry. "There were a lot of bumps in the road along the way. There was a lot of unintended learning that took place," she explained.

Many steps, many different types of learning

The students described the steps in the process, the challenges they faced and the learning that took place throughout the project.

After deciding on a theme, the next step was to create a physical symbol that could display their theme.

"Our theme was 'There’s always more to life than what you think there is.'...We actually made our figures for the theme out of Play-Doh. We had to create two different sculptures and one of ours was a guy in a little open cylinder which represents a blockade from the outside to show there’s more to life than you just think... We picked the guy in the cylinder. It would print easier and go better with our theme," said student Cooper Gamble.

Once models were set, the students then entered specifications into TinkerCAD, a 3D modeling software. "My group chose to create people in a circle to represent the theme of our novel, 'Family is the light in the darkness.' We used TinkerCAD to take our rough design in Play-Doh and refine it to get a final product... Even though our design ended up not printing out correctly it was still a great learning experience," said student Owen Martin.

Getting their models to print on the 3D printer the way they wanted them was a challenge, but the students tapped into their problem-solving skills and found ways to improvise.

"The next step of this project was to develop and create an extended response question to give to another group to answer... But one of the difficult parts was you couldn’t reveal the theme in the question, because you wanted them to be critical thinkers to figure out what the theme was. It took a couple of rough drafts to figure out what your question was going to be because it was difficult but in the end we finally got our question," explained Madison Gillman.

The students had to work through disagreements about the theme and related questions and come to consensus on the writing of their questions as well as their answers to other groups’ questions.

AnnaLucy Surrey explained the process. "Answering another group’s question, it definitely took a lot of collaboration. We definitely had to talk about it before we decided what we were going to do but it eventually all came together..."

"The question we had to answer was 'Did the Holocaust strengthen or weaken the heart of the victims?' We all easily agreed that it strengthened...but writing an extended response together is hard because there is a lot of disagreements about how you are going to phrase things, what you are going to write and what quotes you are going to include. So we had to compromise," said Savannah Haigis.

Building Portrait of a Graduate skills

Throughout the exercise, the students were aware of the key skills they wanted to practice as part of a Portrait of a Graduate.

"We believe this project touched on all the aspects of Portrait of a Graduate. Being curious and critical thinkers in one part was having to create that question without revealing your theme in the question. And the other group could be critical thinkers as well trying to reveal what you thought the theme was," said Gillman.

"Another part of Portrait of a Graduate is global communication, and that’s demonstrating the ability to communicate effectively in writing and verbally... Answering the response questions helped our group very well with writing," said Will Herald. He explained that his group disagreed with the question being posed but worked it out through communication and cooperation.

"This project did use all the aspects of Portrait of a Graduate and especially displayed empathetic collaboration. When working with a group, you don’t get to pick who you are with...A teacher matches you up with a bunch of different personalities, a bunch of different ideas, which is definitely a very good thing...It does require a lot of collaboration and being empathetic in thinking about your other group members’ ideas and their feelings when it comes to deciding what to do and how to handle the situation," said Elisabeth Davidson.

"This project overall taught us how to work together in a group and how to achieve a better ending product when working together," concluded Haigis. 

Key skills for today and the future

Monday, May 27, 2019

Photos: Highlands Class of 2019

Photos by Brian Frey

Congrats, Highlands graduates! 

Roofing, siding, gutters, painting. 

More photos below: