#1StudentNWI: New Prairie is hitting the books and storming the field!

#1StudentNWI: New Prairie is hitting the books and storming the field!

What’s recently happened?

New Prairie High School (NPHS) has just started school, and while it welcomes back students, it also welcomes some new faces to the NPHS family. Not only has NPHS welcomed many new teachers into the school, but it has also gotten a new principal and vice principal.

Justin Heinold has worked in the New Prairie community for about six years, serving as assistant principal at New Prairie Middle School and the principal at Prairie View Elementary. However, Heinold has been an educator for over ten years, previously teaching science near Indianapolis, IN. 

Heinold himself is a parent of children that attend New Prairie United School Corporation (NPUSC) schools, making him well-adjusted to the community and the people around him.

“I enjoy working with the staff, connecting with students, and meeting parents,” Heinold said. “The community here is strong and helpful. We all strive to work together to ensure our students are prepared for life beyond the classroom.”

Heinold has many plans for the school year.

“The school will be a place to communicate with clarity; focus on learning, collaboration, and results; and celebrate all wins--big and small!”

Casey Martin is entirely new to the NPUSC community this year, taking on the role of assistant principal; however, he has a long history of teaching and leading roles in school systems.

After college, Martin lived in New Zealand for a year and even started his teaching career in Beijing, China over eight years ago. After returning to the United States, Martin began teaching social studies at Marquette High School (MHS) in 2015. In 2021, Martin earned the position of principal.

Moving to a new school corporation can be a difficult change, but New Prairie has already grown on Martin.

“New Prairie has an amazing community of teachers, students, and families,” he said. “I've been very impressed by the district as a whole and its focus on educational excellence for each and every student. New Prairie also has a long history of success outside of the classroom as well, and it's clear that the greater community supports our efforts. I'm inspired by the enthusiasm and opportunity that the high school provides its students and I'm honored to be a part of the team.”

The pair hopes to get to know all of the students at NPHS.

What’s coming up?

All summer long, many NPHS students longed for the start of school, but not for academics. Football season has just kicked off, and the entire community cannot wait. After their impressive road to state last year, taking second place in the 4A championship, the Cougars are gearing up for their next big season.

Coach Casey McKim has been the NPHS football coach for almost four years now, and he’s accomplished a lot.

“During my football career, there have been former players who want to come back and coach. Victories and titles will be forgotten, but if you made an impact on a player enough that they want to come back and help future players, I think it means you have done something right,” said McKim.

Seniors Marshall Kmiecik and Maddox Franklin have been working hard all summer for this season both in the weight room and mentally, focusing on maintaining a healthy mental attitude toward the game. 

“Scoring in the state game and being able to celebrate with my brother in the end zone is one of my favorite memories,” Kmiecik says.

“My favorite memory was when the coaches ran field dedication shirtless in the snow when we went to state,” Franklin added.

NPHS has its first game on August 18 against its rival team, La Porte High School, and the entire community is excited. Football has made a lasting impact on the community and past players, from wins to long-lasting memories.

Community member spotlight:

Tonya Aerts is a teacher at NPHS and has been a vital part of the community, not only teaching Project Lead the Way (PLTW) medical classes – Principles of Biomedical Sciences, Human Body Systems, and Medical Interventions – but also being the organization advisor for HOSA. 

“I believe HOSA is an extraordinary opportunity for students and advisors to push themselves out of their comfort zones,” Aerts said. “I have been honored to receive awards as an Outstanding Advisor and nominations at the international level, all of which I cherish, but to be completely honest, I am most proud when I see our students try new things, fully embrace an opportunity, and/or experience success at the state and international levels. There is some tough competition, especially at the international competition, and to witness a New Prairie student stand alongside other amazing students truly warms my heart. Those moments can be game-changers for students, and it's an honor to be part of that moment.”

While keeping busy at school, Aerts has been exceptionally hard-working outside of school working on numerous projects such as Project ADAM and JAM. Project Adam is an organization around the nation that provides schools and communities the resources to assist in preparing for a cardiac emergency. Once a school accomplishes a list of requirements, that school is designated as a Heart Safe School. Thanks to Aerts and her peers, Dr. Adam Kean & Nick Hogan from Riley Hospital for Children, Jeff Utzinger from Be Like Bill, and Allie Thompson at the National Project ADAM office, New Prairie High School was the first to accomplish this in Indiana. This has brought many opportunities and new journeys for Aerts.

“This project has also allowed me to develop a working relationship with La Porte County EMS, and we are truly fortunate to have such a dedicated and compassionate group of first responders servicing La Porte County. I have learned so much from them, and I look forward to working with them on future projects,” she said.

JAM was a student-created project for HOSA a few years ago that commemorated the losses of La Porte High School Student Jake West and NPHS Student Mark Mayfield, but it turned into much more. Aerts adapted the project into a new movement and educational organization to not only introduce and update the NPHS community about the importance of AEDs and Sudden Cardiac Arrest safety but to bring the New Prairie and La Porte communities together.

“It's a pretty powerful thing to watch a community come together to support one another, even though in competition the groups are fierce rivals,” said Aerts. “JAM signifies something bigger than a game or a win. It means coming together and supporting each other, helping others, even if you do not know them, being kind. It's a movement inspired by Jake & Mark. It's amazing to watch students embrace this. JAM continues to grow and has endless possibilities. A member of the community created a character to represent JAM, and we hope to officially launch that soon with the help of the Play for Jake Foundation.” Aerts said.

Aerts volunteered her help to testify on behalf of the Play for Jake Foundation, an organization made in memory of Jake West to spread awareness about mandating AEDs in Indiana schools, in order for SB369: Jake’s Law to step forward in the process to make all of Aerts', and many others', goals come true. 

“I might be dreaming big here, but I would like to see SB369: Jake's Law, which includes mandatory requirements for all Indiana schools, passed. In addition, I believe Indiana should adopt a law that requires all coaches to be CPR/AED certified at all times. Some school districts and groups require this, which is awesome, but it is not a state law,” said Aerts.

Aerts would also like to see Indiana Code 20-34-8, which outlines policies regarding student-athletes experiencing symptoms of cardiac arrest, develop similar rules to Indiana’s concussion guidelines, requiring medical clearance before returning to play as well as mandatory sudden cardiac arrest drills at least twice a year at all schools.

“I understand that there are multiple pieces to this puzzle and that the 'fix' isn't easy, but we know that sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of student death on school campuses, so why would we not be prepared to respond?” said Aerts.

While Aerts may think it’s a big dream right now, with the support of her community and school along with her resilience and motivation for this program, she will do even more great things in the future.