BROOKSVILLE — Judging from the signs and the enthusiastic cheering, West Hernando Middle School considers itself very cool.
In fact, the school is so cool it was voted as the Fox Channel 13 "Cool School" of the week and appeared on live television during the station's Good Day, Tampa Bay program April 20.
Feature reporter Charley Belcher visited the school with a cameraman and appeared in short segments for about a two-hour span. He traveled around the school and broadcast from locations that included the aviary, the climbing wall in the physical education room and in teacher-of-the-year Leslie Parker's science class, where students were learning chemistry while creating tie-dye shirts.
The Cool School program is an offshoot, Belcher said, of the station's fall program that focused on high school football games. It went over so well, he said, that Channel 13 decided to highlight schools in winter and spring.
This is the program's second year. The first year focused on elementary schools. Now, it is the middle schools' turn.
"We give them a chance to brag a little bit," Belcher said.
Anyone can nominate a school as a Cool School. In a week, Belcher said, "we've had as many as four nominees." Once the schools are nominated, the voting begins. Anyone can vote online for a particular school as often as he or she wishes.
Schools in any part of the viewing area, as far south as Sarasota County and including Citrus and Levy counties to the north, can submit nominations.
West Hernando Middle School battled it out with two other schools, one from Pasco County and the other from Polk. There were 115,000 votes over two days. West Hernando had more than 55,000. Pasco Middle had about 52,000 and the third school, from Auburndale, had about 8,000.
Said West Hernando principal Rick Markford, "We had family and friends throughout the country, in-laws in California and Oregon, (voting). We had nationwide voting."
Kathryn Martinez, whose son, seventh-grader Sebastian, 13, attends the school, made the nomination. She's a big West Hernando Middle fan.
"The administration is awesome. They serve the parents in so many ways," Martinez said. "The teachers are awesome. They go above and beyond the norm."
She nominated the school using the information found at myfoxprep.com and said she and Sebastian stayed up late to keep an eye on the voting.
Eighth-grader Kayla Harvey, 14, identified why she thinks her school is cool. "Because of how great everything is," she said, citing the yearbook, sports and advanced classes. "We do a lot of projects, and that helps us learn even more."
Kayla's classmate, Alex Eisenhauer, 14, concurred. "I think they give us a lot of choices of what we can do with electives," she said. "I think it's good that they give us advanced classes."
Another eighth-grader, Shawna Jackson, 15, was in science class tie dying when Belcher came in.
"I like how we can do fun things that turn into science experiments," she said. "We learned about dyes, how to process them. We learned how to make the dyes avoid color run-ins. We learned to set up our shirts, and we learned how to have fun with it instead of it being just a boring project."
Very cool, indeed.