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Michele Miller, Times Staff Writer

Michele Miller is a Tampa Bay Times writer in Pasco County. Miller coordinates and provides stories and photographs for Pasco entertainment features as well as the Top of the Class education feature.

Phone: (727) 869-6251


  1. At Holiday nonprofit, alternative therapies help veterans overcome traumas



    At 11 a.m. on a recent Thursday morning, a group of veterans who served in different military branches and different wars pushed furniture against the walls to make room for yoga in the confines of Veterans Alternative.

    Meditative music wafted through the air as chief operating officer Janel Norton guided the men, and a couple of their wives, through deep breathing exercises and a series of poses....

    Veterans Alternative president and co-founder Brian Anderson, 33, with his service dog, Hero, follows the motions of clinician Alison Voisin during accelerated resolution therapy.
  2. Book about famous painter's garden inspires one at Fox Hollow Elementary



    For more than 10 years, art teacher Gayle Ratza had been itching to spruce up the courtyard outside her classroom at Fox Hollow Elementary School.

    Her hankering started soon after she took the teaching position, and about the same time she happened upon a pop-up book called A Walk in Monet's Garden.

    The book, with beautiful illustrations by Francesca Crespi, was useful in teaching young students about the 19th century impressionist movement begun in France by artists such as Claude Monet. It also served as inspiration for the plot just outside her door....

    Fox Hollow Elementary art teacher Gayle Ratza shows students the book that inspired the new garden at the Port Richey school.
  3. Mobile pottery studio offers opportunity for local students to create


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Todd Still sat at the back of a school bus that had been converted into a mobile pottery studio, imparting instruction on the intricacies of working a potter's wheel to a passel of fourth- and fifth-grade students who were more than eager to get going.

    "Super fast is not what we want. Super slow is not what we want," Still told the students as he circled his hands around a blob of spinning, gray clay....

    Zoe Carpenter, 10, works on a clay dog outside the mobile studio.
  4. Woman honors memory of husband with donations to Land O'Lakes valedictorians


    NEW PORT RICHEY — On June 3, the fifth anniversary of her husband's death, Marjorie Hitchcock opened up her morning newspaper and says she found the perfect way to honor his memory.

    On the front page of the Pasco Times was a story about the record-breaking 10 valedictorians from Land O'Lakes High School — nine from the International Baccalaureate program and one traditional — who were set to graduate that evening....

    Land O’Lakes High’s valedictorians in the International Baccalaureate program are Jeffrey Gu, center table, and, seated from left, Aimee Fernandez, Emily Luo, Maya Henning, Grace Park, Julia Thorner, Albert Brotgandel, Elizabeth Olatunji and Saloni Mehra.
  5. Nine valedictorians finish atop of IB program at Land O'Lakes High



    For four years, they shared the same classrooms, teachers and driven work ethic.

    The race for class rank was always close — a cluster of students at the top with no apparent breakaways. When all was said and done, the close-knit teenagers would finish their senior year with the same grade-point average — 4.7857 — and the honor of being named valedictorians of the International Baccalaureate program at Land O'Lakes High School....

    The International Baccalaureate program at Land O’Lakes High School has nine valedictorians graduating this year: Jeffrey Gu, center table, and from left seated, Aimee Fernandez, Emily Luo, Maya Henning, Grace Park, Julia Thorner, Albert Brotgandel, Elizabeth Olatunji and Saloni Mehra.
  6. Card program aims to brighten seniors' days

    Human Interest

    ODESSA — Dear Friend...

    Wishing you well...

    Have a nice day...

    Where to start? That was the challenge for fifth-graders from Odessa Elementary School, who recently spent time penning cheerful messages to elders they had never met.

    No problem. Brainstorming paired with good intentions fueled enough thoughtful verse and colorful drawings to fill greeting cards provided for the sole purpose of brightening someone else's day....

    Odessa Elementary student Viky Mansour, 10, shows her message and designs to her teacher, Lauren Snodgrass.
  7. Among PHSC graduates: first class of nursing students with bachelor's degrees



    Sometimes the path from here to there is a series of fits and starts, peaks and valleys, that upon retrospection prove to be valuable steps in the process of bettering oneself.

    That journey is one Hilesca Hidalgo, 47, has come to appreciate — one the mother of two young daughters can trace back to when she was 19 and had recently moved from Puerto Rico to the Miami area....

    Hilesca Hidalgo, center, was one of 20 PHSC bachelor’s nursing program graduates Wednesday.
  8. Team says goodbye to Odyssey of the Mind; but first, World Finals



    Some victories are bittersweet. That's the general feeling for a couple of members of the Odyssey of the Mind Division III team representing Wiregrass Ranch High.

    After six years of competing on various Odyssey teams together and making it to the state competition each year, Kayla Gutierrez, 17, and Kaden Robinson, 18, are about to go their own ways.

    Robinson, a senior at Wesley Chapel High, is graduating, and it doesn't make much sense to continue....

  9. Young saxophonist hopes his talent leads to a career in contemporary jazz

    Human Interest


    The afternoon sun streaming through the window bathed Kyle Schroeder in warm light as he gave a solitary performance in his parents' dining room.

    With eyes closed, foot tapping time, Schroeder, 18, moved his fingers over the brass keys of his alto saxophone while the family's pet pocket beagle, Olive, lounged lazily nearby.

    Kicking off the casual set was an old Charlie Parker tune called Billy's Bounce, followed by a little jazz improvisation, Stella by Starlight, and a song Frank Sinatra used to sing called Nancy (with a Laughing Face)....

    Kyle Schroeder, 18, of Trinity has made inroads in the local jazz scene and has gained notice for his alto sax talent.
  10. Pick your own a popular choice at new Starkey Blueberry Farm



    The season is ripe for blueberry picking, and the weather has been, well, downright perfect.

    That thought was not lost on Jen Barber, 35, of Land O'Lakes when she packed up her three sons and ventured into the new U-pick fields at Starkey Blueberry Farm.

    The plan was to pick enough to fold into pancake batter come Saturday morning, with a little left over to freeze.

    "We're doing pretty well, considering," Barber said, as her 9-month-old son, Cale, snoozed in his baby sling while brothers Jimmy, 6, and Josh, 2, scampered in and around the long rows of ripening bushes. "I think I would do better on my own, though. They keep eating what I pick."...

    Josh Barber, 2, samples the harvest as he picks blueberries with his mother, Jen Barber, at Starkey Blueberry Farm.
  11. Robotics team from River Ridge High prepares for world championships


    NEW PORT RICHEY — The competitive season isn't over for the engineering whiz kids from River Ridge High School.

    After two promising outings at regional competitions, the River Ridge Royal Robotics team is set to compete at the FIRST Robotics World Championships on Wednesday through April 30 in St. Louis. The team is one of two from the Tampa Bay area to move on, joining the well-established Minotaur robotics team from Middleton Magnet High in Tampa....

    The River Ridge High Royal Robotics team earned its berth through regional competitions.
  12. Boats, blues and lots more planned at 17th annual Cotee River Seafest


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Boats, seafood, mermaids and music will be among the highlights as the 17th annual Cotee River Seafest gets under way Friday for a three-day run in and around newly renovated Sims Park.

    The festival, presented by Bright House Networks and New Port Richey Main Street, offers something for all in a somewhat different setting, said Judy DeBella Thomas, the event's coordinator. "With the new layout of the park, we're kind of excited with how everything is placed this year," Thomas said....

    Lauren Mitchell and her band will belt out the blues at the festival on Saturday.
  13. Looking for something to do? There's still plenty going on at Chasco Fiesta


    NEW PORT RICHEY — The Chasco Fiesta continues through Saturday in downtown New Port Richey, and there's still a fair share of festivities to take in.

    You're in luck if you love a parade, or if your taste in music leans toward country or the oldies — maybe with a plate of ribs on the side. That would be courtesy of the West Pasco Sertoma Club, which will host its annual barbecue in Sims Park on Friday and Saturday....

    West Pasco Sertoma volunteer Gary Tinker pulls ribs from the smoker for the annual Sertoma BBQ on the opening day of the Chasco Fiesta last week.
  14. Looking for Something to Do? Chasco Fiesta promises something for everyone


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Carnival rides, boat and street parades, a steady lineup of music in Sims Park and the traditional Native American festival are just part of what's on the agenda as the Chasco Fiesta gets under way today in downtown New Port Richey.

    It's nine days of celebratory fun that's billed as an event that has "something for everyone" while providing a venue for more than 25 local non-profits to raise funds....

    This year’s Chasco Fiesta boat parade begins at 1 p.m. April 9 on the Pithlachascotee River. It starts in Millers Bayou and ends at Sims Park. Get there early for a good viewing spot.
  15. County's Outstanding Senior leaves big imprint, but ready to move on


    NEW PORT RICHEY — It was March Madness week at Mitchell High School, and Tyler Wetherill, in celebratory tropical garb, was enjoying the revelry of Hawaiian Dress Up Day.

    "I love dress-up days — that's one of the things I love about this school," Wetherill said as he took a seat and plunked a small coconut on the table in front of him.

    Graduation is nearing, and, like many high school seniors, the future is much on the mind of Wetherill, who in December was named the 2016 Outstanding Senior for the Pasco County School District....

    “Right off the bat in high school — and it’s hard to do this — I had a place. All the discipline I learned, all the people beside me were a huge impact on my life — especially the instructors. I tried to be a well-rounded student, but JROTC was my core.” Tyler Wetherill, 2016 Outstanding Senior for the Pasco County School District