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The Alvin C. York High School Story: Turning Adversity into Achievement:

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I had the privilege to accompany Steven Bollar as photographer to accompany him on one of his speaking events to capture a fascinating school visit.

In the heart of rural Tennessee stands a school with a history as rich and inspiring as the rolling hills that surround it. Alvin C. York High School, named after the legendary World War I hero, is more than just a place of education; it’s a testament to the indomitable spirit of a community and the power of determination. Alvin Cullum York, a native of Pall Mall, Tennessee, went from being a poor backwoods farmer to an iconic figure in American military history.

His remarkable story of valor during World War I, where he single-handedly captured 132 German soldiers, earned him the Medal of Honor and international acclaim. He, however, did not want to be remembered as a war hero. When York was drafted during World War I; he initially claimed conscientious objector status on the grounds that his religious denomination forbade violence. Yet what he did alone on the battlefield was baffling. The military accolades included world travels. He saw the Eiffel tower and places he never heard of. That’s why he pursued to establish the most unique learning for youth in his community because he did not have that opportunity. He turned his monetary and land gifts into what remains today: the world’s largest high school in the world!

Nestled in the picturesque Cumberland Plateau, Alvin C. York High School sits on 400 acres of land, an agricultural school that became more than just a physical structure; it became a beacon of education for generations open to any student. Despite its humble beginnings, the school’s dedication to providing quality education shone through. The faculty, often faced with limited resources, managed to create an environment where students were encouraged to dream big and aim high.

Superintendent, Mr. John Bush took us on a tour to see the immense land and what students did, get to do, and learn about- everything is entirely hands-on. Here is a glimpse through a few photos:

Today staff members returned to school from the summer break to the keynote of Steven Bollar leaving them inspired by new possibilities. His keynote and words of wisdom emanated from his personal experience both as a student and later as a school superintendent.

On the other hand, Steven and I were inspired by the kindness of the staff and their leaders, and blown away by the history of how one man can turn his tangible gifts into a legacy. He didn’t object to the draft, instead he turned it into a remarkable gift, both for the country and for generations to come.

Nothing comes easy. Just as Alvin York faced numerous challenges on the battlefield, the school too, encountered its fair share of adversity. Economic hardships, changing demographics, and evolving educational landscapes tested the school’s resilience. However, the spirit of unity that Alvin York embodied during his military service was mirrored in the school’s community, as parents, teachers, and students came together to preserve the institution’s legacy.

Clearly, the sense of community is undeniable, and the teachers’ unwavering support for their students is truly remarkable. We ended the day’s talk with a group photo.

After our tour, Steven and I departed, overwhelmed with gratitude for the invaluable experience we had just been a part of. The school was nestled an hour away from the nearest hotel, which in turn was another hour’s drive from the airport. As we embarked on the journey back, the initially desolate area we had seen mere hours ago had transformed into a slow and congested route. The return ride seemed to stretch endlessly.

Ah, but then came a revelation! We were introduced to the 127 Yard Sale, an annual extravaganza that takes place from the first Thursday to Sunday in August without fail. It’s rightly dubbed as The World’s Longest Yard Sale, and for good reason – the route spans 690 miles, crossing six states (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama).

Amid the seemingly endless drive, this event provided the perfect opportunity for contemplation. It allowed us to reflect on the wonders of the school tour that left an indelible mark. Yes, you read that right – the school tour included its very own cemetery, a stark yet poignant reminder of the passage of time. And let’s not forget the thrilling elements like a hunting safety course and a rappel obstacle course catering to the ROTC program, underscoring the school’s commitment to diverse learning experiences.

Among the many highlights were the adorable pigs that ran with enthusiasm as we drove along the fenced path. Eagerly anticipating some sweet corn, they raced beside us, showcasing an unexpected camaraderie. Similarly, the goats trotted over, hopeful for any treats we might offer. The connection we felt with these animals mirrored the tight-knit bonds within the school community.

As we bid adieu to this remarkable journey, our hearts were full of the memories we’d created. The contrasts and connections, the vast stretches of highway and the intimate moments with animals – all of these experiences added a unique hue to our adventure.

Until the paths of discovery lead us on our next adventure.

Leila Kubesch