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8th graders visit Olustee Battlefied State Park for ‘living history’ lesson

8th graders tour the Town of Olustee.For the first time in more than a decade Baker County Middle School students took a field trip to visit historical re-enactors and demonstrators at the Olustee Battlefield the morning of February 17.

History teacher Gayle Combs said that because the annual Olustee Battle reenactment falls so close to the start of FCAT testing, her students had not been able to attend since 2001.

“This is the time of year when we’re intense about pushing for FCAT  …  so they don’t like us taking field trips at this time,” she said, adding that the writing test taken by fourth, eighth and tenth graders begins February 28.

But after meeting with middle school principal Sherry Barrett and convincing her the trip was worthwhile, students were once again able to see up close a re-creation of what life might have been like during the Civil War.

See video from the BCMS field trip here. A slideshow of photos from the field trip and the annual Olustee Battle re-enactment festivities is available here. Prints of the photos may be ordered from the Gallery tab on the homepage by clicking the “Click here to see and order photos from the newspaper” button.

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Inmates taking advantage of GED prep, tests

Instructor Gary Taylor meets with GED students at county jail.Inmates at county jail who don’t have a high school diploma have ample opportunity to make good use of all that spare time on their hands.

And judging from the number of inmates who have received their GED high school equivalency degrees in recent years, a respectable number are taking advantage of a program offered jointly by the school district’s adult education program and the sheriff’s department.

“The purpose is to get them to complete the education that they started and for one reason or another didn’t complete,” said Ann Watts, the school district’s director of career and adult education.

“Many of them have the maturity level where they now can see the value in it [getting a GED] and they’ve decided this is a good use of their time,” she said.

The study course that draws mostly local inmates but can also include those in the custody of the US Marshals Service is held once a week on Fridays for six hours of individual and group instruction by Gary Taylor, who teaches a similar course at Baker Correctional.

It takes between 120-160 days to complete the requirements and pass the test, and in 2010-11 seven of the 11 inmates enrolled did so. Last year the figures jumped a bit with 11 graduates among the 18 enrollees.

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Group training for Gate River Run

From left: Christa Figgins, Connie Walker, Michael Figgins, Debbie Foran and Sarah Green take the  first steps of a 5-miles run on a recent Saturday morning.

The 35th annual Gate River Run draws thousands of professional and amateur runners to Jacksonville for the largest 15K in the nation. Many are from Baker County.

For this year’s event — which also features a 5K run and children’s run in addition to the 9-mile race with $85,000 in prize money up for grabs — the Baker County YMCA started group training sessions for the Gate River Run.

Y member Connie Walker spearheaded the effort with help from facility staffers by inviting those interested to three weekly training sessions, which began January 3. She also supplied runners with a training schedule to gradually build up their endurance through race day on March 10.

Ms. Walker said about 10 joggers regularly meet for training runs on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings, though attendance at a bi-weekly discussion session on topics like proper footwear and other tips has been lacking.

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Performers take stage as forbears

From left: Denny Wells, Mallory Chauncey, (front) Harper Archambault and Julia Archambault, and Shelly Neri.“I was about to step on stage in my seersucker suit and I had to stop for a second. I thought, ‘I’m about to play my grandfather.’”

Denny Wells, who plays City Manager Frank Wells in the Baker County High drama and Baker County Community Theatre production of Baker County, Fla.: 1861-1961, was one of several performers with personal connections to the people in the play.

When he was asked to portray his grandfather, who had a big hand in helping stop moonshining in Baker County, he paused for a moment before saying, “You can’t imagine what an honor this is.” He then went out and bought a seersucker suit, which was his grandfather’s signature apparel.

For Mr. Wells, playing the role has been like channeling his grandfather. The two were extremely close and he remembers seeing his grandfather in the self-same suit. Others also remember it fondly.

Wells was leaning against the front of the stage after the sold out performance January 13 and a passing audience member commented, “I saw your grandfather dressed like that many a day.”

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