From sixth to 12th grade, Steven Meyers has attended Bellevue High School , a small school with an enrollment of less than 400 students and a graduating class of 43. Earlier in his school career he struggled with poor grades, and a few educators didn’t believe in him.
“I had a bunch of teachers tell me I wouldn’t be able to make it and I wouldn’t survive out in the real world,” he said. “As soon as I hit freshman year, I’m like, I could do this. Now, I want to look back at those teachers who told me I couldn’t do it and tell them I proved you wrong.”
In sixth and eighth grade he got Fs, but now he will be graduating with As and Bs. He admits he used to be lackadaisical with his studies, but a football coach named Bones Egan gave him the push he needed.
“He pulled me aside one day and was like, ‘I feel like you could do better,’ ” Meyers said. “‘I want you to do better, and I believe in you.’ And that’s what really got me to liking school.”
His business teacher, Christie McDonald – who had Steven his freshman and sophomore years and, as it turns out, is a distant relative – has become a good friend.
“A lot of times kids might hear five positives and one negative, and unfortunately, it’s the negative that’s going to sit with them longer,” McDonald said. “You have to keep building the positives up to overcome that negative, and that’s probably what’s happened with Steven.”
Instead of looking only at academics, she said she targets the whole person.
“My goal with my students is what can I do with you from the time you walk in the building as a freshman to the time you walk out as a senior so that you’re prepared for the real world and a real job,” she said. “Steven might have been the student who if he couldn’t finish the quadratic formula, he was okay with that. But everything we did in my class mattered in his life, so I think that’s what established our connection.”
Since freshman year, Meyers and his brother have wanted to start a trade business, which has been a motivating factor. For the past two years he’s been taking classes at Campbell County Area Technology Center in the electrical technology program and will apprentice under an electrician when he graduates.
For most of his school career he played football, but his senior season in 2022 was cut short because of injuries and a lack of players.
“I feel like if we would’ve put the word out there, we would’ve had more kids,” he said. “But no one really put the effort into it. Us seniors were the only kids who tried to get more players.”
Looking back, he wishes he would’ve taken football more seriously his freshman year, but he stepped it up his junior year.
This spring, Meyers will wrap up his track and field season; he has excelled at shot put, javelin and discus. At April’s Grant County Dorning Friday Night Lights Invitational, he placed first in javelin, second in discus and fifth in shot put.
“Throwing for track is probably one of my favorite things that I’ve ever done in high school,” he said.
Emma Laurenti, who also attends Bellevue High School, knows Meyers through the track team. She competes in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash and also does long-jumping.
“Steven’s very nice (and so is) his family,” she said. “I noticed he’s killing it at track.”
Laurenti is a foreign exchange student from Milan, Italy. In August, she arrived in Bellevue as part of the International Student Exchange program. Her host mother, Beth Williams, is the regional advisor for the Hoosier Hills region.
“I always wanted to study abroad, and I got this opportunity last year to apply for it,” Laurenti said. “I didn’t really get to choose the state. You choose the continent. I chose the USA.”
At first, the language barrier frustrated her.
“I wasn’t used to talking English all day long,” she said. The students asked her questions like: “Do you have cars in Italy?”
Though Laurenti’s Italian high school career lasts five years, not four, she will graduate from Bellevue and return to Italy to finish her final year. She said school in the U.S. has been quite different from school in her hometown. She has more fun at Bellevue and learns in more creative ways. The grading system is different, too – in Italy it’s based on numbers one through 10, with 10 being equivalent to an A. In both countries, she gets As.
“We do scavenger hunts about learning,” she said, “so I enjoy this fun approach to studying, while back home it’s more like you listen to the teacher having a lesson about something. You take notes about it, and that’s it.”
In the past school year, not only has she run track, but she’s also played on Bellevue’s basketball, volleyball, soccer and tennis teams. In Italy, she focused on volleyball, but her school there doesn’t offer team sports.
“If you want to play at a competitive level, you have to sign up for a club,” she said. “You don’t really get to play and try new sports. Here, I really enjoyed experiencing new sports and meeting new people and having fun with them.”
Her 18th birthday falls on graduation day, May 26, and she plans on celebrating with her host family.
“I’m really looking forward to graduation,” she said. “I don’t really know what to expect. I know that it’s a big deal here.”
On May 30, she’ll head back to Italy and finish out the remaining school year. She’s unsure where she’ll go to college or what she’ll study, but she’s interested in sports reporting.
Both Laurenti and Meyers are fearful about their futures, because, well, adulting is hard.
“I’ll be a little bit scared, but I feel like I can get through it and toughen up,” Meyers said. “I feel like I would struggle a little bit. I’m probably going to live with my parents for a while longer until I get used to my job and making some money and being able to take care of myself.”
Laurenti, meanwhile, expressed reluctance.
“I don’t really want to grow up,” she said. “I know that turning 18, you’re going to get more responsibilities. I don’t know how I will handle that. I feel bad (that) I’m growing up and I won’t be a teenager forever.”
Issues like climate change, economic downturn and political unrest plague the upcoming generation.
“Recently, I’ve been thinking about the climate change situation and the impact it will have on my generation,” Laurenti said. “I would say that I’m a little scared, but I always try my best as a person.”
Speaking of scary situations, the pandemic affected Meyers’s schooling and life more so than Laurenti’s, who spent most of it doing remote learning in Italy. Because she wasn’t playing volleyball, she got to sleep more. For Meyers, however, that time period included serious personal struggles: His grandfather died from the symptoms of COVID, and Meyers struggled to adapt to remote learning.
“I’m a hear-it-in-front-of-my-face kind of person,” he said. “I don’t do well behind a computer.” His grades dipped, but once school reopened for in-person learning, they improved.
“I know most kids struggled during the pandemic, but students of Steven’s nature struggled even more than what people realize,” McDonald said. “I have a child myself who is a lot like Steven – works their tail off, takes them maybe two or three times as long to do something, doesn’t like to talk in front of people, is afraid to give presentations.
“When the pandemic hit, you’re taking a kid who struggles socially anyway and you’re isolating them even more. And then you’re making them look at a computer screen for eight hours a day. It’s completely overwhelming.”
Laurenti has mixed emotions about going back to Italy. She’ll miss her American friends and host family and the adrenaline rush before games. The day before graduation, the graduating class will go to Kings Island.
“I’m in that stage in which I don’t want to leave,” she said. “But at the same time, I also miss my family back home and my friends.”
Over the summer, she will see a fellow Bellevue exchange student in Europe. She’s had fun experiencing everything this region and beyond has to offer: the Cincinnati Zoo, sporting events and even a trip to Florida and soon to New York. But it’s authentic pizza she’s most looking forward to having again once she returns home.
“I couldn’t find the real Italian pizza here, so I’m craving that,” she said. “Here, it just has a different taste. It doesn’t taste Italian.”
Laurenti may not have had satisfying pizza in the States, but she has experienced a lot of growth, and so has Meyers.
“I’ve matured a lot,” he said. “I’m not who I used to be. I wouldn’t care about my grades back then, but now I do.”
Laurenti, too, has grown during her time in high school, particularly her exchange year.
“I got more independent because I wasn’t used to living without my parents,” she said. “I would say that also mentally, I learned a lot. I improved my English, my pronunciation and my attitude. Now, I’m more open to enjoying new experiences, while before I was more afraid to jump into new experiences. I’m proud to have gotten this opportunity. I think it was the right decision at the right moment of my life.”
McDonald had some parting wisdom for Meyers.
“My advice to Steven is stay the course,” she said. “I feel like when you work with somebody like Steven, if you build that confidence and self-esteem and nothing else matters, then you’re able to give him the groundwork for him to build on that. His struggles are just a part of who he is. Embrace those struggles and own them.”
And for the rest of her students?
“I tell all of my students … there’s no greater investment than investing in yourself,” she said. “I try to emphasize to each one: ‘You are worth the investment. You are worth your time. You are worth the money or struggles. Don’t ever let anybody make you feel like it’s not worth the time or the effort, or that you’re not going to be successful, because you only have to answer to you.’ ”