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Our Neighbor Grace Bailey: Most Valuable Cougar nominee

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

As Pulaski County Public School students matriculate through their grade levels, various recognitions and honors are bestowed on those who perform exceptionally well in either sports or academics. Varsity athletes receive their letters and students with the highest grades will wear a different color tassel at graduation to signify their academic prowess.

These are all well and good, but at Pulaski County High School, being named the Most Valuable Cougar is the highest achievement a student at PCHS can attain, as that student has gained the respect of both teachers and peers alike.

Grace Anne Bailey is one among the five nominees for Pulaski County High School’s Most Valuable Cougar award.

“I just feel honored to be nominated,” said Grace. “I mean, it really means so much. My entire high school career, I’ve just felt so supported by like the teachers, administration and the students. I feel like we all just really want each other to succeed.”

Grace attends the Governor’s School, which specializes in teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) courses to a select group of students from Pulaski County and the surrounding area.

Governor’s School is known to be rigorous in its academic standards and those attending receive college credits for their classwork.

“Gov school is probably one of the best decisions that I’ve made,” said Grace. “Even though we had to be there at seven in the morning every day to do chem labs and stuff, it was still very fun being around people who are interested in the same things as you.”

Enjoying one’s work is key to success. At a recent science fair Grace submitted a project that focused on how color affects memory retention. Though the study was inconclusive, her research techniques were sound, which earned her a Southwest Virginia Governor’s School Research award.

“I color code everything,” Grace explained. “I’m that Type-A personality, so I have to plan for everything. I color code things and it helps me, so that’s why I wanted to see if it would help other people.”

Grace Ann Bailey is a bright eyed petite young lady who, like all Most Valuable Cougar nominees, will be graduating this year. Before answering a question, Grace will sometimes say, “um,” as her voice rises in pitch with a kind of musical intonation. It is a charming affectation that suits her deliberate and earnest way of speaking.

“I would say that I am hardworking and compassionate and … um … I can get a little extroverted sometimes,” Grace said when asked to describe herself. “I would like to say that I’m kind of a happy person, you know, I like to stay just kind of peaceful.”

Grace does present a calm demeanor, but she has not been idle during her time as a secondary school student in Pulaski.

Grace Bailey is currently president of the PCHS Student Council and is a member of the PCPS task force for reopening schools.

Grace also acts as the Student Representative for the monthly school board meetings.

How did that come to be?

“I was on Dr. Siers’ Student Advisory Committee freshman year, because I was class president freshman year,” Grace responded. “I’ve been on a lot of his committees. I’m on the equity committee with him too. At the end of my junior year, he asked me if I’d be interested in being the student representative at school board meetings. So of course, I said, ‘Yes.’”

Grace Bailey has been involved in numerous organizations both in and out of school. I was somewhat surprised to find that she had been honored with the American Red Cross Good Samaritan Hero Award, until I saw that she was the founder and president of the American Red Cross Club.

“That was a project that I started the summer before my eighth-grade year at the middle school,” Grace recounted. “I just loved it so much. We all came together to do blood drives and made comfort kits to give to the fire department for house fire victims.”

When asked what she does for fun, Grace did not hesitate.

“I am a big part of the theater department of the high school and I’ve been doing that since elementary school,” she said. “The thing I like about acting is the freedom of not having to worry about your personal problems for a while. You just kind of get to leave it all out there and be up there and just do your thing.”

Grace spends a lot of time after school at the theatre department but is also known to hang out at the United Methodist Church in Dublin, where she plays an active role.

Last summer, she was part of the White Fragility Book Club study that met for several weeks.

“We just kind of dove into what we can do to dismantle racism and I think I was the only one under the age of 40 that was there,” she recounted.

For the past couple of years, Grace Bailey has volunteered with her school mate Molly Cox at the Barter Theater, where they work as ushers, sell concessions and see the plays at no cost.

Grace also volunteers at MediHome Health and Hospice, where she began an internship with the school last year.

“I was placed there, and it was fantastic,” said Grace. “I pretty much did anything from answering phones, filing paperwork, stocking shelves and pretty much assisting anybody with whatever they needed.”

Grace plans to become a nurse practitioner and will attend Radford University Carilion in Roanoke this coming fall.

“I’ve just kind of always felt that calling, I guess,” admitted Grace. “I love helping people. I’ve just loved all aspects of medicine. I’ve always felt very drawn to it, even since I was just a little girl when I had my little doctor’s kit that I carried around with me everywhere.”

Of course, this year has been different than any before it. Several of Grace’s volunteer efforts, including her work at MediHome Health and Hospice, were put on hold indefinitely due to COVID restrictions.

“I was there for a few days, so it was enough to do my training and be in the hospital and know what I’m going to do,” Grace recounted. “I was supposed to shadow a few nurses and some doctors in the emergency room and I was so excited to be there. I want to continue that as soon as COVID slows down a little bit.”

These restrictions carried over into the school system, as everywhere else, with students having to be constantly masked and mandatory social distancing policies being rigorously enforced.

“It’s been very, very different,” said Grace. “Especially having to go from virtual to in-person, to all virtual, to all in-person. I think it’s been very difficult on the students. I felt really bad for the underclassmen, who don’t really know anybody and had to go into this crazy year.”

Governor’s School, where Grace spends the beginning of her school day, was also different.

“They’ll send in some home-based lab stuff that you can do in the house, but we’ve been all virtual this year and that’s been fairly difficult,” she admitted.

As her final semester as a high school student comes to a close, a sense of normality is slowly coming back into place.

“It’s been so nice just to be able to be back there to see your friends every day,” said Grace. “I know that that’s helped a lot with just being able to see people again because, there for a while, everybody was in quarantine.”

Grace has spent her whole life in Pulaski County, but her parents are from West Virginia. Her mom Christine Bailey teaches at Pulaski Elementary School and her father, Dewayne Bailey, works at the Volvo Truck plant in Dublin.

Grace listens to a variety of music including gospel, bluegrass, jazz and, yes, Harry Styles. Being a theater type, she also enjoys show tunes.

When home, she likes to hang out with Pepper, her miniature schnauzer.

Grace isn’t involved in any school sports but enjoys taking hikes to the Cascades with her twin brothers Nathan and Nick, both of whom graduated from PCHS in 2016.

She has also tested the waters of the sport of paddle boarding and claims to like it very much and was willing to entertain entering the upcoming 4th Annual Gusto of Gatewood Park Paddle Board Race, which will occur on Saturday, Aug. 7. Who knows? Maybe we can get all the Most Valuable Cougar candidates to enter this year’s competition.

Grace Bailey has one of the highest grade-point-averages of any student in the Pulaski County Public School System.

So, what’s her biggest worry?

“Probably that I’m not going to live up to my expectations of myself,” she answered.

No worries, we think Grace Anne Bailey will do just fine.

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