DEEP RUN, N.C. — The challenge was to document a challenge, and South Lenoir High School senior Ricki Lane met it in a way that won her a statewide award and $2,000 her school plans to use to upgrade its student counseling annex.

A one-minute video Ricki created as an entry in the High School Video Contest sponsored by the North Carolina School Board Association (NCSBA) won second place in the state. She and her principal, Elizabeth Pierce, picked up the award during a presentation ceremony in Greensboro on Tuesday.

“South Lenoir High School and I are so proud of Ricki. She is such an intelligent, kind young lady that works hard each day,” Pierce said. “A leader of multiple clubs, cheerleader, and leader among her peers, Ricki exemplifies what it is to be someone for others to look up to. This video is a fantastic 60-second clip of her enormous talent.” 

The trophy presentation wrapped up a project that involved an iPad, the creative energy of a young woman who has several school-related videos to her credit and, most of all, serious contemplation of the contest’s theme.

“How has your school or school district come together to fight through a challenge?” Ricki said, recalling the NCSBA’s own challenge to contestants.

The challenge for LCPS? Covid.

“I know it’s not something everyone wants to talk about, but I do think it’s something that actually did affect us,” Ricki said. “It’s a big deal.”

For members of the Class of 2023 like Ricki, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on academic routines and high-school life can’t be underestimated. Schools shut down their freshman year, their sophomore year was fractured by a dizzying array of learning options, and an uneasy reentry marked their junior year, when debate about the best way to go to school grew contentious.

“It was easy to quit during Covid,” Ricki said. “You weren’t at school, you were online, so if you wanted to quit you could. Not only did I want to quit, I know everybody else did; and some people did. That not only affected our school, it affected the county.”

The key to overcoming that adversity – and the basis for the positive tone the video takes – was simply to reclaim the can-do spirit that had been dampened by Covid.

“I think my biggest thing coming back into school was thinking we’ve got a lot to make up for, not just in education but everything that we had missed out on and hadn’t done,” Ricki said. “It was time to help ourselves and give back.”

The video includes snippets of two television news reports about student-led activities Ricki was a part of as a junior – a celebration of hospital workers at UNC Lenoir Health Care organized by South Lenoir’s SGA and a Hope and Help Female Product Drive that Ricki organized. The clips are mixed in with a flurry of still photos of people and activities from around the school district and audio that reinforces the theme of unity and helpfulness.

The video ends with a triumphant message: “17 Schools. One Community. One Remarkable Comeback. We are Lenoir County Public Schools.”

In a way, it’s a look back at what has come before by a senior who has one foot out the door of high school. Already accepted at Barton College, which offered Ricki cheer and academic scholarships, she is essentially a college student now, taking a range of classes through Lenoir Community College that align with her anticipated major in business administration.

And a minor in marketing. “I do enjoy it,” the video winner said.