Lindsy Voelker describes home as a zoo. There are three cats, goldfish, tropical fish, a hamster, a guinea pig, a parakeet and a corn snake. Despite the obvious potential incompatibilities between species — the cats and the snake and the bird don’t interact too much — Voelker has observed their habits, like the unique noise her cat makes when “predatorially” eyeing her bird.
“It’s been really cool to watch individually how they behave,” Voelker said.
Valedictorian of Onteora’s graduating class, Voelker plans to attend Boston University in the fall, where she’ll major in biology with a specialization in behavior and climate change, followed by grad school. Her dream job would be as a researcher for the World Wildlife Fund, to help animals, “because they can’t really speak for themselves.”
“Humans are forcefully, yeah, just like destroying what they know,” she said.
Voelker, 18, began attending Onteora schools in Kindergarten, took a three-year hiatus to High Meadow School in Stone Ridge, then returned to Woodstock Elementary for fourth and fifth grades. She spent sixth in Bennett Elementary, when the district reconfigured its class locations, before moving up to the middle school and high school building. She began taking honors classes in eighth, competing with a “nerdy group” of a handful of other students that called themselves “the geek squad” and included salutatorian Julian Schauffler.
“I always really liked feeling good about my grades,” Voelker said.
Her focused determination manifested itself outside of school as well. For several years until the summer after ninth grade, Voelker, with a friend, asked neighbors for donations and saved her own money — around $450 in the end — to give to Big Cat Rescue, a sanctuary in Tampa, Florida, for tigers, lions and other feline species. She had always had a thing for tigers, her mother Lorelei said, and “of course she just felt so proud of herself.”
“Technically, my money went toward one specific tiger,” Lindsy said, estimating that it would only feed it for around a week.
In high school, Voelker took Advanced Placement courses in World History, Biology, Language and Composition, Psychology and Calculus, one of her favorite classes.
“Math has always made sense to me,” she said. “I’ve always sort of liked the logical nature of it.” Likewise, her math teacher, Jessica Morra, was “always on track, on schedule, has a routine.”
Other teachers have inspired and challenged her too, and the admiration flows both ways. Donald Bucher taught Voelker in three different science courses and coached her in Science Olympiad, where, junior year, she placed 3rd in the state in herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles. She prepared “relentlessly” for the competition, Bucher wrote in an email to the Woodstock Times.
Paul Colevas, Voelker’s junior class adviser, taught her this year in Philosophy and Cultural Anthropology, discussion-based courses, which Voelker said she found “more entertaining.”
“His teaching techniques are so different,” she said of Colevas.
“It was probably the best thing all year that I’ve seen,” Voelker said.
Colevas, in an email, called Voelker “a wonderful person and student…The ways of thinking involved in both disciplines seemed to be a shock to her at first, but she caught on very quickly,” Colevas said. “I was told by several other students that by observing how Lindsy responded to my Socratic questions, it helped them to grasp logic as well.”
Despite being “super, like, self-motivated” and, according to Lorelei, setting very high standards for herself, Voelker said the work-load at Onteora is “tough.” Many nights she would spend four or five hours on homework, which Lorelei, who has three other children in the district’s schools, called “way too much.”
Besides the reconfiguration of classes in 2012, and the changing of the mascot from the Indians to the Eagles in 2016, Voelker has seen other shifts in the culture of the district.
After the 2016 presidential election, some students — “no more than five or six at a time” — came to school with confederate flags, marching around in work boots, she recalled, chanting “Trump” and “build the wall,” a common refrain at President Trump’s campaign rallies. “It was very loud,” Voelker recalled. “It was sort of like a power thing.”
In January, the board voted to ban displays of swastikas and the confederate flag as symbols of hate, a move she supported.
Politically, students have become increasingly divided, she said, taking more extreme positions on both the right and left sides of the spectrum, which she sees as a reflection of the country in general. Overall, the student body has shifted more liberal than conservative, she said.
Nevertheless, it is “a very, very safe community,” and “a united, close-knit family at Onteora for the most part ” she said, attributing that quality to the support provided by teachers, who she plans to come back to visit.
“I’m so, so glad that my siblings are gonna have most of them,” she said.
Schauffler: Dramatist Creating Spontaneous Narratives
When they moved to Woodstock from New York City in second grade and began attending Woodstock elementary school, Julian (née Helen) Schauffler remembers being impressed by their new classmates.
“The kids were bright and artsy even though they were, like, eight,” Schauffler, salutatorian of Onteora’s graduating senior class, recalled. They (the pronoun that Schauffler, who identifies as a non-binary transgender person, prefers) immersed themself in arts programs at Onteora, joining the orchestra and theater programs.
“They’re one of the best that I’ve ever worked with,” Onteora music teacher Erica Boyer, who led Schauffler in the middle school and high school orchestras and the Onteora Chamber Ensemble, wrote in an email to Woodstock Times. Schauffler also participated in the New Paltz Symphony Youth Orchestra, All-County and All-State orchestras as principal violist for most years and in most groups, Boyer said.
Schauffler performed in Onteora’s productions of The Music Man, Les Miserables, Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd, interned and performed at Woodstock’s Voice Theater, and was mentored by Performing Arts of Woodstock founder Edie LeFever through the school district’s community mentor program.
LeFever had one word to describe Schauffler: “fabulous, fabulous, fabulous.”
“I adore Jules,” LeFever said.
Schauffler has also participated with The Wayfinder Experience, a live-action role-playing (LARP) company in Kingston that hosts fantasy-based improvisational theater events. “It’s about building a theatrical experience in the moment,” Schauffler said, adding, “I love theater, but I love LARP a little more.”
Schauffler plans to study dramaturgy at Amherst College in the fall and “write my own work.”
“I’m ready for a fresh start and a challenge, but it is a little sad,” Schauffler said about leaving Onteora.
It was sophomore year when Schauffler, now 18, began requesting non-gendered pronouns — a first for some teachers, Schauffler said — and then made the full transition, with name-change from Helen to Julian, the next. “It’s mostly been a lot of educating people,” Schauffler said, adding “It gets a little exhausting having to be everyone’s Trans 101.”
On the district’s Facebook post announcing Lindsy Voelker and Schauffler as valedictorian and salutatorian, Schauffler corrected commenters who referred to the two as girls or women. “I appreciate the congratulations but I’d appreciate them a heck of a lot more if I weren’t misgendered in the process,” Schauffler wrote, adding a smiling emoji. “I just didn’t like being called a lady anymore and I wanted it to stop,” Schauffler told Woodstock Times.
Some teachers have continued to refer to Schauffler by the old name or gender, offering “profuse apologies” over and over when corrected, Schauffler recently wrote in the school newspaper, The Talon. In some cases, Schauffler has given up. “That is, I think, the crux of the current trans experience: exasperation getting the better of you so that a violation of your basic identity is preferable to the alternative,” Schauffler wrote.
Overall, Schauffler has felt accepted by their peers, and was one of three chosen to have “best laugh” for the senior superlatives, which are typically awarded to one male and one female.
Schauffler attributes a relative ease with classmates to the fact that they have known each other for so many years, and that, with under 100 students, it is possible to know everyone in the class. Schauffler, like Voelker, sees the school as politically polarized, but said “it is interesting and valuable to get to know the person before you get to know their politics.”
“We do have those elementary school memories of being just kids on the playground,” they said.