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January Club Students of the Month

February 17, 2022

Jessica Hakanson

Jessica Hackanson, a senior at FTHS, was announced as one of the FTHS Club Students of the Month for January! As a flutist, piccolo-player, drum major, and All-State ensemble member, she has grown immensely in her time at Township, both as an artist and leader. Jessica is also part of FTHS’ record-breaking year for All-State members, with three Township students winning their audition into the prestigious group. She is an instrumental (no pun intended) member of the FTHS music department and these well-deserved accolades are just the tip of the iceberg for what’s to come.


First off, congratulations on winning!

– Thank you!

How did it feel to hear your voice on the loudspeakers just moments ago?

– It was kind of crazy because I just came from band class and I was feeling pretty relaxed. Honestly, it woke me up a little bit, but it made me happy because I’ve been doing so much for the band the last month so it was pretty cool. 

What instrument do you play?

– I play flute and piccolo, but primarily flute. 

Cool! What is your role in the band at FTHS?

– I’m one of the drum majors, so one of the highest student-leaders. I help anyone that needs it, whether it be through instrumentals, support as a friend or musician, directing underclassmen, or helping to teach younger students what band is about to keep them interested. I’ve been interested in it for the past four years and I know my drum majors and seniors back then did that for me, so I’m just trying to keep that whole pattern alive with our current freshmen and sophomores. 

What kept you coming back to band every year, since you’ve been involved since your freshman year?

– It was a lot of things, really. The program is very involved, allowing me to do every type of music I would want to, even styles I wouldn’t typically be able to do. I’m able to play music with the pit orchestra in the winter and be part of the jazz ensemble, even though flute isn’t typically a jazz instrument, but Mr. Gattsek has let us. In ways like this, he helped me further my education in school, which not a lot of people get the opportunity to typically. Also, it’s the community. I always felt supported and welcomed by this group of people, and it started in middle school [band], but in high school, I felt like I could be myself around everyone, especially the upperclassmen. It’s something that you don’t get everywhere at this school, so I was lucky to have band always there. 

Definitely! Pursuing music through high school, what people have influenced your journey as an instrumentalist and now participating in ensembles outside of the normal band class? 

– Yeah, I would 100% say my teachers. It started off with my middle school band director that really got me into music. Mr. Gattsek always gives me musical and scholarship opportunities, sponsors me for auditions, and teaching opportunities as well. I get to teach classes, help him with set up, lead certain full-rehearsals, and things like that. It’s really cool that these teachers are dedicated to supporting my career and do everything they can to prepare me for college and beyond as a person and musician. 

After knowing you for a couple of years, I’ve gotten to know how insanely good you are at your instrument. 

– Haha, you’re too kind.

You’ve been part of All-Shore, and now even All-State. I want to say you’re third for flute and piccolo in the state?

– Yes, yes. 

With all of these honors and opportunities that you’ve had in your high-school years, do you get a sense of anxiety along with it? From auditioning to performing, how do you tackle this added pressure?

– I feel like with auditions, it’s a combination of me wanting to do better than my last one and the suspense of it all. I get nervous that all of these people are looking at me and expecting a type of performance, which is added on top of my own personal expectations for myself. But as I go through different auditions, my goal is to see progression and to improve on my performance each time. No matter where I place, as long as I’m happy with how I played, I’m happy with myself. 

That’s great! Since you’ve had all of this experience on top of being a drum major, how has your instrumental life intersect with your leadership? What has it meant to you to be a drum major?

– I love the job. My whole life, whether it is through my music or in school or simply as a friend, I feel like I’ve always been looking out for other people. It was great to have a leadership opportunity like this to channel my desire to give back. It’s fulfilling to be able to make a difference even in one person’s life, even if it’s just a small difference. It’s also great because I want to be a teacher in music eventually, even if it’s not as a school band director, so it gave me great experience before I could step into college to get my formal education in it. It gave me a taste of my future and made me like it, or rather, love it even more. 

It’s genuinely amazing to hear how music has been able to influence you so much that it’s going to lead you to pursue it after you leave this school. 

– Yeah, honestly, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else in my life. So many people have tried to dissuade me from doing music because it’s a tough field to be in. I know that even if I’m not getting the highest pay in the world, I know that I’m going to be happy. That’s all that really matters to me. 

Reminiscing, can you give a memory you’ve had in band from the past for years?

– Um, not to say the most cliche band-kid thing, but my best memories from band came from band camp, which literally happens before the school year starts. It’s just the primary time to be connecting with people and you make so many friends and memories before you walk in for the first day. We do so many bonding exercises, but you start band in the most extreme conditions possible, you definitely understand that. 

Haha, yes. 

– So, it’s really cool to get to know these new people. Even as an underclassman, it was great because I was able to go to school knowing I had a homebase or a place I could feel safe in at school. So many people come into high school and don’t know many people or have a place to go, but I feel so fortunate to have band to fall back on. Even when I had other places to go in the building or other people to talk to, I eventually end up back in the band room. 

With what you’ve said, this program taught you so much musically and as a person. What lessons have you learned after being in band for so long?

– I think the most important things that I’ve learned in band is to never say no to anything. If you are presented with an opportunity, you should never be afraid to take it, even if it’s way out of your comfort zone. You’re going to be grateful for it later, and I know I was and still am. Coming into high school, I was extremely meek and quiet, and I’m still slightly introverted, but as drum major, you have to break out of your shell. Really put yourself out there, you know? And I’m so grateful I was able to come out because being drum major was one of the greatest experiences of my life. This all leads me to my second point that as a person, I feel like I’ve grown so much from four years ago to now. I was so not confident in who I was as a person, and I was afraid of judgment from everyone. This whole experience has taught me to advocate for myself and to be who I am. The people that matter will not care about who I might be because they’ll love me for who I am. That’s what I’ve learned from being part of the band program for so long because you can’t let what others think about you sit in your head while you’re leading so many people. You have to love yourself, that’s all you can really do. 


Here’s what Mr. Gattsek, the FTHS Band director, had to say about Jessica:

“Jessica scored #3 in the state on BOTH the flute and piccolo, earning All State honors (in addition to previously earning All Region honors). Rarely have we had an instrumentalist score so high on a state level audition! Jessica is a drum major in addition to being a role model student in every way.”

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Sahil Maher

Sahil Maher is a junior here at FTHS! He was awarded January Student of the Month in honor of his Leadership, Dedication and Initiative in the Red Cross Club. In addition to his participation in the Red Cross Club, Sahil is also a part of the school’s swim team, Global Studies and is the State President of TSA . Thanks to Sahil’s continual persistence in assisting fundraisers, the Red Cross Club has had a very successful year. Congratulations to our January Student of the Month!                               


Good Morning!

– Good morning.

Before we begin, congratulations on receiving this award!

– Thank you!

Just after hearing your name announced in the halls just a short time ago, how would you describe your reaction to being promoted as student of the month?

– I was very surprised that I got student of the month, especially for the Red Cross Club because I wouldn’t have thought I would have personally received the award. 

First off, before we discuss extracurricular activities, why do you believe the FTHS staff nominated you as student of the month?

– I think I was nominated in honor of my hard work this month. I try my best to help out  and be sure that anything that goes on regarding clubs is going smoothly. I overall really participate to the best of my ability and put all of my Dedication that I have into that one activity .

All that hard work clearly makes you more than deserving of this award! To continue on, let’s discuss more details about your club involvement! 

– So in the Red Cross Club, I have two main roles: the first one being a state supervisor and Blood Services. We lead a team of over 490 volunteers across the state of New Jersey Gustav blood drives and ensure that the blood donors are welcome. We did our complete best to insure that the entire fundraiser would be an efficient process of the blood donations. The Red Cross is at the club level in Freehold Township High School and we recently held a blood drive at the end of the cafeteria about  2 weeks ago. This event had about 56 donors registered. Unfortunately we had to cancel so many because it was over successful so we had to cancel many donors who were supposed to come due to staffing issues. I was in the school for about an additional six hours that day to help the volunteers working in the cafeteria, as well as ensuring that everything is okay during the event.

It’s great to see your involvement in our school’s grounds! Now specifically regarding the Red Cross club, what would you say was your rationale towards joining this club?

– I joined the American Red Cross Club during the global mess of the pandemic, so I want to say it’s been about two years since I started. I decided to join the club because I can use my state experience at the club levels to really make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible. I also  joined the Red Cross initially because I was with many people, looking for volunteering opportunities virtually because  at that time you couldn’t really go anywhere in person .

What kind of responsibilities do you obtain as a Red Cross Club member?

– So, one of my main responsibilities was attending the blood drive, as well as making sure that we have all the staff needed, and are keeping a proper flow in between the different donations being given. Another responsibility would definitely be just general club activeness awareness of the Red Cross. I stand by our life-saving mission of receiving blood donations for people who really need it. It’s all about that and I will do my best to help the process. Last year we did write out cards for Heroes type of fundraiser, we were able to donate a lot of stuff to the soldiers who are actually currently fighting a battle for the United States. So honestly I don’t really have one set responsibility. My main  task is just showing up. And of course ensuring that all our volunteers are all in the loop with everything they need to know about our next activity.

It’s great to hear your dedication to this club! To continue this discussion, what would you say is the overall motive of this club? And why do you believe it’s a good club to be a part of?- 

– So the Red Cross Club is a different club because it’s not directed towards one motive. It’s really a wide spectrum of things that we cover, one of them being of course our mission of getting life-saving blood. Another being donating gifts to the impoverished children in our community by donating food to those we meet during Thanksgiving and then we have given cards to Heroes fighting on the front lines. Right now our veterans might feel that they are sometimes left out of everything, so we want to make sure that everyone in our community is as safe as possible and that they are given  the resources that could improve their lifestyle. 

This club seems very action-packed! Now, do you personally feel that this club has bestowed certain skills or qualities on yourself?

– I think some of the best qualities would be leadership, responsibility and the ability to view the reaction of the community after you have done something to help. That is the main thing I’ve learned. These days, a lot of people in the world are not really self-motivated, and you have to encourage them to become motivated to volunteer. I drive to donate cards to make gifts for others, so I think by me getting that experience to know how to encourage people is just helping our mission end of the club 

Now, to divert from the original topic, how do you personally manage your time between school work, clubs, and sports alongside leaving time for personal hobbies? 

– So after school I swim for the school swim team as well as also participating in TSA. I am the State president of the TSA state of New Jersey. Of course with my current back and possible update supervisor, I am also a part of the Global Studies magnet program, which I’m currently enrolled in some tough classes. But throughout my extracurriculars and program, I  always try to manage my time as fast as possible. I tried to wake up as early as I could to get everything done, go to school, come back home, do my homework for maybe 30 to 45 minutes here and there and then continue with my sports in the evening. So really  it’s just time management and being able to just know what I need to do on a daily basis.  I’m making sure I don’t waste a single second. 

Before we part ways, is there anything you would like to say to your fellow colleagues and staff here at FTHS?

– Well, first I would like to say thank you for nominating me for January Student of the Month. It’s a big honor. I will  also continue to dedicate myself to helping the community, as well as reaching for my goals and vision to the potential. We can all reach our goals ourselves  and we’re not really limited to anything, even if there’s a lot going on. Everything that we do  matters in life so our goals really have no boundaries.

Thank you so much for meeting with me today Sahil. It was a pleasure talking to you and I hope that this club continues to surround you with many amazing opportunities! Congratulations again for your award!

– Thank you!


Here’s what Mr. Wong, the FTHS Red Cross Club’s advisor, had to say about Sahil: 

Sahil has been a member of the Red Cross club since Sophomore year. He goes beyond the requirement of the club by being an active volunteer in the actual organization where he helps run multiple blood drives. Sahil took leadership by processing all club members with their vaccination status (which is required by Red Cross to be able to volunteer), and he coordinated multiple meetings that required planning to ensure everyone would be ready to volunteer. Sahil did all of this on his own, which has made preparing for the blood drive seamless.

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