The English teacher who started the Instagram @NSHS_Kicks

by Olivia Middien and Michael Sun, Features Reporters
photo by Sarah Feinberg

After delving deeper into her passion for basketball, English teacher Deborah Bernhard quickly found inspiration in an icon of NBA culture: sneakers. A recent addition to the sneaker-collecting community, Bernhard has expanded her interests by sharing it with her students. Since this October, her Instagram account, @NSHS_kicks, featuring sneakers of fellow “sneakerheads,” has become a hit. 

“I like to share parts of my personality with the class. That’s good for everyone to feel comfortable, and for all of us to get to know each other, so it’s definitely a part of myself that I share or talk about,” she said. “It’s something to connect with students that’s not related to homework or college, and if it’s fun for any students, or teachers or staff or faculty, that’s the goal.”

Freshman Renee Lu, one of Bernhard’s students, said that the unique shoe conversations liven up the classroom, achieving an environment where students feel comfortable sharing their passions.

“It helps create a closer class community,” she said. “She always wears really cool shoes, and she sometimes takes pictures of our shoes if we want for the Instagram account, which is really cool.”

Football coach David Foster said the Instagram account has created an opportunity for students interested in sneakers to share their insight.

“I always thought that some kids always had some heat walking through the halls but that people never really knew about it until this Instagram came about,” he said. “It’s another world that the school hasn’t tapped into yet, but with this Instagram page, you start to tap into that and show kids and teachers of all types of colors and cultures coming together to show this common interest in this common bond which can be sneakers.” 

Junior Sandro Benmayor, one of Bernhard’s students and follower of the Instagram account, said that sneakers provide a unique mode of expression. Among many features of sneakers, he said that he is drawn to their aesthetic appeal. Growing up in Turkey, Sandro said that “sneakerheads” are an international phenomenon.

“It’s a really great way to bring a lot of people together because more and more people from all over the world are super interested in it, ” he said. “I love colorful shoes and shoes that stand out. Being able to match them with what you’re wearing or wear cool pairs of shoes is super nice.”

  Bernhard said that unlike other fashion pieces, sneakers offer a flexible way to express oneself. 

“Anyone can just wear the sneakers that mean something to them, so they can be like a clean slate for expression,” she said. “Whereas other types of fashion might feel more gendered or might feel more like for a specific group of people, there’s more accessibility with sneakers.”

Junior Mark Liu, who was initially attracted to sneakers’ individual designs, said that his involvement in the sneaker industry has opened his eyes to the possibilities of the fashion world.

“It’s really been a gateway to actual fashion clothing for me. I used to just wear whatever my parents got me in middle school, and then I got a pair of sneakers that I actually picked out myself,” he said. “I started doing that more and more, and then I started looking into a higher level of fashion … and now, everything I wear is very personal to me in meaning now.”

Beyond self-expression and aspects of unity, sneakers have served a new purpose for some; at the forefront of South’s sneaker subculture is junior Jake Cheong, who began buying and selling sneakers as he became further involved in the sneaker industry. 

“I always really liked shoes, but I mainly went for running shoes back in middle school. But by freshman year I downloaded a sneakers app to buy shoes from Nike,” he said. “I managed to get this one release … It was a Jordan 1 Royal Toe and I got that in my size, but I decided not to wear it and I sold it instead. Since then, I’ve been really into reselling.”

Bernhard said that she hopes to expand the Instagram account with the help of interested students and teachers through new forms of content and page designs.

“I really want to do more, like a ‘heat check’. I also want to look at sneaker culture itself and not just the high end or expensive sneakers or the ‘hype’ shoes. I want to highlight the sneakers [that] people wear everyday,” she said. 

“I would love to have some people, like students who know more about sneakers, bring ideas for different kinds of content or people who are really good at graphics and social media or do a [Instagram] take over.”