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STAR Students and Teachers Shine

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Five STAR students from area school systems were honored at the annual program hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Vidalia. The event was held at Robert Toombs Christian Academy and allowed each student and their chosen STAR teacher to address attendees regarding the honor. The STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Recognition) program is an extension of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE), and honors a graduating high school senior at each school with the highest score on a single test date on the SAT and in the top 10 percent of their class based on grade point average. These students then choose their STAR teacher to share in this recognition.

Vidalia City Schools Communications Director John Koon served as the Master of Ceremonies for the event. He opened the ceremony with words of praise for the students and teachers honored. “The Kiwanis Club understands the rigors that go into this and just how special not only the students, but the teachers which they chose, are to the people around them, especially their families and friends,” Koon commented.

Montgomery County High School

STAR Student Jacob Carpenter

Jacob Carpenter was not only recently named the Montgomery County High School Class of 2022 Valedictorian, but he also received the STAR Student award at the ceremony on Thursday. Carpenter is the son of Chris and Evelyn Carpenter and has attended Montgomery County Schools throughout his entire educational career. He plans on pursing a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Southern University after high school.

He is a member of the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), as well as of BETA Club and 4-H. Carpenter participates in numerous sports, such as track and field, football, and wrestling, and has secured many accomplishments within those sports. He is a football First Team All Region offensive lineman, three-time wrestling area champion, one-time wrestling state placer in the 182-pound weight class, and 2021 Weightlifting State Champion for the 190-pound class.

When asked how it felt to be named STAR Student, Carpenter explained that this was truly a dream come true. “My cousins, Taylor and Jordan Robins, were extremely successful in high school. I remember watching them receive awards like valedictorian and STAR Student, and I wanted to accomplish the same things,” he remarked. “I am proud of myself for fulfilling a personal goal set long ago by my 3rd grade self. I wanted this award since I first learned about it, and I pushed myself to see this long-term goal through.”

Carpenter thanks his preceding family members who accomplished their own academic goals and inspired his accomplishment. He also thanks his parents who supported him and helped push him when he was not always motivated to work hard, as well as the coaches and teachers who made a lasting impact on his life. Lastly, he thanked Pastor Joe Simon and Discipleship Leader John Braddy for their Christian influence and help in discovering a “real purpose” in his life.

His advice to other high school students is simple: “Do the little things right.” Carpenter shared what his football coach once told him, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” Those words have remained in Carpenter’s mind, and he advises all students to avoid giving a half effort on anything, and instead putting their heart, mind, and soul into all they do, whether it is schoolwork, household chores, or relationships. “Treat everything as equally important and valuable to your attention and efforts,” he summarized.

Speaking about knowledge gained both in the classroom and athletic competitions, Carpenter spoke on the impact which his STAR teacher, Will Adams, had on his life. “He is the prime example of an educator who is committed to the success of his students, as well as his athletes.” Carpenter added, ”He and his wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Adams, are the Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery County of our education system. Mr. Adams sets the best Christian example while still maintaining his professional courtesy.”

Carpenter added, “He is an intelligent teacher who knows how to instill any concept into the minds of his pupils. Most important, his character as a wrestling coach shows me just how different he is. I have seen many schools that have coaches who put down their athletes when they lose, but Mr. Adams always uplifts his wrestlers and soccer players. He reminds us to see losses as learning experiences, and he shines as a positive light in the darkest of our trials.”

STAR Teacher Will Adams Will Adams teaches biology, chemistry, and physical science for freshmen, sophomores, and seniors at Montgomery County High School. He has been an educator with the school system for 7 years, and taught Carpenter in 8th and 9th grades before having him for a third time this semester for chemistry.

When asked his thoughts about Carpenter’s reception of this award, Adams shared his high admiration for the young student. “I think Jacob is very deserving of this honor,” he emphasized. “Jacob is one of the most intelligent, hardest-working students that I have ever taught. He sets high standards for himself and then holds himself to those standards until he reaches whatever goal he has set.” Carpenter’s choice of Adams marks the first reception of any type of honor for teaching that Adams has received; it also solidifies the 2021-2022 school year as a momentous one for Adams and his wife Elizabeth, current Montgomery County Schools Teacher of the Year. Adams commented, “I feel extremely honored to have been chosen by Jacob. We have a lot of really good teachers here in our school system, and to have been chosen really means a lot. I have taught Jacob in three different classes and have coached him in wrestling for the past four years. Over this time, I have gotten to know Jacob very well, and I’m so proud of the outstanding young man he has become. Once again, all I can say is that I feel honored that he selected me.”

Adams thanked his wife for always supporting him and for helping him come up with innovative ways to deliver his lessons in the classroom. He also thanked Montgomery County Schools for giving him the opportunity to teach and ensure he has all the materials he needs to be successful.

Robert Toombs Christian Academy

STAR Student Jackson Newton

Upon graduation, Jackson Newton will leave a legacy of athletic leadership and academic excellence, including his recognition as the school’s STAR Student. Newton has been a Crusader since he first began school and will finish his educational journey at the school in May before moving on to the University of Georgia to major in business and minor in entomology.

Newton has acquired a long list of accolades in his time at RTCA: lettering in football for 3 years and being named the 2020 Mel McBride Captain, lettering in basketball for 4 years, receiving the basketball 2021 Coaches’ Award, winning the basketball 2020 region championship and making it to the Final Four, being the 2021 basketball State Runner Up, lettering 3 years in tennis and winning the 2021 Doubles Region Championship before making it to the 2021 Elite Eight, lettering in track for 4 years, winning the track region championship three times, winning the 2021 200 Meter and 4×1 Relay Region Championships, and winning 2020-2021 Male Scholar Athlete and Male Christian Athlete of the Year. Newton also served on Student Government for 3 years, serving as treasurer his junior and senior years, as well as the Leo Club, of which he is also currently treasurer. Newton shared that he is honored to receive this prestigious award, and would like to thank Jesus, his parents (Dequera and Derek Hardman), his family, and his friends for always supporting him.

When asked if he had any advice for fellow high school students, Newton kept it short and sweet: “Enjoy your time in high school. It really does fly by.”

Newton praised his STAR teacher LaRee Findley for her role in his academic success. “I chose Mrs. Findley because she has been by far the most influential teacher I have ever had,” he explained. “I have learned more from her than I ever though I would and have become a better student and a better person because of her.”

STAR Teacher LaRee Findley LaRee Findley is not a newcomer to the STAR Teacher award, as she has won it five times since 1986. She is in her 42nd year of teaching, which she has divided between Worth Academy, Vidalia High School, and now Robert Toombs Christian Academy, where she teaches sophomores, juniors, and seniors history, government, and economics.

She has taught Newton for three years and has come to recognize the uniqueness of this outstanding student in that time. “Jackson is not only an exceptional student, he is also an exceptional young man. He is a leader among his classmates and his teammates. He is willing to serve and is responsible and de- continued from page

pendable. Jackson is kind, polite, respectful, funny, athletic, and just generally all around ‘good people.’” “Although I have been named STAR teacher by other students, it is always an honor to receive this award,” Findley noted. “Being recognized by a student as having had an impact on their life is confirmation that I am doing what the Lord designed me to do. I am humbled that Jackson chose me as his STAR teacher because he is truly a STAR student!”

This award adds to a number of other awards Findley has received throughout her career, including: GISA Master Teacher 2020, Georgia National History Day Teacher of the Year (High School) 2018, Robert Toombs Christian Academy Upper School Teacher of the Year 2017, Vidalia City Schools System Teacher of the Year 2015, and Worth County Daughters of the American Revolution American History Teacher of the Year 1985.

Toombs County High School

STAR Student Danny Brad Carter

Danny Carter says he is “a little nervous” to receive this award, which was both a surprise and an honor. The son of Jessica and Brad Carter does not feel that this recognition would even be possible without the encouragement of his STAR Teacher, Dana Manning.

“I chose Ms. Manning because she, probably unknowingly, gave me the mental push to become who I am today,” he emphasized. “In 8th grade, she gave us a project in which we had to use the scientific method to figure out something of our choice. After the projects were completed and presented, she would call each student back and discuss it with them.” He continued, “I doubt that anyone else really remembers the conversation they had, but I vividly remember her encouraging me to have a little more confidence in myself. The change was not overnight, but that little project really did help me become truer to myself.” This confidence gained has aided Carter throughout the entirety of his high school career and will continue to as he attends Southeastern Technical College to gain a degree and hopefully later work at Plant Hatch. Carter shares there are also two other teachers that he would like to thank for their part in his academic success. “Megan Morris, my high school English teacher, is one of the most compassionate and understanding teachers I have had. Ms. Morris genuinely wanted to see her students thrive, and I am so thankful for all the work she’s put forth,” he said. “Also, Kip Hart, the Energy Industry Pathway instructor at SECCA, has opened up a world of opportunities for me in the work force. In his class, I saw him treat every student with respect and do his best to prepare us for a life beyond school.” When asked his advice for any high school students, Carter referred to a cliché he had found to be true. “Very few people or things that matter to you as a freshman will matter to you as a senior,” he remarked. “Bad things don’t last forever. You can keep moving forward to a better place, even if it seems impossible. There is not any kind of secret. You just have to keep going.”

STAR Teacher Dana Manning Dana T. Manning has spent 17 years of her life teaching students, but she explains she has always felt that Carter was one of a kind. “I am not surprised at all that he won this award,” she said. “Danny has always been the still water that runs deep. He is very bright and a very reserved gentleman who completes his assigned tasks and from my knowledge, always does well. He is very deserving of this recognition.” Manning first taught Carter 8th grade physical science, and is currently teaching him human anatomy and physiology. She stated this recognition provided by Carter is her first experience winning any major award, and one that she never thought she would have. “Astonishment is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about this award, and then excitement that my teaching effort may have inspired Danny and others to enjoy science class is next. That is always a great thing!” she exclaimed. Manning thanked everyone involved in providing the opportunity for all the STAR students and teachers. She also thanked her STAR student, sharing, “You made my year quite memorable.”

Vidalia High School

STAR Student Roman Edwards

Roman Edwards may have only attended the Vidalia City Schools System for three years, but has made his presence known in that time as both a devoted student and talented actor. The young son of Marissa and Richard Edwards has enjoyed his time at the school, and plans to continue his educational career at Columbia University or Georgia Tech. “I am ecstatic and honored to receive the STAR student award,” he noted. “I am very glad to have the opportunity to represent myself and my achievements through a formal and prestigious avenue.” Edwards’ achievements reach beyond that of academic success, as he was named the Best Actor for the Region 2AA One Act Play Competition and received the 3rd Place Award for Argumentative Essay in the Georgia State 2AA Literary Competition.

Edwards chose his One Act Director Margaret Pournelle as his STAR teacher, citing her support as the primary reason. “My STAR teacher has always been very supportive of me and my career as a student, both as a teacher and director,” he shared. “It was never even a question who I would choose for this honor. I knew it would be Mrs. Pournelle.” When asked if he had any advice for high school students, Edwards commented on the importance of focusing on what you wish to achieve. “If you are not pushing yourself to your limit day by day, then you are not doing yourself any favors,” he informs. “Take a step back, look at your goals and what you have done so far, and find out what is most important to you. Focus on that, and don’t stress over the little things or anything that is out of your control.”

He thanked everyone who has given him kind words and supported him throughout the years. “I am truly standing on the shoulders of giants,” he concluded.

STAR Teacher Margaret Pournelle

Margaret Pournelle won the Vidalia City Schools System Teacher of the Year in 2011, but shared she finds this award to be memorable because of the involvement of the student in the honor. “Roman is a lifelong learner with an academic history that was welldeveloped before he ever entered the halls of Vidalia High School and with a future of continued education stretching promisingly before him,” she commented. “I am truly honored and humbled that he would consider me even a small influence on his journey. In whatever career he pursues, I know he will use the gifts he has been given to be a gift to others, just as he has been to me.” ournelle has taught for 18 years, and currently teaches freshmen and sophomores literature. She also serves as the school’s Theater Arts and One Act Play Director. She has devoted many hours to teaching Edwards, as he studied in her 10th Grade Honors Literature Class and spent two years under her direction for One Act. Most recently, Edwards studied with Pournelle for Theater Arts last semester. “Roman is one of the most gifted students I have ever taught,” she explained. “There is no one more deserving of being STAR Student. He has learned the secret of education, which is learning how to learn, and he voraciously pursues knowledge both inside and outside the classroom.”

When asked if she had anyone to thank, Pournelle overflowed with gratitude. “All good things come from above, and I would like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for His good gifts and graces through all my years of teaching,” she said. “I am thankful for the blessing and opportunity to teach Roman, and for my parents and my brother, the three people who love me the most every day in every way!”

Vidalia Heritage Academy

STAR Student Amelia Peacock

Amelia Peacock has won several national awards with Vidalia Ballet for her skills on the dance floor, but was most recently honored for her work in the classroom at the ceremony on Thursday where she was named STAR Student. The daughter of Holly and Matthew Peacock, she has attended Vidalia Heritage Academy for 10 years, during which she has displayed outstanding academic excellence. She hopes to continue that excellence at the University of Georgia, as she studies exercise and sports science after graduation. Peacock also plans to go to graduate school to obtain a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy. “My class is full of extremely bright students, so being named STAR student is more than just an achievement — it is an honor,” she emphasized.

Peacock shared that it was the personal relationships that Steve Miller built with his students that influenced her to name him as her STAR Teacher. “Mr. Miller has always offered an encouraging word and he is genuinely invested into the lives of his students,” she explained.

When asked what advice she would give to other high school students, Peacock focused on the importance of taking advantage of opportunities. “I would tell other students to take advantage of every opportunity, and cherish every moment you have in high school because it goes by quicker than imaginable,” she said.

Peacock thanks her parents for always pushing her to work hard when it comes to school and for helping her believe she could always improve.

STAR Teacher Steve Miller Steve Miller has spent six years teaching mathematics at Vidalia Heritage Academy, three of which were spent teaching Peacock. Miller believes Peacock will excel in any avenue that she chooses throughout life. “Amelia is a delight to teach,” he remarked. “She is not only very gifted, but also a hard worker and diligent about doing whatever is asked of her. I think that she will do very well in life, regardless of what direction she chooses.” This honor marks the second time that Miller has received the STAR Teacher award, and adds to his confidence in teaching. “It is an honor to receive this recognition,” he noted. “This award is really all about the student, but it makes me feel good to know that Amelia feels that I made at least a small contribution to her life and education. I am grateful for that opportunity.”

Miller enjoys teaching at Vidalia Heritage Academy, and says he is thankful for school director Jeff McCormick and for fellow teachers who make the school a great place to invest in kids’ lives.

Wheeler County High School

STAR Student Kimberlyn Stinson

Though Wheeler County High School was not honored in the same ceremony as the prior school systems, the school named Kimberlyn Stinson as the STAR Student. Stinson has attended the Wheeler County School System throughout the entirety of her academic career and has been active in various extracurricular activities.

Stinson has been a football cheerleader for the school since middle school and holds an officer position in both the BETA Club and Student Government. She has also maintained the highest average in her class since 9th grade.

After high school, Stinson plans to study biology or pre-pharmacy to later attend Pharmacy School. She wants to gain experience in hospital and retail pharmacies before owning her own retail pharmacy in the future.

“I feel very accomplished and honored to be named the STAR Student,” Stinson explained. “Everyone that knows me knows I have always been very dedicated to my school work, and to be named the STAR student, I feel like all my hard work and dedication has paid off.”

Stinson continued, “I chose Mrs. Ginger Horne to be my STAR Teacher. Mrs. Horne teaches the nutrition classes at the school, and I have learned many new recipes, tips, and tricks to use in the kitchen. This class was very influential. Mrs. Horne was not just a teacher, she is also a very good mentor and is always there to help me whenever I need anything.”

She concluded, “Mrs. Horne’s positive attitude and helpful demeanor have been very influential to me throughout my high school career, so I feel that she is very deserving to be my STAR Teacher.”

When asked what advice she had for fellow high school students, Stinson spoke on the importance of pushing through troubles. “My advice for high school students would be to never let any obstacle you are facing stop you from pursuing your dream. I have always been told where there is a will, there is a way, and I truly believe that the obstacles you face in life are not there to stop you from continuing on your journey, but to motivate you to strive to do better,” she said.

Stinson thanked her parents, Lynn and Kim Stinson, and her family for encouraging her to stay dedicated to her studies, her friends for always being there and reassuring her that she could do whatever she put her mind to, and all of the people in her school system for making this award possible and for teaching and guiding her on the steps to get her far in life. She also thanked God for blessing her with what she described as being “the greatest support system anyone could ever have.”

STAR Teacher Ginger Horne Ginger Horne is in her 21st year of teaching, and currently teaches 9-12 grades family and consumer sciences. She taught Stinson three classes during Stinson’s sophomore and junior years, and most recently has Stinson in her senior homeroom class.

“Kimberlyn is one of the brightest students I have had the privilege of teaching,” Horne commented. “She is a quick learner and is always willing to help others who may be struggling. She is very well deserving of this award and will be successful in whatever career path she chooses. I am so proud to be able to share this honor with her.” Though Horne has previously won the Teacher of the Year honor twice in different school systems, this is her first time receiving the STAR award. “I was very surprised to be chosen as STAR Teacher,” she emphasized. “We have many wonderful teachers in Wheeler County who would have been excellent choices. I am honored that Kimberlyn chose me from among these well-deserving candidates.”

“I have been blessed throughout my teaching career to teach some of the smartest, hard-working, well-behaved students,” she concluded. “They always have so much to teach me! It is my privilege to get to work with these teenagers each day. They make my job so enjoyable and rewarding.”

WHEELER COUNTY STARS — Though not recognized in the same ceremony as other area schools, Wheeler County High School named Kimberlyn Stinson (right) STAR Student. She chose Mrs. Ginger Horne (left) as her STAR Teacher.

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