STAR students share success stories

Matt Hamilton/Daily Citizen-News

Christian Heritage School STAR student and Dalton system winner Leo Lin, left, and his STAR teacher, Caleb Mahoney, share a humorous moment Monday at the Dalton Convention Center. 

DALTON, Ga. — Local STAR students and their teachers were celebrated Monday during a meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Dalton, with Christian Heritage School's Leo Lin the system winner for Dalton schools and Northwest Whitfield High School's Kellen Martin the system winner for Whitfield County Schools.

This is the 62nd year of the STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Recognition) program, Karey Williams, assistant superintendent for Whitfield County Schools, said during the event at the Dalton Convention Center. These are "very talented young people, and the teachers who have inspired them." The program is sponsored by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) and the PAGE Foundation.

"High school seniors must have the highest score on a single test date on the SAT and be in the top 10% or top 10 students of their class based on grade point average to qualify for (a) STAR nomination," said Kris Horsley, communications specialist for Whitfield County Schools. Each STAR student chooses a STAR teacher to share in the recognition.

Lin was the system winner for Dalton schools, which included Dalton High School and Christian Heritage, and he's the first student from Christian Heritage to gain entry into the main campus of Emory University, said Caleb Mahoney, Lin's STAR teacher and head of Christian Heritage's math department. Lin is "one of the most talented and gifted individuals in math I've ever been around, and his dedication to the craft is greater than any I have ever seen."

Lin is a native of China, and his parents have "sacrificed" to allow him to attend school in America, Lin said. Lin aimed to attend a U.S. college, and he knew studying at an American high school would help him achieve that goal.

At Christian Heritage, Lin's been given the freedom to explore a variety of courses, especially in his passion area of math, which he'll continue to study at Emory, he said. Mahoney has been instrumental to his improvement, always reminding Lin to pay close attention to every detail of a problem.

"I really benefited a lot" from Mahoney, Lin said. He especially appreciates his teacher's "guidance, patience and sense of humor."

Lin was the first sophomore Mahoney had witnessed test into honors pre-calculus, and he was initially curious to see Lin turn in work containing only his answers without any details of his processes, he said. He quickly realized, however, that Lin was able to do all the work in his head.

Lin is president of the school's math club, and Mahoney had to create a section of multivariable calculus this year to challenge Lin, he said. "I'm proud of him, and I love him."

Martin will likely attend the University of Georgia to study education, he said. He's grateful for instructors like his STAR teacher Susan Keelen, who "is one of the kindest teachers I've ever had."

Keelen has taught Martin his junior and senior years, and she does "an amazing job," he said. Her interactive math lessons are especially crucial in providing students "a fun and engaging way to retain the information we need."

Martin's academic reputation preceded him, and the hype was justified, Keelen said. While Martin is "super smart," he's also "very humble," and his parents "raised an awesome son."

For Dalton High School STAR student Oscar Chenard, this was a family affair. He selected his father, Carl Chenard, his AP (Advanced Placement) physics instructor, as his STAR teacher.

"Being selected by my son is the best honor I could ever have in my whole life," Carl Chenard said. "Every goal he's set, he's met," including being a member of the high school's state championship swim team.

Oscar Chenard made STAR status his goal since ninth grade, and he "had to work hard in every class," said the senior. His father helped propel him forward not only when he had him in class, but throughout the past several years.

Though "things seemed to come easy for him in physics," that never dampened Oscar's inner academic fire, his father said. Having him in class "probably made me a better teacher," and "he's a confident young man who will do well wherever he goes."

That next step is likely Athens, as Oscar plans to enroll in the University of Georgia, he said. He also hopes to swim there and study psychology.

Coahulla Creek High School's Meg Gulledge also has her eyes on Georgia, where she plans to major in animal science on her way to becoming a veterinarian.

That's no surprise to her STAR teacher, April Bryson, because Gulledge has "a deep care for all people and all animals," Bryson said. "We are definitely kindred spirits in this regard."

It was actually easier for Gulledge to choose her university than to select a STAR teacher, because "I've had so many wonderful teachers at Coahulla Creek," but Bryson — Gulledge's AP literature instructor — brightens the outlook daily for all of her students with her sunny disposition and colorful outfits, Gulledge said. As a freshman, Gulledge was initially wary of Bryson, since she heard numerous tales of the English teacher's extraordinary expectations, but that toughness is only "a reflection of how much she cares about her students, (and) I'm eternally grateful for everything she's taught me."

Bryson is likewise full of admiration for Gulledge.

"There are so many wonderful things I can say about Meg," she said. "I don't know how (to do this) without crying."

Gulledge is a model for her peers, not only academically, but socially, Bryson said. She believes she can always improve, she goes above and beyond the task at hand, and she's humble, "perceptive and sharp."

Additionally, Gulledge boasts "strong moral character," and she's an example of "leadership, responsibility and commitment," Bryson said. "She fulfills her obligations, no matter what it takes."

Southeast Whitfield High School's Emily Allen will likely join several of her local STAR cohorts in Athens, where she plans to major in public relations and minor in dance, she said. She selected math instructor Matt Hickman as her STAR teacher, because he's "always generous and kind to students."

Hickman, who has been a STAR teacher a handful of times, listens to ideas from his students, "he lets us think, and he challenges us," Allen said. "He wants us to understand the process, and he's selfless with his time."

In Hickman's class, "we feel safe to make mistakes, which is a crucial part of learning," she added. He's "not pushy or condescending."

Hickman isn't only Allen's STAR teacher, but "Southeast's STAR teacher," she told him Monday. "Your faith in us inspires our faith in you."

Hickman heard effusive praise about Allen before he had her in class this year and Allen not only met, but exceeded, expectations, he said. "She is truly collaborative, and she is a perfectionist in terms of process, not results."

"She's thoughtful and generous to other students, and she picks up everything you say," he added. Allen is "a fantastic student, but an even better person."

"Students ... compete for school system recognition as the top STAR student, and those winners compete for region honors," Horsley said. "Region winners contend for the honor of being named State PAGE STAR students, (while) STAR teachers continue on with their STAR students at every level of the program."

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