TUNNEL HILL — Kellen Martin, a 2019-20 Georgia Scholar, learned about the program during his junior year, and he quickly realized to his delight he'd already accomplished a majority of the criteria.
"I just had a couple more leadership things, and those (opportunities) are easily available for seniors" at Northwest Whitfield High School, he said this summer. The Georgia Scholar program is a "perfect" encapsulation of "being a student in high school (because) you have to be good in academics, but it also prioritizes leadership in extracurricular activities, and getting those experiences is really good for a high school student."
Martin "managed to balance a busy extracurricular schedule — both with school groups and holding down a job — and a full, rigorous course load while keeping a positive and pleasant attitude," said Melissa Torbett, a science instructor at Northwest who taught Martin for two years. "He should be able to easily go on to whatever path he chooses next and be successful in whatever field he chooses to pursue."
Students eligible for the Georgia Scholar honor "are high school seniors who exhibit excellence in all phases of school life, in community activities, and in the home," according to the Georgia Department of Education. "These students have carried exemplary course loads during their four years of high school; performed excellently in all courses; successfully participated in interscholastic events at their schools and in their communities; and have assumed roles in extracurricular activities sponsored by their schools."
At Northwest, Martin was a member of the math team, which was "huge for me," as "I love being competitive," he said. At the Lee University competition in April 2019, his team placed second, and Martin placed second individually, so he was eager "to try to get first" his senior year, but that contest was canceled due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Martin, who graduated from Northwest this summer with honors-with-distinction — meaning he took at least three Advanced Placement (AP) or dual enrollment classes and maintained a numerical average of 94.5-100 — "is one of the smartest kids I've ever taught here, and I just finished my 13th year at Northwest," said Susan Keleen, who taught Martin math for two years. "He just has an innate ability."
Martin is quick to credit teachers like Keleen and Torbett for his academic growth.
Torbett, whom Martin had for honors and AP chemistry, "brought a lot to (those classes), and (all the students in those classes) felt like a team," he said. "She's definitely one of the best teachers here."
Math has been Martin's area of interest for as long as he can remember, and while many individuals struggle with the subject, he believes that could be improved with better instruction, such as he received at Northwest.
"It gets explained poorly sometimes, but I've had plenty of great teachers," including Keleen, who used real world examples to connect what students learn in math class "to our lives," he said. In Keleen's AP Statistics class, for example, she offered plenty of "hands-on learning," as well as examples of where you find (this math) and how you use it."
Martin "is very mature and was great to have conversations with," Torbett said. He "was a great student with a natural aptitude for understanding and applying scientific and mathematical phenomena."
Martin was the STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Recognition) student from Whitfield County Schools for 2019-20, and named Keleen as his STAR teacher. The program is sponsored by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) and the PAGE Foundation, and 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.
"That was a huge accomplishment for me, and having a plaque on the wall (inside the high school) is pretty cool," Martin said. "My parents were excited, and it's a great thing."
"I'm really good at test taking, but it's kind of hard to explain," he said. "I'm just so focused when I test, and things just click."
While he's thrilled to move on to college at the University of Georgia, he'll miss "the people at Northwest, my friends and the teachers," he said. "I really like Northwest, and I'm really glad I went here."