Angie Ingram, special education coordinator for Walker County Public Schools, welcomed the lunchtime crowd of more than 100 Chamber members.
Jenny Vowell, student service coordinator for Chickamauga Public Schools and chairwoman for the Chamber’s education council, recognized the three STAR students and teachers.
The Students Teacher Achievement Recognition program is in its 55th year and is sponsored by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators foundation and has honored 23,500 students since the 1950s.
The selected students must be in the top 10 percent of their class and have an SAT score above the national average.
Keynote speaker George Graham, head of Chattanooga State’s engineering program, discussed the school’s role in training a skilled workforce for high-tech jobs at local businesses, including Volkswagen, Wacker and Whirlpool.
The school’s career-specific curriculum has focused on retraining displaced workers while providing associates degrees that frequently have higher earnings than some career fields that require four-year degrees.
Gordon Lee Memorial High School
Landon O’Neal found out he had become the STAR student during an unexpected trip to the principal’s office at Gordon Lee Memorial High School.
“At first I wasn’t sure if I was in trouble, then they asked me to sit down and told me that I had won the STAR student,” O’Neal said, “I knew it was very close. Many of my friends had pretty high scores, too. It was definitely a surprise and I was extremely excited about it.”
He selected Kevin McElhaney as his STAR teacher. McElhaney is O’Neal’s AP U.S. history teacher from last year.
“The passion I saw in how he taught, I really appreciated that from him,” O’Neal said.
He plans to attend the University of Georgia to study humanities and is contemplating a career in law, political science or possibly following in McElhaney’s footsteps studying history.
“It is one of the biggest honors that I can have bestowed on me,” McElhaney said. “I look at it as building a relationship with each student. To be able to be nominated and be selected for something of this nature is really important to me because it exemplifies the importance of those relationships.
“He is one of the best students (a teacher) could have, as far as the diligence in which he goes to work and how he applies himself,” McElhaney said. “He is going to be one of those young men who are going to change the society around him. He’s going to make an impact with everything that he does. I look for great things from him in the future.”
LaFayette High School
Erin Higdon was pleasantly surprised to learn she had been selected to be the STAR student for LaFayette High School.
She selected her calculus teacher, Regina Hardinger, because she felt Hardinger’s teaching style helped her to truly understand a challenging subject during her junior year.
Higdon also had math with Hardinger during her sophomore year, and considers her to be a mentor who has helped her throughout her academic career.
“I am very honored to know that I have made an impact on a student's life,” Hardinger said. “Erin is an amazing young woman, that embodies the model student. (She) has grown into a confident, strong leader with the brightest of futures.”
“If I needed help during another class, I could always come back to her and she was glad to help me,” Higdon said.
She is split on attending either Berry College or North Georgia College and State University, but plans to study toward becoming a physician.
Ridgeland High School
Davey Smith received numerous high-fives and handshakes once he was announced as the STAR student for Ridgeland High School. He is also the STAR student for the Walker County school system.
The inner circle of friends that congratulated him were also the same students who vigorously competed to become the STAR student.
He retook the SAT in November 2012 and managed to improve to a score of 2,040, which led to him being selected as the system-wide STAR student for Walker County Public Schools.
“It was a really proud moment for me, because I know I had worked hard to try and improve. I had taken it one time before and did not get the score I wanted, so I went in with renewed dedication to raise it, and I was successful.”
He took the courses with teacher Josh Hurst, his STAR teacher. As a freshman he studied engineering and later took broadcast video courses.
“(Hurst) is really the teacher that started me toward a career in technology in the engineering field,” Smith said. “I had taken his class freshman year and really liked the atmosphere in the workshop he has.”
Hurst teaches engineering and broadcast video in the school’s Career Pathways program.
“He is a hard worker and a perfectionist,” Hurst said about Smith. “He always tries his best to do everything he can, always turning in quality work.”
Hurst is the adviser for the Technology Student Association, in which Smith competes.
Hurst will join his STAR student at the University of Georgia for the Architectural 2D CAD competition on Saturday, March 2.
Smith will also be debating technological issues during another UGA competition and hopes to bring a few more trophies back to the Ridgeland High.
He has been accepted to UGA, but is hopeful that an acceptance letter to Georgia Tech might be in his future.