STAR students, teachers named for Troup schools

Matthew Strother

February 6, 2014

The 2014 STAR students from each school on Wednesday told LaGrange Rotary Club how their STAR teachers impacted their lives.

Students prepared responses for the Rotary Club on their choice of three topics: “My most memorable educational experience,” “Ways I plan to use my gifts and talents to serve others” and “The STAR Teacher I chose made a difference in my life.”

The Student Teacher Achievement Recognition – STAR – program was created to focus public attention on Georgia’s outstanding high school students and the teachers who have been most instrumental in their academic development. Over the years, the STAR Program has honored more than 21,000 high school seniors statewide who have in turn chosen their STAR teachers to share in this recognition

Each year a top academic senior in each participating Georgia high school is named the STAR student for that high school. To obtain the STAR nomination, students must have the highest score in one sitting on the three-part Scholastic Assessment Test – SAT – taken through the November test date of their senior year, and be in the top 10 percent or one of the top 10 students of their class based on grade point average. Each high school STAR student is asked to name a STAR teacher.

High school STAR Students compete locally for the county title, this year awarded to Evan Alexander Genova of LaGrange Academy. Genova will represent Troup County in the regional competition, and the winners at that level will go on to compete for the state STAR award.

The other STAR Students for schools in Troup County are, in the order they spoke Wednesday:

• Grace A. Curtis for Callaway High School. Her STAR Teacher is David Curtis. She is the daughter of David and Marie Curtis.

She plans to attend the University of Georgia and major in political science.

Grace Curtis said that her STAR teacher, her father David Curtis, made her learning experience in physics and AP physics her junior year her most memorable. Although she initially dreaded taking the courses, since math and science weren’t her strong points, they quickly became her favorite classes because of the way the teacher intrigued and excited the students with the lessons.

She said her classmates challenging each other also encouraged healthy competition and made the experience more enjoyable.

“If you ask me what my most memorable educational experience was, I may take a moment to think,” Curtis said. “It’s a difficult question to answer with so many wonderful and instructing experiences throughout my school career, but I will always come back to my junior year of high school and my physics and AP physics classes, and the amazing impact they had on all of us.”

• Michael David Garner for Lafayette Christian School. His STAR Teacher is Tamra Reaves. He is the son of Willie and Lynn Garner.

He plans to attend LaGrange College and is undecided on a major.

Garner said there were many teachers he had to thank for getting him to STAR student, especially his STAR teacher, Reaves. Initially, he hated English class – the subject Reaves teaches – reading “long, boring novels” and writing “tedious essays,” but her influence quickly changed his mind.

“At a certain point it just clicked for me in her class while reading ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ and I started loving English class,” Garner said. “She has just been a huge mentor for me …. if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have known that I had any writing ability at all. And thanks to her, now I’ve racked up a few awards here and there at literary competitions.”

Garner said Reaves gave him motivation to do something with his career he is passionate about, instead of only seeking a job simply to be employed. He thanked Reaves for instilling in him a love of literature.

• Andrew R. Coggins for LaGrange High School. His STAR Teacher is Kenny Moore. He is the son of Dr. Robert and Florinda Coggins.

He plans to attend Dartmouth College, the University of Georgia or Emory University and major in economics or history.

Coggins said he appreciated the opportunity to be STAR student mainly “to outdo my older brothers,” he added jokingly, both previous STAR students. He said both his older brother have gone on to achieve their goals, which led him to think about his opportunities for success.

“Countless college interviewers have asked me some form of this question: what determines success? At the time, the question reduced me to a stammering mess. I had no idea what to say, so I just gave the best thing I could think of at the time,” Coggins said. “But after examining my family … and my teachers, who I see every day, it didn’t seem like such a riddle anymore – what success is.”

He said love and enthusiasm determines success, and those are exemplified in his STAR teacher, Moore. He said no other teacher he’s had has such a talent for making the subject so exciting. He said Moore’s unique and enthusiastic approach to teaching and projects led 14 out of 15 students in AP calculus to take the AP test, with 13 of those scoring a 5, the highest on the test.

• Duncan P. Lord for Troup High School. His STAR Teacher is Michelle Ashmore. He is the son of Gerald and Terry Lord.

He plans to attend the University of Georgia and major in music education.

Lord said he was able to attend the governor’s honors program at Valdosta State University over the summer, where he minored in education. He studied a variety of topics that included how to form curriculum and lesson plans, socio-economic influence on student performance, grading and setting up a classroom.

When chosen as the STAR student, he said he had a difficult time narrowing down his list of teachers to chose for his STAR teacher. He reflected on what he learned about education during the governor’s honors program and realized he had a number of fantastic teachers, but very few fantastic educators.

“Mrs. Ashmore, my STAR teacher, is definitely the best of educators I’ve ever had. She doesn’t just teach AP government, or economics … she instructs her students on how to learn,” Lord said.

Although he said her lessons appear strange, including rapping about presidents or students throwing things at her as they answer questions, she is inspirational and has influenced him to pursue a career in education.

Before announcing the countywide winner, Troup County School System Superintendent Cole Pugh said all the STAR students and teachers should be considered winners.

“Congratulations to each STAR student, I think it’s evident based on what they’ve said today why they were chosen,” he said. “It’s also evident that they’ve had a great teacher whose had a tremendous influence in their life in education. One of the things that is a tremendous support to education is parental support, it’s also obvious that each one of these students had very strong parental support and also good leadership through a strong principal or headmaster at their campus.”