Recognizing the academic successes of high school seniors across the state, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators Foundation named this year’s local STAR students as well as the STAR teachers who greatly contributed to their accomplishments in the classroom.
“The reason [the Student Teacher Achievement Recognition program started] was to make sure students who excelled academically were recognized as much or at least some as compared to the athletes,” said Lee Raudonis, STAR state coordinator.
The program has been in existence since 1958 and recognized about 24,000 students and teachers in Georgia since then, he said.
To be named a STAR student, seniors must have the highest SAT score in their school taken on one test date through November prior to graduation. Students’ SAT scores must be equal to or higher than the national average, and seniors must also be in the top 10 percent or top 10 students in their class based on grade point average.
“What also makes this program unique is that it recognizes teachers as well as students,” Raudonis said. “The student chooses a teacher that he or she believes has had the greatest influence on his or her academic career.”
The honorees on the school level will be recognized by local businesses or civic organizations. The top students from the school-system level and the regional level will later be named.
In April, the foundation will host a recognition banquet in Atlanta at the Crown Plaza Ravinia. Raudonis said the regional winners are then interviewed to determine the state STAR student and runner-up.
“Of course, the STAR teacher is recognized along with the STAR student all the way up the ladder,” he said.
In addition to their excellent academic standing, this year’s STAR students also are deeply engaged in extracurricular activities and community service work and are choosing between some of the top colleges in the country and beyond. Check out a glimpse of what these young achievers do and also the STAR teachers that inspire them.
This year’s local STAR students are as followed:
Atlanta Girls’ School
STAR Student: Africa McLeod, 18, daughter of John McLeod and Africa Alvarez-McLeod, of Mableton
STAR Teacher: Melissa Bobeck, science
Student profile: Africa has a 96.28 GPA and an SAT score of 2310. She is the vice president of the Atlanta Girls’ School’s chapter of the Junior Classical League and a member of the anime club. She is a pianist, dances flamenco and studies Yoshukai-style karate. She is also a writing lab tutor. Africa hopes to attend the University of Chicago or MIT.
Atlanta International School
STAR Student: Liam Simkins-Walker, 17, son of Jinger Simkins-Stuntz and William Walker, of Midtown
STAR Teacher: Peter Hamer-Hodges, math
Student profile: Liam participates in mock trial, the math club, math team and the investment club. He has been accepted to the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech but is awaiting other acceptances before committing to a school.
Ben Franklin Academy
STAR Student: Elijah “Eli” Harrison, 18, son of Leah Harrison, of Atlanta
STAR Teacher: Debby Keenan, science and world religions
Student profile: Eli is a student ambassador and a member of the Philanthropy Project, the game club and the ultimate Frisbee team. He is also active in BBYO, a cultural and religious organization for Jewish teens. Eli volunteers with the Atlanta Community Food Bank for the annual Hunger Walk and participated with the Congressman John Lewis Youth Group where he took part in advocacy events including the reenactment of the civil rights march from Selma, Ala. He is waiting for replies from several colleges across the country and hopes to study broadcast journalism or medicine.
Brandon Hall School
STAR Student: Mary Gunning, 18, daughter of Anne and Pat Gunning, of Dunwoody
STAR Teacher: Scott Chruszcz, science and math
Student profile: Mary has a 3.9 GPA and scored 1860 on the SAT. Her extracurricular activities include lacrosse and fitness conditioning. Mary plans to attend Loyola Marymount University and will likely major in marketing or journalism.
STAR Student: Lakota Rich, 17, daughter of John and Leisa Rich, of Buckhead
STAR Teacher: Rebecca Klein, English
Student profile: Lakota has a 4.16 GPA and scored 2320 on the SAT. She is vice president of the French club and the service board and is a copy editor for her school newspaper. She is a member of the art club and the prom committee and served as an au pair in France in 2012. Lakota has applied to four schools in Canada: the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, York University’s Glendon College and McGill University.
Holy Innocents’ Episcopal
STAR Student: Natalie Kessler, daughter of William Kessler and Elizabeth Steinhaus, of Atlanta
STAR Teacher: Gerard Gatoux, world languages
Student profile: Natalie is a member of the National Honor Society, the Science Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society. She also serves as vice president of Mu Alpha Theta, the math honor society. Natalie plays on the varsity tennis team, volunteers with Dream Makers and works with the Change-A-Life Club. She is planning a career in medicine, has shadowed medical personnel at Northside Hospital and Emory University Hospital and has worked summers at Atlanta’s Breast Care Specialists.
Holy Spirit Preparatory School
STAR Student: Carson Hooper, 17, daughter of Christopher and Anne Marie Hooper, of Buckhead
STAR Teacher: Michael Rondeau, math and science
Student profile: Carson has a 4.0 unweighted GPA and scored 2160 on the SAT. She is the co-president of ONE — a mission organization helping Atlanta’s homeless — and a member of St. Joseph’s Cohort — a mission organization supporting home repair and construction in Atlanta and rural Kentucky. She is involved in the Girl Scouts Leadership Institute and earned a Girl Scouts Gold Award. So far, Carson has been accepted to Georgia Tech, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Georgia.
The Howard School
STAR Student: Spencer Allen, 18, son of Lisa and Clay Allen, of Buckhead
STAR Teacher: Trish Long, middle school
Student profile: Spencer has a 3.98 GPA and scored 1720 on the SAT. His extracurricular activities include playing guitar and bass and working with computers. Though he hasn’t selected his college choice yet, Spencer has been accepted to three schools and plans to study engineering.
STAR Student: Halle Payne, 17, daughter of David and Kathy Payne, of Buckhead
STAR Teacher: Debi Ohayon, English
Student profile: Halle is a cheerleader and captain of the varsity cheerleading squad. She is a diver who coaches younger athletes and a musician who writes her own music and lyrics. Halle is an active contributor to vestry and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Lovett and is the recipient of Lovett’s Religion Department Award. She has not yet decided which college she will attend.
STAR Students: Erin Connolly, 18, daughter of Timothy and Mary Connolly, of Brookhaven; Brendan Phillips, 17, son of Jeff and Susan Phillips, of Atlanta; and Richard Joseph “Joey” Paris, son of Richard and Yvette Paris, of Roswell
STAR Teachers: Matt Romano, AP economics; Anne Saunders, Latin; and Sergio Stadler, advanced algebra II and AP calculus BC
Student profiles: Erin is a member of the National Honors Society, the French Honors Society and Mu Alpha Theta — a math honors society. She has served as a Peer 2 Peer tutor, a student ambassador and a Eucharistic minister. She is a member of the varsity cross country and track and field teams. Erin plans to attend Dartmouth College.
Brendan has volunteered at Druid Hills Presbyterian Church. His extracurricular activities in high school have included Latin Honor Society, the quiz bowl/academic team, marching band, Future Business Leaders of America, Junior Classical League and the political awareness club.
Joey is the senior class co-president who is also a student ambassador, a National Merit semifinalist and a National Hispanic Scholar. He plays varsity lacrosse and is a peer leader and Peer 2 Peer tutor. Joey participated in drama/theater performances and has sung with the Marist Singers and chamber choir. He is a member of the math team, Spanish club and Model Arab League.
Mount Vernon Presbyterian
STAR Student: Joseph Martin, 18, son of Jody and Joe B. Martin, of Sandy Springs
STAR Teacher: Tom Rounds, science
Student profile: Joseph has a 4.5 GPA and scored 2190 on the SAT. He is the upper school’s National Honor Society president and has played the lead in two theater performances. He is a member of Societe Honoraire de Francais and was a member of the inaugural class of Youth Leadership Sandy Springs. Joseph is the recipient of the Vanderbilt Book Award for the outstanding junior, the Furman and Presbyterian Scholar awards and the International Thespian Society Award.
North Atlanta High School
STAR Student: Isabel “Bailey” Palmer, 18, daughter of Sudie and Guy Palmer, of Buckhead
STAR Teacher: Robert Bramlett, social studies
Student profile: Bailey’s unweighted GPA is 98 and her weighted GPA is 101. Her SAT score is 2330. She participates in Model United Nations and Model Arab League and is the president of the Arabic club. Bailey dances ballet, runs cross country and mentors elementary school students. She is a member of the National Honor Society, is a National Merit semifinalist and spent her 10th grade year as an exchange student in Muscat, Oman. Bailey is deciding between Georgetown University, the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech for college.
STAR Student: Jacob “Jake” Busby, 17, son of Emerson Busby, of Atlanta, and Marcy Louza and Mike Kenig, of Dunwoody
STAR Teacher: Jan Arnette, AP statistics and math department chair
Student profile: Jake is a National Merit finalist, winner of North Springs’ 2013 Top Math Student award and a distinguished AP scholar. He has already attained college credit as a dual-enrolled student at Georgia Tech. Jake is the president of North Springs’ math and philosophy clubs. He intends to major in applied mathematics in college.
STAR Students: Kalvis “Kal” Golde, son of Evia and Andrew Golde, of Atlanta, and Joshua “Josh” Rogers, son of Helen and Joel Rogers, of Buckhead
STAR Teachers: Elizabeth Kann, foreign languages, and Gus Whyte, math
Student profiles: Kal is a member of the varsity swimming and tennis teams, plays alto sax in the band and has played the piano since age 6. He serves as a peer leader for ninth-graders and participates in Pace’s debate program. He is a member of the Cum Laude Society, the National Honor Society and the Orkin Honor Society and has received multiple awards and distinctions for academic achievement and service.
Josh is captain of the Pace varsity track and cross country teams and placed seventh at this year’s state cross country meet. He enjoys ceramics, mentors ninth-graders through the school’s peer leadership program and is working toward earning the rank of Eagle Scout. Josh is a member of the Cum Laude Society, is an Orkin Scholar and has received numerous academic and art awards.
STAR Student: Benjamin “Ben” Dolder, son of Rich Dolder and Kathy Rizk, of Dunwoody
STAR Teacher: Diane Kopkas, language arts
Student profile: Ben is involved with Riverwood’s mock trial team and spent two weeks in Spain through the Diverbo Program teaching English to Spanish children. He also tutors at Riverwood. Ben is interested in attending Brown University, Reed College, the University of North Carolina or a university in Georgia.
St. Pius X
STAR Student: Christina DeLurgio, 18, daughter of David and Elvira DeLurgio, of Atlanta
STAR Teacher: Melissa Page, English
Student profile: Christina has a 4.0 GPA and scored 2300 on the SAT. She is co-president of the art club. She is considering attending the University of Southern California, Stanford University or Georgia Tech.
STAR Student: Emily Bachner, 18, daughter of Connie and Robert Bachner, of Norcross
STAR Teacher: Michele Brown, English
Student profile: Emily has a 4.3 GPA and scored 2270 on the SAT. She tutors underprivileged children in math and is a member of Peace by Piece, the National Honors Society, the math team and the student-run sports journal. Emily is also a student ambassador and plays volleyball. She plans on attending the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science.
STAR Students: Maya Grimes, daughter of Weselyn Grimes, of Atlanta, and the late Dr. Randall Grimes, and Alexandra “Lexi” Smith, daughter of Michael and Denise Smith, of Atlanta
STAR Teachers: Woodrow Barnes, upper school chaplain, and Freddy Martin, band instructor
Student profiles: Maya is the manager of Westminster’s track and field team and the head editor of Evolutions, a literary magazine. She plans to attend Harvard University.
Lexi plays the flute, is co-president of Westminster’s band, tutors younger flutists and participates in Model United Nations and Young Democrats. She is also principal flute in the Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra and will be the first chair flute for the All State Band. Lexi plans to attend Harvard University.
STAR Student: Justin Brendel, 18, son of Bill and Julie Sandman, of Mableton
STAR Teacher: Kyle Justice, math and computer science
Student profile: Justin has a 4.0 GPA and scored 2150 on the SAT. He is the vice president of Honor Council, a National Honors Society member, a varsity lacrosse player, a peer mentor and a City of Refuge volunteer. He has also served as a mission trips leader to Guatemala. Justin is deciding between Haverford College, Baylor University and Wheaton College.
STAR Student: Morgan Gibbs, 18, daughter of Dan and Virginia Gibbs, of Peachtree City
STAR Teacher: Paula Nettles, chemistry
Student profile:Morgan is a member of marching band and is a peer leader. She plays soccer for Woodward and for a community team. Morgan has not yet committed to a college.