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West Hall, Lakeview students honored as STAR system winners
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Lakeview Academy STAR student Coleman Pethel chose math teacher Debra Zwald as his STAR teacher for 2018. All area STAR students were honored by the Gainesville Kiwanis Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. - photo by Scott Rogers

In freshman geometry, Coleman Pethel and his Lakeview Academy classmates spent the entire class period working on a problem. The question seemed unsolvable.

As he and math teacher Debra Zwald later discovered, there was no answer.

“She contacted the editor of the textbook, and he told us that that particular worksheet was a mistake and that it didn’t have an answer,” he said.

That didn’t stop Pethel from spending time over the next week after class and during a study hall laboring over the problem, running through different scenarios of how the question went wrong.

This mathematical amusement was indicative of Pethel’s character and academic curiosity, as he and others were honored as STAR students Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Gainesville.

“He was always looking for a challenge,” Zwald said. “If there wasn’t a challenge, he would create one.”

Pethel was named the STAR student representative for Gainesville City School System, and West Hall High School’s Ashley Nelson was selected as the Hall County Schools representative.

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West Hall STAR student Ashley Nelson chose teacher Anna Jackson as her STAR teacher even though she is not her student, but still an integral figure in her high school career. - photo by Scott Rogers

Nelson’s STAR teacher Anna Jackson was actually never one of Nelson’s teachers, though Jackson has been one of the biggest supporters as the International Baccalaureate coordinator.

When enduring the both emotionally and academically challenging IB program, Jackson made sure “that we know that we matter to her as individuals, not just as people in her program,” Nelson said.

“She is the first one that wants to know if we get into a college. She gives us birthday cards and candy. She always has these little puns when she gives us things,” Nelson said.

A ravenous reader of fiction from Jane Austen to J.K. Rowling, Nelson said she will attend the University of Georgia in the fall as a classics major.

“I have two bookshelves, and they’re completely full. We had to get a second one because my first one was caving in on itself,” she said, adding she might aspire to be an author.

High school seniors eligible for the Student Teacher Achievement Recognition distinction had the highest score on a single SAT test date and had a top 10 percent grade-point average for their class.

Jackson said she was humbled and honored to be selected as Nelson’s teacher. She recalled a teambuilding exercise from Nelson’s junior year, where vocal students like her were silenced and timid students were pushed to speak.

“She rose up as the leader, even though still she couldn’t even say a word. And that sums up Ashley. She’s going to find a way to make it happen no matter what you say to her, no matter what you do,” she said.

At Lakeview Academy, Pethel captains the academic bowl team along with participating in the cross country and sporting clays teams. He also started the math team now in its second year, which Zwald sponsored.

“Sometimes students get overwhelmed and they’ll (think), oh, she’ll show us how to do it in a few minutes,” Zwald said of Pethel in the classroom. “Coleman didn’t want me to show him how to do it. He wanted to figure out how to do it.”

Pethel was accepted to Georgia Tech, but he is still waiting for decisions from the California Institute of Technology, Princeton University and Cornell University. 

“If I end up doing aerospace (engineering), someone like Lockheed Martin, that would be a great company to work for,” he said.

STAR students

Hall County Schools

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Tess Mosley - photo by Scott Rogers
Tess Mosley

Chestatee High School 

STAR teacher: Adrienne West 

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Kristy Ward - photo by Scott Rogers
Kristy Ward 

East Hall High School 

STAR teacher: Rosalind Verrill 

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Ellie Luciani - photo by Scott Rogers
Ellie Luciani 

Flowery Branch High School 

STAR teacher: Laura Novotny-Beaver 

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Valeria Lopez - photo by Scott Rogers
Valeria Lopez

Johnson High School 

STAR teacher: Christine Skogsberg 

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Will DeMersseman - photo by Scott Rogers
Will DeMersseman 

Lanier Christian Academy 

STAR teacher: Doug Waltman 

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Bartley Forrester - photo by Scott Rogers
Bartley Forrester 

North Hall High School 

STAR teacher: Tony Wagner 

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Ashley Nelson - photo by Scott Rogers
Ashley Nelson 

West Hall High School 

STAR teacher: Anna Jackson 

Gainesville City School System

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Anita Medepalli - photo by Scott Rogers

Anita Medepalli 

Gainesville High School

STAR teacher: Nantheyyen Ramachandran 

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Coleman Pethel - photo by Scott Rogers
Coleman Pethel

Lakeview Academy

STAR teacher: Debra Zwald 

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Runyi Wang - photo by Scott Rogers
Runyi Wang

Riverside Military Academy

STAR teacher: Dennis Bagwell