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.
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.
Hall County Schools
Chestatee High School
STAR teacher: Adrienne West
East Hall High School
STAR teacher: Rosalind Verrill
Flowery Branch High School
STAR teacher: Laura Novotny-Beaver
Johnson High School
STAR teacher: Christine Skogsberg
Lanier Christian Academy
STAR teacher: Doug Waltman
North Hall High School
STAR teacher: Tony Wagner
West Hall High School
STAR teacher: Anna Jackson
Gainesville City School System
Gainesville High School
STAR teacher: Nantheyyen Ramachandran
STAR teacher: Debra Zwald
Riverside Military Academy
STAR teacher: Dennis Bagwell