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Editorial: STAR students light way to future
At left: West Hall STAR student Ashley Nelson chose teacher Anna Jackson as her STAR teacher. At right: Lakeview Academy STAR student Coleman Pethel chose math teacher Debra Zwald as his STAR teacher, all honored by the Gainesville Kiwanis. - photo by Scott Rogers

Local school systems face daily challenges in helping students reach their goals, whether it be growing enrollments driving redistricting and expansion, a changing workforce and educational requirements, and a quest for the magic funding formula to pay for it all.

But amid these obstacles, schools in Gainesville and Hall County turning out some amazing success stories.

On Tuesday, Feb. 13, 10 students and their teachers were honored at First Baptist Church in Gainesville by the Gainesville Kiwanis’ Student Teacher Achievement Recognition program. Those eligible are high school seniors who posted the highest scores on a single SAT test date and a top 10 percent grade-point average for their class.

The STAR students and faculty chosen cover a wide array of expertise in various subjects, all finding the key to a great high school education through hard work and academic endeavors. The two recipients representing Hall County and Gainesville schools demonstrate traits worth emulating.

Coleman Pethel of Lakeview Academy, was chosen STAR student from Gainesville’s city and private schools. The aspiring engineer will choose between Georgia Tech, California Institute of Technology, Princeton University and Cornell University. As a freshman, he and his classmates pored over a geometry problem for an entire period until teacher Debra Zwald discovered the problem was printed by mistake and had no answer. Yet Pethel didn’t turn loose and spent days trying to solve the unsolvable riddle.

“If there wasn’t a challenge, he would create one,” Zwald said.

That’s a missing ingredient for some. In an era when students often are funneled information to pass standardized tests from a young age, an adventurous curiosity that sparks learning often is not nurtured as it should be. 

Those whose critical thinking skills are honed at that stage tend to turn into our brightest thinkers, leaders and problem solvers. That’s an ability sorely needed in the 21st century workplace where old disciplines give way to new fields and specialties too fast even for schools to keep up. By training students not just to gather information but to think on their own, they will grow a generation of workers more capable of adapting to rapid innovation.

West Hall High senior Ashley Nelson was the Hall County Schools honoree, along with her STAR teacher Anna Jackson. Nelson will attend the University of Georgia as a classics major devoted to the world’s great literature, history and philosophy. She’s a voracious reader who may aspire to be an author herself.

Such a love for the written word has faded for many in a time when electronic diversions such as games and television may help steer people of all ages away from the joy of reading. Those who embrace great literature can someday pass on that passion to others. And we all know reading remains the ideal way to open doors to learning at a young age.

Analytical thought from the left side of the brain and creativity from the right side can blend into an education that prepares one for all of life’s possibilities. 

This year’s STAR students represent both hemispheres, the parts creating the whole, and offer a great example and hope for the future.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.