It may have been midday, but the STARS were shining brightly in Bartow County Wednesday afternoon.
The unusual phenomenon was caused by the Cartersville Rotary Club gathering the county’s four STAR students and their STAR teachers together for the 61st annual STAR Student/Teacher Awards luncheon at the Cartersville Country Club.
After recognizing all the students and teachers, STAR program Chairman Rick Drews announced that Peter Germ from Woodland High School and Ethan Boone from Cartersville High School were the two school system winners.
“Each year, you think they can’t get any better than this, but the stories that the teachers tell about the students and how dedicated they are to studying, how dedicated they are to their academics and, beyond that, the things they do for hobbies and the things they do for sports, it really is amazing what these students do,” he said. “To hear the students discuss the relationship they have with their teachers and how their STAR teacher impacted them to work a little harder, to stretch a little bit, to do something outside their comfort zone really shows the quality of educator that we have, both in Cartersville City School System and the Bartow County School System. We’re truly blessed in this county to have the quality of education, quality of educator that we do.”
The Student Teacher Achievement Recognition program, sponsored by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, recognizes the state's outstanding high school seniors and the teachers who have contributed the most to their academic achievement.
STAR students have the highest score on a single test date on the SAT and are in the top 10 percent or the Top 10 students, based on grade point average, of their graduating class.
Representing the Class of 2019 are Trinity Conant and English teacher Holli Leach from Adairsville High, Rett Moore and social studies teacher Alana Guilford from Cass High, Germ — the fourth consecutive WHS STAR student to be named the system winner — and Band Director Eric Willoughby from Woodland High and Boone and graphic communications teacher Valerie Veiga from Cartersville High.
Interestingly enough, Conant’s brother, Ransom, was the system winner for Bartow County in 2015, and Boone’s brother, Haden, was the Cartersville system winner in 2017.
And all four educators have been named STAR teacher more than once: twice for Leach and Veiga, three times for Guilford and four times for Willoughby.
Germ, son of Gregory and Stephanie Germ of Euharlee, said he was “very honored to be the system winner.”
“I’m a little surprised, but I’m very humbled and honored,” the 17-year-old said.
His mom said she is “extremely proud” of her son, but she has no idea where he got his intelligence.
“My husband and I have been trying to figure that out,” she said, laughing.
Germ, a “proud member” of the Wildcat marching band and a first-degree black belt, said he studies a lot, but science and math are easier for him.
“It really comes naturally to me,” he said. “That’s why I like it so much.”
In introducing his STAR teacher, Germ said Willoughby had a real impact on him when he was transitioning from middle school to high school, specifically during band camp, “right before school is starting, when many freshmen are very anxious going from middle school to high school.”
“Camp rehearsals really helped that transition, not only being exposed to upperclassmen but also just the culture that Mr. Willoughby advocates in our band program,” the trombone player said. “Integrity and hard work … are really essential to my life now. He also has impacted me emotionally through music. Being in band for four years, I really have developed this deep appreciation for music. … I’m very blessed to have him in my life, and he has contributed to my maturity as a person.”
Willoughby, who also was a STAR teacher in 2012, 2014 and 2015, thanked Germ for “trusting me to be someone who could even be associated with your name.”
“The excellence that you have achieved at Woodland High School all together and in your life, I can’t tell you how honored I am that you chose me,” he said.
When Germ came to WHS, he already had been an all-state trombone player in middle school, Willoughby said.
“He could march; he was smart,” he said. “He did everything you would’ve asked. We’re so blessed when someone like you walks in the door. We’re just like, ‘Can everybody just follow him please? Just do everything he does, and everything will be super-easy.’ But in all seriousness, Peter really has been one of those unique academically high-achieving, probably pre-eminent, students at Woodland High School that shows everyone what it looks like to do things at an excellent and high level.”
He then thanked Germ, who plans to major in environmental engineering at Duke University, for “being part of my life and inspiring me every day with the level of excellence you have.”
“I know you’re going to do great things,” he said.
Boone, 17, said he felt “honored” to represent his school and system as a STAR student.
“It was a bit unexpected,” he said. “I’m very proud to be here, and I’m glad that I got the opportunity to nominate Ms. Veiga as my STAR teacher because she certainly deserves it.”
The son of Karen and Ted Boone of Cartersville, who started his remarks by saying he is “6-[foot]-6, and no, I don’t play basketball,” said Veiga is “the best person that I could’ve possibly chosen for this honor” of STAR teacher.
“She has had a profound impact on me, not as a student but as a person,” he said. “She’s focused on compassion and productivity. She always makes sure that her students do what they need to succeed. She’ll do anything she needs to help them, and I’ve experienced all of this firsthand. … She has always wanted them to do the best that they can do in their environment, and I’m honored to have had her as a teacher and as a person in my life.”
Veiga countered with “all I can say is Ethan is obviously brilliant.”
“There’s no doubt — he’s brilliant academically,” she said. “The best thing about Ethan is him as a person. He’s kind; he’s compassionate. He is everything that any mother would be so proud to have. … He is one of the best kids I’ve ever met in my life. I just can’t even explain to you what a kind and wonderful person he is.”
Boone, who loves math and robotics, said he will be continuing his family tradition of attending the Georgia Institute of Technology — both parents are graduates, and his brother, Haden, currently is attending — and plans to major in biomedical engineering.
Each STAR student received a $150 scholarship and a certificate from the Rotary Club, and Germ and Boone were awarded an additional $100 scholarship for being the system winners.
The STAR teachers received gift cards to Table 20 in Cartersville and certificates.
The two system winners, teachers and their guests will attend the Region 1 STAR banquet March 19 at Coosa Country Club in Rome, where Germ and Boone will compete for region honors.
The 12 region winners and teachers will be invited to attend the State PAGE STAR Banquet April 29 at Sonesta Gwinnett Place Atlanta in Duluth to compete for the state’s top STAR honors.