In the education arena, Bartow County has no shortage of STARS in its two school systems.
The Cartersville Rotary Club honored five of the top-performing students in the county during the 62nd annual STAR Student/Teacher Awards luncheon Wednesday afternoon at the Cartersville Country Club.
"The Cartersville Rotary Club is delighted to host the STAR program luncheon because it gives us the opportunity to honor the hard work and accomplishments of some of our future leaders and the talented educators who helped shape their academic success," said STAR program Chairwoman Cheree Dye, who followed longtime Chairman Rick Drews as program chair this year. "We recognized an extremely talented group of students this year who have everything it takes to achieve the dreams they shared with us in their acceptance speeches."
After hearing from the STAR students and teachers, Dye announced the names of the two system winners — McKenna Trapheagen from Woodland High School and Brendan Quillin from Excel Christian Academy.
"I was so honored and a little surprised, to be honest, but very grateful and excited to see where it goes," Trapheagen, 17, said.
Quillin said he was "humbled" by being named Cartersville's system winner and "didn't even know" he was competing for a system title.
"I didn't have that much information so I didn't know that it was separate," the 18-year-old said. "I didn't ever [realize the Cartersville system] was going to be separate from just Bartow so it was a surprise, but I'm honored."
Trapheagen, who turns 18 on Feb. 20, became the fifth consecutive Woodland High student to win system honors, and Quillin was the first Excel student to be named the system winner since 2014.
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 taken through the November testing of their senior year and are in the top 10% or the Top 10 students, based on grade point average, of their graduating class.
Each STAR student names a STAR teacher who has had a major impact on his or her success in school.
The Class of 2020's STAR students and teachers are Brendan Luginbuhl and English teacher Christy McCormick from Adairsville High, Caleb Doolittle from Cass High and retired South Central Middle Band Director Sheila Smith, Trapheagen and social studies teacher Crawford Taylor from Woodland, Logan Cagle and math teacher Mindy Surrett from Cartersville High and Quillin and math teacher Kaley Bonner from Excel.
Trapheagen — who plans to earn a degree in literature, media and communication from the Georgia Institute of Technology — loves literature and said writing has "always been an escape" for her.
"I firmly believe that in order for an individual to truly excel in what they're doing, they need to find what they love and simply aspire to make it better," she said. "Our work should be rewarding to both ourselves and the world."
The Woodland cross country and track standout, who also plans to run at Georgia Tech, thanked her parents, Sheri and Alec Trapheagen of Euharlee, for the "immeasurable impact" they had on her education, for the "amount of passion that the two of them have instilled" in her and for a childhood "filled with memories of creative exploration."
"They taught me to live, learn and love with an unmatched, unprecedented vigor," she said.
Her parents also immersed her in all areas of life, from art and sports to literature and music.
"I'm inspired by the skills of Cronkite, Carroll and Caravaggio alike," she said. "These influential professionals revolutionized their domains, energizing the youthful minds of my generation. I seek the same impact as I grow into a fierce leader of the professional athletic arena."
Though she loves literature and writing, Trapheagen said she chose her ninth-grade Advanced Placement government teacher as her STAR teacher because she sees the "same passion in him that my parents raised me to embrace and seek."
"Very few teachers have motivated me or moved me as much as he has," she said. "He radiates an infectious joy, an energy that excited me for high school as a hopeful ninth-grader."
One of two freshmen in the senior government class, Trapheagen said she was "horrified," but before her first test, she knew she had "nothing to worry about" when Taylor "belted out a beautiful rendition of 'Lean on Me' and a soulful prayer, his signature way of wishing us good luck before our exams."
"I'd been blessed with a teacher who genuinely loved what he was doing and has forever inspired me to search for that same feeling day after day," she said.
Taylor, a three-time STAR teacher, recalled that AP class and that first test.
"When I got that first test back, McKenna's writing was so eloquent and so perfectly answered the question that I couldn't read the others," he said. "I read hers first, and I realized I just couldn't do that from then on, that if I read McKenna's first, the others just didn't matter. So I had to read McKenna's last. She was my best student in a class full of seniors, and she was the AP Government Student of the Year, and it was never close."
From her first day in his class, Trapheagen was "unlike most every student I've ever had," Taylor said.
"She was so thoughtful, and she worked so hard, and she was eager to learn," he said. "There's not a day I didn't look forward to coming to work and not a day that after I taught McKenna, I didn't wish that I could teach her again."
Taylor did get to teach her again in sociology, "and she put the same amount of dedication into an elective that she had put into a core class," he said.
Quillin, son of Jeff and Debbie Quillin of Adairsville, said he has a "natural affinity for math" and has developed "quite an interest in history," but he isn't sure of his future plans yet.
He doesn't know what college he wants to attend, as he's waiting to see what schools might be interested in him as a basketball player, but he said he will "likely major in medicine, computer science or music."
One thing Quillin was sure about was choosing his calculus teacher as his STAR teacher.
"Ms. Bonner is an enthusiastic teacher who creates a fun and laid-back classroom environment and clearly has a genuine enjoyment of teaching so she was an easy choice," he said.
Bonner said she was "truly honored" that her prized student would select her as his STAR teacher.
"Brendan's one of those students that pushes me as a teacher because he is so smart in math and everything, but math particularly, and I question why I'm doing the things I'm doing for the reason, not just how to do it," she said. "So there's always that deeper understanding of it."
Quillin "likes to be his best" both inside and outside the classroom, Bonner said.
"I got to watch him play a lot of basketball this year, and let me tell you, that boy works hard," she said. "He does so good, and I'm proud of you for that. I can't wait to see what the future holds for him."
Dye congratulated all of this year's STAR students.
"Your efforts and your accomplishments are applauded, and we wish you the best of luck as you continue your education and you endeavor to make your mark on this world," she said. "And after hearing about you and hearing from you, I have no doubt that you will."
She also congratulated the STAR teachers.
"Everyone in this room knows the power of a good teacher," she said. "We've all had them. We all still remember them. And I want to thank you and congratulate you for the work that you've done and for the impact that you've made. You have no idea how many lives that you've touched."
Each STAR student received a $150 scholarship and a certificate from the Rotary Club, and Trapheagen and Quillin were awarded an additional $100 scholarship for being the system winners.
The STAR teachers received $50 checks and certificates.
The two system winners, teachers and their guests will attend the Region 1 STAR banquet March 24 at Coosa Country Club in Rome, where Trapheagen and Quillin will compete for the region title.
"We are excited to send the two system winners to the regional event in Rome, and we believe they will represent our community extremely well," Dye said.
The 12 region winners and teachers will be invited to attend the State PAGE STAR Banquet April 27 at Sonesta Gwinnett Place Atlanta in Duluth to compete for the state’s top STAR honors.