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Posted: February 6, 2014 9:46 p.m.

NHS STAR students named

Students, in turn, honor special teachers

Danielle Everson/

Three of Newton County’s highest-achieving students were recognized at the Kiwanis Club of Covington’s Thursday meeting for their high scores on the SAT, the national college entrance exam.

The Newton County School System named its 2014 Student Teacher Achievement Recognition (STAR) students and teachers at the club’s weekly meeting. Three students — one from each high school in the county -- and their selected teachers were celebrated by Kiwanis Club members, parents and school system officials during the program.

The STAR program, which is in its 56th year, is sponsored by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators Foundation, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Department of Education. Since its inception, it has honored more than 24,000 students and the teachers they have selected as having had the most influence on their academic success.

To obtain the STAR nomination, high school seniors must have the highest score on a single test date on the three-part SAT, the national college entrance exam that many colleges and universities use to measure critical thinking skills students need for academic success in college.

Students named as STAR students also must be in the top 10 percent of their classes or be one of the top 10 students, based on grade point average.

Alcovy High School

Victoria Wardlow scored a 1960 out of 2400 on the SAT. She selected Charles Gammel, former Alcovy High School Latin teacher, as her STAR Teacher. Gammel now teaches at the Scholars Academy of Thomasville City Schools, and this was Gammel’s first time being selected as a STAR teacher.

Victoria said, "He’s my favorite teacher that I’ve ever had. He’s the reason I like Latin so much. He pushed me to try even harder."

During her time at Alcovy High, Wardlow has taken a several advanced placement courses, including Latin, calculus, macroeconomics, European history, literature, language arts, environmental science, and U.S. history. She has been a member of the Latin Club, performed for three years in Alcovy’s band, and has also participated in drama. In her spare time, she coaches children in a Christian basketball program.

Wardlow plans to attend the University of Georgia to study classical languages and dramatic arts. Her career goal is to teach the classics and also to become an actress.

She said of the STAR honor, "I’m really, really proud. I like being on top because it proves to me that I’m worth something. It’s fun to learn new things, and being able to apply it to stuff really makes me happy, too. So I’m really, really glad and happy that I got this honor."

Heather Wardlow, Victoria’s mother, said her daughter’s selection as STAR student was surprising, because she remembers a day when her daughter was in tears, saying that she had to take the SAT over because she didn’t do as well as she wanted to do.

"I’m very proud of her. She’s worked hard and has always challenged herself," Victoria’s mother said, "She always wants to do the best, have the highest grades, so this is a really shocking moment."

Newton High School

Newton High School’s 2014 STAR student is Vitaliy Semenikhin. He scored an 1880 out of 2400 on his SAT. Semenikhin chose Vicki Meeler, a science teacher at Indian Creek Middle School, as his STAR teacher. This was also Meeler’s first time being selected as a STAR Teacher.

Vitaliy said that Meeler "is one of two teachers who really inspired me and instilled in me a passion for science that no other teachers have done. She set me on a path for science."

Semenikhin has also taken numerous AP classes, including world history, psychology, U.S. history, English language composition, chemistry, literature, macroeconomics, calculus, and physics. He is enrolled in the elite Academy of Liberal Arts at Newton High School and has been a member of the National Honor Society, the community service club Newton Interact, and Future Farmers of America.

When not focusing on academics, Semenikhin said he likes doing "typical nerdy stuff," like building model rockets, working on his car, and woodworking.

Semenikhin plans to attend Georgia Tech and wants to major in aerospace engineering. His career goal is to eventually own his own business. He already has dozens of ideas he is considering.

Idina Semenikhin, Vitaliy’s mother, said she was very proud of her son. She added that he is a good person with the "best personality." Vitaliy added that he was honored to receive the recognition.

"I’m extremely thankful for my parents, for my teachers and everyone who has helped me through my years of schooling," he said. "They really pushed me to do as much as I could and be the best person that I could be."

Eastside High School

Kolyse Wagstaff is not only the STAR student for Eastside High, but also for the Newton County School System, as she had the highest SAT score in the district, scoring 2100 out of 2400.

"It’s extremely exciting and I’m honored. I didn’t expect to be, so I feel lucky," she said of being named both the EHS and NCSS STAR student.

In his record ninth time being selected by a student as a STAR teacher, Eric Adams was named as Wagstaff’s STAR teacher. As a result, the Latin teacher also is the 2014 Newton County School System STAR teacher.

Wagstaff said, "Mr. Adams does anything for his students to make them successful. He goes way above and beyond what he gets paid for to help us succeed."

Wagstaff is a member of the Junior Classical League, Beta Club, and the National Honor Society and has played tennis and volleyball for Eastside. She has taken six advanced placement courses, including calculus, Latin, U.S. history, English language and composition, English literature, and economics. During her spare time, she enjoys playing softball with a church league.

As for college, Wagstaff is deciding whether to attend Georgia Southern or Kennesaw State University. She plans on majoring in nursing and wants to become a nurse practitioner for children. Her parents, Wendell and Julia Wagstaff, attended the program. Her dad said they were honored to be Kolyse’s parents.

"She had been not only a wonderful academic daughter, but she has been a wonderful daughter to have in the home and we’re so very proud of her achievement," he said. "She’s never seemed to have to work too hard. She’s worked hard, but it seems like it has come very easy for her because she had been very dedicated and determined to do well because she understands that education is so important."

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