The STARs were not even in her sights. Yet after she became one, Kalyn Kitchings knew just what to do. Recently named Thomson High School's STAR student, Kalyn chose her seventh grade math teacher, Neal Tam, to be her STAR teacher.
"It's a huge honor, especially when a high school senior reaches back down to a lower level," Mr. Tam said. "Typically, they choose a high school teacher. And I know the teachers she's had. She's had incredible teachers, the best of the best all the way around. It's very humbling that she'd choose me."
Kalyn agreed that her high school teachers have been great. But she gives Mr. Tam the credit for getting her to them.
"I wouldn't have made it through middle school without him," she said. "It was a hard time for me in my life. I was discouraged with all the middle school 'finding yourself' issues. He spurred me on. ... Not just with math, but he helped me through life."
Also recently named the Class of 2008 valedictorian, Kalyn said being valedictorian has been a long-time goal of hers, but not making STAR student.
"Because the SAT is really hard, and it's one test at one time," she explained. "Either you do it or you don't."And Kalyn did it by scoring a 1970 out of a possible 2400 points on the SAT.
The Student-Teacher Achievement Recognition title is awarded annually to students who score the highest on the Scholastic Achievement Test and who are in the top 10 percent of their class.
Each STAR student chooses a teacher whom they feel has been their biggest influence as their STAR teacher. Mr. Tam said he had Kalyn during his first year as a teacher.
"That was a good year with good students. There are more honor grads in that class, and they are a tight-knit group," he said. "And Kalyn's one of those real rare kids that you're lucky to teach."
Mr. Tam also was the middle school's Teacher of the Year in 2005, and became the Assistant Principal for Administrative Services this year. Getting him to the high school for the announcement without ruining the surprise was part of the fun. Kalyn said high school counselor Sheron Finnerty called Mr. Tam to come help with some problems.
"And he came, and I was in her office," Kalyn said with a sparkle in her eyes. "And then when (Principal Rudy) Falana and (Assistant Principal Lynn) Cato walked in, his eyes got real big. It was great."
Mr. Tam said he's always known Kalyn would make STAR student, because in seventh grade, she was "a very goal-oriented, driven 11-year-old." Kalyn said those goals sometimes are stressful, because to her, "there's always room for improvement, so I have to keep trying." Using hindsight, she said her goals could not have been reached without everyone.
"If I could give them all an award, I would, because they all do so much for me and for everybody," the 16-year-old senior said. "You can't beat McDuffie County, because we have a superintendent, principals and teachers who all knew that I was working to get valedictorian. Every time they saw me, they were asking me how I'm doing at it, and encouraging me."
Kalyn will represent McDuffie County at the Region 7 STAR banquet, sponsored by Georgia Power on March 27.