By Christopher Smith
For most of her time in the Whitfield County Schools system, Olivia Taylor said she had to “rely on self-motivation to get me through.”
But that was before her senior year when she met Leighann Noll, a teacher at Southeast Whitfield High School.
“I never had a teacher support me the way she has,” Taylor said.
Taylor recognized Noll, who teaches Advanced Placement government at Southeast, in front of numerous educators and members of the Kiwanis Club of Dalton last Monday at the trade center during a teacher recognition lunch.
Taylor, along with Dalton High School student Richard Virgo, were selected as school system winners as part of the Student Teacher Achievement Recognition (STAR) program. Taylor will represent Whitfield County Schools and Virgo will represent Dalton Public Schools as they go on to regional competition.
STAR nominees were picked from the high school seniors with the highest score on a single test date on the three-part SAT and also had to be in the top 10 percent or top 10 students of their class based on grade point average. Each STAR student nominee named the teacher who impacted them the most for recognition at the lunch.
“It was like someone was going through my education with me,” Taylor said of Noll. “I wasn’t just a name on the roster or a letter grade anymore. She is a wonderful, kind, witty person. It is a good feeling knowing that someone other than myself has a stake and interest in my future.”
Virgo said his pick for teacher, Karen Chenard, motivated him to take on hard International Baccalaureate (IB) classes.
“I had to think of the teacher that pushed me the hardest, that made me work,” he said. “I had her (Chenard) for three years ... and without her, I wouldn’t really have pressed myself as hard.
“She pushed me to try my hardest. She pushed me to do my best. I do my best because of her. She is really the best teacher I have had and have had the honor of being in class with.”
Chenard, who teachers IB psychology at Dalton High, said the opposite is “closer to the truth.”
“He pushes me,” she said. “In a class of very motivated IB students, he is really the one that makes me stay on my toes. I probably learned more from him than he has learned from me. He pulls everyone else in that class up with him. He is, in my 21 years of teacher, the most academically gifted student in everything.”
Noll said Taylor is “successful, special, but serious.”
“She works hard, she takes her studies seriously,” Noll said. “Sometimes that gets overlooked in students because sometimes they’re the quiet ones. They’re not the ones who speak up and get that attention, but they’re the silent but deadly kind.”
Other STAR nominees this year were Henry Crawford at Christian Heritage School, who nominated teacher Steve Irwin; Austin Turner at Coahulla Creek High School, who nominated teacher Elizabeth Scroggs; and Macie Noelle Maret at Northwest Whitfield High School, who nominated teacher Richard Taylor.