Gwinnett’s brightest students honored at STAR student luncheon

32 Students from 28 public and private high schools in Gwinnett County were honored at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon on Friday. (Special Photo)

The brightest minds in schools from Gwinnett County gathered Friday for food, drink and recognition of their academic achievement at the annual STAR Student luncheon hosted by the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.

Students were selected based on the criteria that they had the highest SAT score and were in the top 10 percent of their graduating class.

STAR students were honored for each Gwinnett school, and five students were announced as system winners. Three students from Gwinnett County Public Schools — Brookwood High School’s Brian Cho, Duluth High School’s Jackson Baird and Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology’s Micaiah Cowart were announced as co-winners for the Gwinnett school district.

Greater Atlanta Christian School’s Lacey Shaffer was the lone private school student recognized, while Buford High School’s Juliet Chihaya took home the top honor for Buford City Schools system.

Cho is the co-captain of Brookwood’s Science Olympiad team and has received three state medals during his high school career. Over the summer, he completed a internship at Emory University and authored a biomedical engineering scientific paper about the creation of Atrioventricular Block models in rats.

After graduation, Cho plans to enroll at Yale University and major in applied mathematics and biological sciences.

Buford’s Chihaya is headed to Yale’s chief rival, Harvard University, in the fall after an exemplary academic career that includes being a National AP Scholar, National Merit Finalist and her schools valedictorian.

Chihiya won’t be the only system winner to make a speech at graduation. Jackson Baird from Duluth High School was named salutatorian for his graduating class as well as a captain for the Wildcat soccer team. Baird plans on staying in-state and attending either Georgia Tech or Emory University to study education or economics.

Another winner who is considering enrolling at Georgia Tech is GSMST’s Cowart.

“It’s been a lot of classes, studying and work to get to this point,” Cowart said.

In addition to his academics, Cowart is involved in Model U.N., which allows him to debate politics and global issues, something he plans to incorporate in his studies in college.

The 32 STAR students and their mentor teachers are recognized as part of a program put on by the Chamber and the Professional Association of Georgia Educations, or PAGE. STAR stands for Student-Teacher Achievement Recognition.

For some educators, such as Billy Jones, receiving the STAR teacher award has become somewhat of a tradition. Jones ascended the stage to a roar of cheers for the 30th time in his education career to receive his certificate.

Other teachers, such as Jobie Johnson at GSMST, were speechless to receive the honor.

“I primarily teach seniors and I never thought I would be selected as STAR teacher because it doesn’t happen very often with a senior teacher,” Johnson said. “I met him over the summer when I taught him at the Governor’s Honors Program and I really was flabbergasted when he chose me.”

While the five system winners and co-winners will move on to the STAR student regional competition, every student was a winner according to Dr. Dan Kaufman, president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber.

“Education is the passport to the future, and I absolutely believe these STAR students are well on their journey,” said Kaufman. “Through hard work and dedication, as well as the support of their inspiring teachers, these students have earned an extraordinary level of achievement.

I graduated from Brookwood High School and Georgia Southern University with a degree in Journalism. I cover news and education for the largest school system in the state of Georgia.