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Forsyths STAR students, teachers recognized
The school-level STAR students from Forsyth County include, from left, Andres Rodriguez of Pinecrest Academy, Charu Thomas of West Forsyth, Brian Mark Grasso of North Forsyth, Phoebe Ahn of Lambert, Justin Olive of Horizon Christian Academy, Amy Zhai of Forsyth Central and Akhil Kota of South Forsyth. - photo by Micah Green

CUMMING — The best and the brightest, as they were touted Thursday evening, in Forsyth County were recognized for their high school achievements, surrounded by family and their most inspiring teacher.

One Student Teacher Achievement Recognition, or STAR, student was named from each of the county’s five public high schools, as well as Pinecrest and Horizon Christian academies.

South Forsyth High’s Akhil Kota was named the systemwide STAR student along with his teacher, Carol Sikes.

Thursday was the first step in a series of banquets held by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators that leads to one 2015 State PAGE STAR Student and STAR Teacher.

The Kiwanis Club of Cumming organized the event, which was held at the University of North Georgia’s Cumming campus.

“These kids go on and they change the world,” said Kiwanis president Mike Burns.

To obtain a STAR nomination, high school seniors must have the highest SAT score in their class and be in the top 10 percent or top 10 students based on grade-point average. SAT scores must be equal to or higher than the national average on each of the three test sections, according to the PAGE website.

Students are asked to name a STAR teacher who was most instrumental in their high school success.

“I think the brain is really cool,” said Kota, who wants to be a neurosurgeon. “We use the brain so much, but we know so little about it.”

He credited Sikes, his AP calculus and science teacher, for preparing him for Advanced Placement exams by giving “really really hard” tests so the real thing was “a piece of cake.”

“In my 12 years, I’ve never had a student with answers as good as Akhil’s,” Sikes said. “… He’s an incredible mathematician.”

Kota will compete for region-wide honors at the end of March. There are 13 school districts — including neighboring Gwinnett, Fulton and Cherokee counties — in Region 3A, which the region’s director, Randy Meincke, labeled “the cream of the crop.”

Not everyone honored Thursday had decided on college or career options. But all had limitless admiration for their accompanying teacher. And vice-versa.

Amy Zhai, Forsyth Central’s STAR student, said she has been accepted to Georgia Tech and wants to pursue a career in engineering. Eric Prince, taught her history for two years.

“He refused to give his own thoughts on a discussion, which would force us to come up with our own opinions and defend them,” Zhai said.

Horizon Christian Academy’s STAR student was Justin Olive, who has been accepted to the University of Georgia. He’s leaning toward a pre-med track and is excited to “be doing stuff on my own.”

He named his AP language teacher, Lisa Stiles, as his inspiration. She said Olive was a natural leader and an “easy student to teach.”

Phoebe Ahn said she is still deciding on colleges. Lambert’s STAR student said she wants to pursue biological research and credited her teacher, Brittany Cantrell.

North Forsyth’s Brian Mark Grasso also does not know where he will study yet, but is interested in molecular biology and global health.

His AP calculus BC teacher, Amanda Swafford, said Grasso is “one of the most humble, caring and genuine students I’ve ever taught.”

Andres Rodriguez, Pinecrest’s STAR student, wants to pursue chemical engineering at either Georgia Tech or MIT. He has been accepted to both.

For teacher, he chose Chris Kane, who taught him AP world history and was his soccer coach.

“He’s second to none. He’s an incredible person,” Kane said. “I consider him family.”

Charu Thomas, West Forsyth High’s STAR student, does not know what career path to follow. However, mathematician and economist are leading the choices. She credited her economics teacher, William Robertson, for making class fun and easy to learn.

Robertson, on his part, said she has “no ego about her. She loves math and asking for mathematical applications to economics questions.”