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STARs praised for their smarts
STAR student Chederli Belongilot, left, jokes with STAR teacher Bill Schuyler on Wednesday during a ceremony honoring top students at Forsyth Central High. - photo by Autumn Vetter

She’s short, has a bit of a lead foot and talks a mile a minute, but when Chederli Belongilot graduates from Forsyth Central High School in May, she will have also completed her first two years of college.

It’s that academic excellence, coupled with her high SAT score, that earned Belongilot the honor of being her school’s Professional Association of Georgia Educators’ STAR student.

Belongilot received the award Wednesday during a recognition ceremony of Central STARS, short for Students Taking Academic Responsibility Seriously.

The ceremony honored about 100 students who scored an 1,100 or higher out of a possible 1,600 on the math and critical thinking portions of the SAT or a 24 or higher out of a possible 36 on the ACT.

“She’s dedicated and diligent in everything she does … and her attitude toward everything is one of a kind,” said biology teacher Bill Schuyler during the ceremony. “Chederli, keep up the excitement, be enthusiastic about everything you do and never lose your personality.”

As Central’s STAR student, Belongilot chose Schuyler as her STAR teacher.

It was the second year a Schuyler has won the honor. Last year, his wife, Kelli, was tapped for the distinction.

During her speech, Belongilot said she selected Bill Schuyler, who she credited for her passion for biology, because of “how much he cares about his students.”

“He would always make time, no matter how busy he was,” she said. “I’m blessed to have had you as a teacher and a mentor … you are doing what you were meant to do.”

During the ceremony, the school’s highest scoring students sat on the basketball court in the gymnasium surrounded by their peers and parents.

Central Principal Rudy Hampton encouraged the students watching the proceedings “to continue to work very hard … so that next year, you will be sitting where these students are sitting.”

Forsyth County school board members, Superintendent Buster Evans and Associate Superintendent Joey Pirkle also attended the ceremony.

Evans noted Central’s status as the county’s oldest high school, adding that “with that comes great tradition and part of that tradition is recognizing excellence.”

He also hailed the teachers, staff members and parents for the success of the students. “Congratulations for all the good choices you’ve made along the way.”

Pirkle, a former principal, said it was nice to see the success of some of those he’s watched grow up.

“You have continued on the path of success and I’m really proud of you for that,” Pirkle said. “Forsyth Central is a special place … we are very proud of Forsyth Central and the things we’ve done.”

Also during the event, the school’s Top Dog was named for earning the highest SAT score in the school.

This year, the honor went to Lena Nygaard, who scored a 1,580. The short-winded Nygaard told her peers simply, “you can all do it too.”

After the ceremony, Nygaard said she took the SAT twice. She got a 1,460 the first time, having not prepared for the exam, but earned the additional 120 points after studying.

Her mother, Patrice said she was amazed at her daughter’s performance, especially since the Hungarian-born senior was home-schooled until her junior year.

“She really worked hard,” she said. “It’s quite amazing. We can’t take the credit … she’s just been a hard worker and a self-starter.”