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Meet the 2020 STAR student, teacher at each Forsyth County high school
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STAR students and their teachers were recognized Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 by the Cumming Kiwanis Club at the University of North Georgia-Cumming campus. - photo by Brian Paglia

Two years ago, Eric Ahn was a sophomore at Lambert High School in a dual-enrollment calculus class at Georgia Tech full of juniors and seniors.

“I had no idea who to rely on,” Ahn said.

But then he went to Teresa Swinehart. His former AP calculus teacher, and facilitator for the Georgia Tech class, encouraged him to push on. She even helped Ahn meet some of his classmates.

In the following years, Ahn continued to seek guidance from Swinehart, and Ahn repaid Swinehart by bringing her to the STAR Student banquet hosted by the Cumming Kiwanis Club Thursday at the University of North Georgia-Cumming campus.

Ahn was one of eight students – one from each Forsyth County high school – recognized as the STAR student of their respective school. Created by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE), nominees must be a high school senior with the highest SAT score on a single test date and be in the top 10% or top 10 students of their class. Each student selected a teacher to recognize as “the most influential to their academic achievement.”

Ahn and Denmark’s Rithwik Guntaka tied to represent the school system at the region level, where they’ll contend to be named the State PAGE STAR Student, bringing along their teacher at every level of the program.

Before their families, school administrators and Kiwanis members, each student was presented with a plaque and given the opportunity to speak about their future plans and respective STAR teacher.

None of the winners spoke about their futures. They instead praised their STAR teachers.

Guntaka selected Jennifer Marx, an AP English literature teacher at Denmark, for her “desire to make the classroom a better place.”

South Forsyth’s Sreenivas Yellayi, Pinecrest Academy’s Allie Doerr, Horizon Christian Academy’s Kaitlyn Strouth and West Forsyth’s Kalpana Agarwal selected their chemistry teachers: Cindy Philpot, Chad Morris, Sharon McGehee and Kelley Grogan, respectively.

The STEM-focused Julia Vallier, of Forsyth Central, selected English teacher Antonia Alberga-Parisi.

While Holley Murray, an aspiring writer, picked James Bassett, an English teacher she met freshman year who motivated her to pursue her passion for writing.

Students said their teachers instilled confidence, stretched their understanding, made classes about dense subject matters enjoyable or devoted extra time to help them.

For Ahn, that meant regularly meeting with Swinehart before and after school to get help. Hers was “the first classroom where I go, and it’s the last one that I leave,” he said.

Ahn added, “She’s always been there to support me, even in general life matters.”

Denmark
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Denmark High School senior Rithwik Guntaka, along with his AP English literature teacher, Jennifer Marx, speaks during the STAR Student Banquet hosted by the Cumming Kiwanis Club Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 at the University of North Georgia-Cumming campus. - photo by Brian Paglia

STAR Student: Rithwik Guntaka

STAR Teacher: Jennifer Marx

Forsyth Central
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Forsyth Central High School senior Julia Vallier speaks during the STAR Student Banquet hosted by the Cumming Kiwanis Club Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 at the University of North Georgia-Cumming campus. - photo by Brian Paglia

STAR Student: Julia Elizabeth Vallier

STAR Teacher: Antonia Alberga-Parisi

Lambert
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Lambert High School senior Eric Ahn speaks during the STAR Student Banquet hosted by the Cumming Kiwanis Club Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 at the University of North Georgia-Cumming campus. - photo by Brian Paglia

STAR Student: Eric Ju Ahn

STAR Teacher: Teresa Swinehart

Horizon Christian Academy
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Horizon Christian Academy senior Kaitlyn Strouth receives a plaque during the STAR Student Banquet hosted by the Cumming Kiwanis Club Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 at the University of North Georgia-Cumming campus. - photo by Brian Paglia

STAR Student: Kaitlyn Strouth

STAR Teacher: Sharon McGehee

North Forsyth
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North Forsyth High School senior Holley Murray speaks during the STAR Student Banquet hosted by the Cumming Kiwanis Club Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 at the University of North Georgia-Cumming campus. - photo by Brian Paglia

STAR Student: Holley Ann Murray

STAR Teacher: James Bassett

Pinecrest Academy
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Pinecrest Academy senior Allie Doerr speaks during the STAR Student Banquet hosted by the Cumming Kiwanis Club Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 at the University of North Georgia-Cumming campus. - photo by Brian Paglia

STAR Student: Allie Marie Doerr

STAR Teacher: Chad Morris

South Forsyth
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South Forsyth High School senior Sreenivas Yellayi receives a plaque during the STAR Student Banquet hosted by the Cumming Kiwanis Club Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 at the University of North Georgia-Cumming campus. - photo by Brian Paglia

STAR Student: Sreenivas Yellayi

STAR Teacher: Cindy Philpot

West Forsyth
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West Forsyth High School senior Kalpana Agarwal receives a plaque during the STAR Student Banquet hosted by the Cumming Kiwanis Club Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 at the University of North Georgia-Cumming campus. - photo by Brian Paglia

STAR Student: Kalpana Agarwal

STAR Teacher: Kelley Grogan