In its 43rd annual Page One Awards ceremony Tuesday night at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, the Ledger-Enquirer honored 183 high school seniors and 17 high school teachers from the Columbus area.
High school principals throughout the Chattahoochee Valley make nominations in 13 student categories and one teacher category. The student categories are art, athletics, career and technology, citizenship, drama, English and literature, foreign language, general scholarship, journalism, mathematics, music, science and social studies.
After reading the applications and conducting interviews, the Page One Award judges, who are 44 community leaders, select the winners and runners-up based on scholarship, leadership, service and character. The judges in the teacher category observe the three finalists teaching in their classroom.
A total of $19,000 in awards were presented Tuesday night, bringing the 43-year total to $591,000 for more than 8,400 students and teachers.
Rodney Mahone, the Georgia regional president and publisher of the Ledger-Enquirer and Macon Telegraph media companies, told the audience, “All of us at the Ledger-Enquirer are proud to be a part of this program. We know that it has had a positive impact on the lives of the honorees over the years, and we look forward to this night all year.”
In addition to trophies, the student and teacher award winners receive $1,000, except the journalism category winner, who receives $1,500 for winning the Tucker-Wilder Scholarship, named after three former Ledger or Enquirer editors: W.H. Tucker, W.C. Tucker and Bruce Wilder. The student and teacher runners-up receive $300 along with plaques.
“Tonight we are honoring our very best,” Mahone said. “If we described for you all the awards and recognition these outstanding students have received, we would be here for hours. When you consider what these young people have already accomplished, you can’t help but have the utmost confidence in our future. I want to commend all of the nominees for getting here tonight. The entire community is proud of you, and we know you will go far.”
Jessica Nix of Columbus High School won the Tucker-Wilder Scholarship. Neyshmarie Cruz of Shaw High School is the runner-up.
Inspired by her experience as a student correspondent for the Ledger-Enquirer at the 2017 Presidential Inauguration, Jessica resurrected the Columbus High newspaper, the Blue Streak, after a decade-long hiatus. She worked with alumni to secure funding, drew from the storytelling skills she developed at the Springer Children’s Theatre Academy and the Columbus Ballet, and developed a digital format preferred by her fellow students. As editor-in-chief, she managed a staff of more than 100 writers.
This judges wrote about Jessica, “This candidate was the clear choice for selection as the Page One winner for journalism. An enterprising journalist, who uses her passion for journalism to reach out to others, our winner is expressive, creative, skilled, enthusiastic and determined.”
No wonder Jessica wants to pursue a career as a journalist.
“I hope to use my gift as a writer to ensure people across the country are well-informed about the ever-changing world around them, making my impact as a story-teller and truthful informer,” Jessica wrote in her application. “I hope to be the link between the government and a well-informed public, and upholding the paramount responsibility of a journalist.”
In an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer after she won her award, Jessica said, “When I was little, I read newspapers and watched the news with my parents. I’ve always just been drawn to that type of storytelling. I also love the truth that comes with journalism. It’s all about exposing the truth.”
Jessica plans to study political communication at George Washington University. Her ultimate goal is to cover politics in the nation’s capital.
“My dream always has been to work for The Washington Post,” she said.
Among her other accomplishments and activities, Jessica is an AP Scholar with Distinction, member of the National Society of High School Scholars, National Science Honor Society, National Latin Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, and Beta Club. She was selected to participate in the Governor’s Honors Program in the area of communicative arts.
Jessica also is active in her school’s drama department and has participated in the Springer Theatre Academy for 13 years. As an academy intern during her high school years, she has spent more than 200 hours assisting academy teachers and students, including some students with special needs, aiding them in writing plays, scenes and poems.
The Sara Spano Top Teacher Award is named after the late L-E food editor, who retired in 1985. Early in life, she was a teacher. Later, she was a Muscogee County School Board member.
Sondra Palmer of Harris County High School was named the Top Teacher. Jennifer Gray of Northside High School and Dawnell Jacobs of Early College Academy are the runners-up.
Palmer is a visual art instructor at Harris County. She earned a bachelor’s degree in art and design and a master’s degree in teaching from LaGrange College.
The judges wrote about Palmer, “The ability to motivate and include all her students in every facet of the learning process is the result of a simple goal to be the best teacher she can be and produce the best students possible. She combines a tireless energy with a deep-rooted passion to help others learn.”
Harris County principal Todd Stanfill wrote in his recommendation of Palmer that she “not only creates an interest in her subject matter for her students, she excels in varied instructional techniques that push the higher level students past their comfort level and aid the weaker students in reaching their potential beyond expectations. Her students, both regular and special education, consistently produce quality artwork that not only is pleasing to the eye of the casual observer but continuously receives recognition in the area, state and national levels.”
In fact, she is the 2018 Georgia Art Educator of the Year, selected by the Georgia Art Education Association.
“I teach because I want to be ‘That Teacher,’ Palmer wrote in her application, “one who encourages students to beat the odds. I consistently reiterate that your zip code does not determine your future and your past does not define who you are. I know this from experience because statistically, I was predicted to fail and become a ‘product of my environment.’ But, I had ‘that one teacher’ who impacted my life and planted the seeds of encouragement.
“My goal as a teacher is to be consistent, make learning fun and keep an open mind. I try to build a bridge between students’ knowledge and real-life connections. In my class, every chair holds the future and every lesson relates to life. I see my class as a community for entrepreneurs and servant leaders.”
In an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer after she won her award, Palmer explained more of her background. Growing up “very, very poor” in Oklahoma, her family lived in pavilions and in cars.
“My family did not have many goals,” she said, “and education definitely was not in the vocabulary.”
But her fifth-grade teacher boosted her motivation and confidence after her classmates laughed at her for drawing her pavilion home, including dirty clothes on the floor. He whispered in her ear, “I believe in you. You can be somebody one day.’ And so, here I am.”
Referring to her time on stage with the other nominees, Palmer said, “I honestly feel that every teacher up there deserved this award.”
She has helped six of her students in the 11 years she has taught at Harris County become Page One Award recipients -- five winners and one runner-up. Now, she has joined them.
“I never thought I would be on the other end,” she said.
Thirteen of this year’s 18 participating schools received at least one Page One Award as a winner or runner-up. Columbus High leads this year’s count with eight overall, including six winners. Northside is second with four overall, including two winners. Brookstone (two winners) and Central (one winner) took home three awards each. Harris County (one winner) and Russell County (one winner) received two each. Pacelli’s one award is a winner. Calvary Christian, Early College, Glenwood, Hardaway, Shaw and Smiths Station have one runner-up apiece.
The 2018 Page One Award winners, followed by the runners-up, in each category are (with their high school in parentheses):
▪ Art: Romie Ingram (Northside), Lizzie Gemes (Calvary Christian).
▪ Athletics: Hannah Georgia (Northside), Gracie Deaton (Central).
▪ Career and Technology: Vineeth Harish (Columbus), Darius Thomas (Central).
▪ Citizenship: Garrett Jimmerson (Columbus), Jonathan Costlow (Russell County).
▪ Drama: Garrett Norris (Central), Emma Lipscomb (Columbus).
▪ English and Literature: Elim Lee (Brookstone), Rachel Cotter (Northside).
▪ Foreign Language: Sergio Ortiz (Russell County), Maylyn Hinson (Brookstone).
▪ General Scholarship: Elina Ebby (Columbus), Shir-li Oved (Harris County).
▪ Journalism: Jessica Nix (Columbus), Neyshmarie Cruz (Shaw).
▪ Mathematics: Will Byrd (Brookstone), Andrew Chambers (Columbus).
▪ Music: Julia Lester (Columbus), SaQuoia Tette (Smiths Station).
▪ Science: Jacob Landry (Pacelli), Carson Smith (Glenwood).
▪ Social Studies: Emma Slavens (Columbus), Mark Fabery (Hardaway).
▪ Top Teacher: Sondra Palmer (Harris County), Jennifer Gray (Northside), Dawnell Jacobs (Early College).
Your copy of the 2018 Page One Awards souvenir section is inside today’s printed edition of the Ledger-Enquirer, including bios of the winners and photos of the nominees and judges.