Shelby County Teachers and Students Recognized for Excellence by The Shelby County Chamber of Commerce

Shelby County’s leading students and educators for the 2019-2020 school year were welcomed to The Shelby County Chamber to receive a cash award and congratulations for being selected as Student and Educators of the Year.

The annual event is presented by America’s First Federal Credit Union, Vulcan Materials Company, and The University of Montevallo.

Schools throughout Shelby County were invited to submit both an “academic leader standout” and “career pathway standout” nominee for the Student of the Year awards. All of the nominees were evaluated on the following criteria: GPA, extra-curricular activities and awards, a written essay on their proposed career track/course of study, and letters of recommendation. Additionally, each student was asked to participate in a 20-minute Zoom interview with a panel of three judges.

The Educator of the Year candidates were nominated in three categories – elementary, middle and high school — by their school principals. Three judges evaluated the nominees on their philosophy of teaching, community involvement, and recommendations from colleagues and school administrators, including a brief video where many showcased their exceptional classrooms.

All of the student and teacher nominees were visited by representatives from the Chamber, and presented with a yard- sign identifying them as a 2019-2020 nominee.

The 2019-2020 recipients from the Shelby County School District who were recognized include:

“Career Pathway Standout” Student of the Year Recipients: Caleb Reed Horton, Shelby County High School, and Kelsey Mooney, Helena High School

“Academic Pathway Standout” Student of the Year Recipients: Matthew Bray, Oak Mountain High School, and Yesenia “Yesi” Villanueva, Chelsea High School

“Elementary School Educator of the Year” Recipient: Martha Bentley, Elvin Hill Elementary School

“High School Educator of the Year” Recipient: Geoffrey Wymer, New Direction

The student recipients each received a $1,000 cash award, and the educator recipients received a $750 cash award. According to Pari Barzegari, the Chamber’s Director of Community & Career Development, the student recipients funds are to be used to continue their education and career development, and the teachers are receiving their cash awards for use in their classrooms at their discretion.

“We believe that recognizing the excellence that is demonstrated by students and educators throughout Shelby County each and every day is a worthy pursuit,” said Chamber President and CEO Kirk Mancer. “Coupled with the challenges presented to all of our students and educators during the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s program is extra special.”

“Career Readiness continues to be one of the four main areas in which our Shelby County Chamber is actively engaged through our current ShelbyOne – Next Level Up! programming,” added current chamber chair, Kathy Copeland with White Rock Quarries – Vincent Hills. “Recognizing excellence in our Shelby County classrooms is one component of the chamber’s expanded efforts in collaborating with our partners in education.

Copeland said another component is the “Keeping It Real” program which just concluded its seventh year with 9th-grade students throughout the county. Between August 2019 and February 2020, chamber staff and volunteers visited with 1,451 freshmen to share information on financial responsibility, the impact training can have on their future, as well as their ability to have the resources they’ll need and want.

“We held our inaugural Connect 2 Careers for 2,759 10th-grade students in September 2019,” said Copeland. “This program allowed our Shelby County businesses the opportunity to share interactive information on the types of careers available in our communities and assist these students as they’re making decisions on their career path beyond high school.”

The goal of Connect 2 Careers is to make sure the students have a better understanding of the options available to them in Shelby County with this new hands-on approach with more than 50 businesses and 150 volunteers.

“We also completed the fifth year of Communication Matters, a program on soft skills, for 11th-grade students,” Copeland said. “We officially visited 11 schools with more than 1,786 students in 2019- 2020.”

In addition, the chamber helped launch a new pilot program for the 2019-2020 school year in several high schools in Shelby County called Ready To Work in conjunction with The Onin Group and 58 INC. The Ready to Work program was taught to 12th-grade students, sharing important entry-level skills required for employment with most businesses and industries in Alabama. The training curriculum is set to standards cited by business and industry employers throughout the state.

“We look forward to supporting this new program to ensure it is a success for our students and educators, in the years to come,” concluded Copeland. “As the leading voice for businesses – both big and small – in Shelby County, your chamber is engaged in these programs, and collaborating with our partners in education for two very basic reasons: to ensure that our 1,180 plus investor organizations and businesses throughout Shelby County will have the qualified workforce they’ll need in the future; and that all of our students know about the outstanding opportunities they have for quality employment right here in Shelby County.”

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