Sarah Elizabeth Shelton, a freshman at Shelby County High School, was recently named Outstanding Gifted Student for the state by the Alabama Association of Gifted Children (AAGC). Former teachers and administrators, her family, and Dr. Lewis Brooks surprised her with the announcement during a short ceremony at Columbiana Middle School on Thursday, October 16.
Several individuals wrote letters of support to the AAGC in support of Shelton’s nomination for the award, including local community leaders, teachers, her pastor, and the superintendent. They all praised her for her leadership, communication and academic skills, along with her involvement in many school and community-related activities.
Dr. Lewis Brooks wrote in his letter of support that Shelton epitomizes the school district’s vision as a “Model of Excellence.”
“As the leader of a large school district, it can be difficult to get to know students as closely as you would like,” Dr. Brooks wrote. “However, Sarah Elizabeth is a stand-out student. It warms my heart to know and admire the exemplary role model she embodies for all Shelby County students. Sarah Elizabeth is a phenomenal scholar, an incredible communicator, and a confident ambassador for her community and the district as a whole. She represents the best of Shelby County Schools.”
Jason Mayfield, who served as Shelton’s gifted education teacher for three years at Columbiana Middle School praised her involvement in a variety of activities.
Mayfield said during her eighth-grade year last school year Shelton pulled off one of the rare combinations of being a cheerleader, captain of the Scholars Bowl team, member of the school news crew, member of the Girls Engaged in Math and Science (GEMS) club, and national competitor and gold medal winner in Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA)’S STAR events competition. Shelton was also a member of the high school’s cast of “Annie” and was an all-A Honor Roll student.
“I was constantly amazed at how she worked not just ‘to do’ so many things but to be present in helping others around her,” said Mayfield.
Sherri Spears, secondary Gifted Education lead teacher for Shelby County Schools, wrote that Shelton’s infectious energy level and engaging communication skills set the stage for her ability to lead well.
“Whether Sarah Elizabeth is serving in the community or abroad, participating in school events, or hanging out with friends, her leadership is evident,” said Spears. “As seen through her church and community service, Sarah Elizabeth uses her voice to protect and help the marginalized. She rarely needs prompting to offer help because when she sees a problem, she addresses it. Her response is atypical for a teenager. Through her participation in FCCIA, JUNA, and GEMS, she uses her knowledge to challenge the status quo and initiate conversations for change.”
Spears said Shelton’s knowledge transcends academics and her emotional intelligence drives her strongest trait: altruism.
“Whether she is speaking on behalf of her student body or serving on behalf of her community, or leading on behalf of a cause greater than herself, Sarah Elizabeth has a servant’s heart,” wrote Spears. “She experiences great joy when she can make a positive impact on someone’s life. She may leave a sticky note with a kind word, campaign for children in need, serve food to the homeless, provide a helping hand to a friend or complete stranger, or she may simply take the first step to do the right thing so that others will follow. “
“Of the many characteristics, Sarah Elizabeth possesses, her altruistic responses showcase her maturity and desire to make a difference in this world.”
Martha Bentley, who served as Shelton’s gifted education teacher at Elvin Hill Elementary, said those same characteristics were evident in her as young student. Bentley served as the sponsor of the school’s Student Lighthouse Team, where Shelton served for two years in leadership roles.
“She was a creative problem-solver and helped to implement improvements that impacted our entire student body,” Bentley said. “Again, her compassion and ability to empathize enabled her to lead passionately and effectively.”
Bentley said it was in this role that educators at EHES became aware of Shelton’s public speaking skills.
“She first spoke extemporaneously to a group of visiting educators, explaining our school’s journey in Leader in Me. We were amazed by her poise and effectiveness. God has truly gifted her with an ability to communicate!” Bentley shared.
Shelton subsequently spoke to groups of parents and community members at Elvin Hill’s spring Leadership Day, to teachers at a countywide workshop, and to business and community leaders attending the Shelby County Showcase of Schools. The speaking engagement at the Showcase of Schools led the event’s sponsor, Regions Bank, to extend an invitation for her to speak on the topic of leadership at their company headquarters in downtown Birmingham. She also has spoken to the local Civitan club, to student groups, and in a breakout session of the regional Leader in Me Symposium held in Birmingham.
Bentley, who attends church with Shelton and her family at First Baptist Church in Columbiana, has also witnessed her leadership skills on full display through ministry projects at the church.
“She works effectively with young children and serves every summer as a Vacation Bible School volunteer,” Bentley noted. “As a member of the church Acteens group, she has conducted Backyard Bible Schools, has served at a Ronald McDonald House and has worked at a crisis pregnancy center.”
Bentley said Shelton also participated in an international mission trip to Costa Rica where she helped to build and deliver beds and food to underprivileged families.
“Her desire to be a positive force in the world is evident not only at school but in her community and beyond,” Bentley shared. “Sarah Elizabeth has the heart of a servant leader. She is a good steward of the gifts and talents with which she has been blessed.”