• Cherokee County’s top middle school students for 2018 are (top row from left) Hannah Cowart of Martins Creek, Avery Hawkins of Hiwassee Dam, Rylee Jerez of The Learning Center, and Bowen Manuel of Andrews. Bottom row from left are Francis Nguyen of Murphy, Payton Palmer of Ranger, Brianna Rickett of Andrews and Connor Savugot of Martins Creek.
    Cherokee County’s top middle school students for 2018 are (top row from left) Hannah Cowart of Martins Creek, Avery Hawkins of Hiwassee Dam, Rylee Jerez of The Learning Center, and Bowen Manuel of Andrews. Bottom row from left are Francis Nguyen of Murphy, Payton Palmer of Ranger, Brianna Rickett of Andrews and Connor Savugot of Martins Creek.

SCOUTING AROUND: Middle Schools honor top students

    Graduating from middle school can be a big deal in Cherokee County, as many students have gone to school in the same building since pre-kindergarten. Most of the schools have a graduation or promotion ceremony to honor the students and wish them well on their future in high school.
    A few students already stand out in middle school and are recognized at the ceremonies.
    On Friday night, Andrews Middle School honored Bowen Manuel and Brianna Rickett with the CAT award at the school’s Awards Ceremony. The award is given to a boy and girl student nominated by their teachers for exhibiting Character, Achievement and Teamwork.
    “I really didn’t expect it,” Manuel said.
    Rickett also was surprised to receive the honor.
    “It wasn’t necessary,” she said. “All I had to do was be kind to other students, and that should be a given.”
    Manuel was on the school’s baseball team, while Rickett was on the volleyball team, in STEM-E Entrepreneurship and Battle of the Books. In addition to the CAT award, Manuel earned awards for most improved in math and perseverance in language arts.
    Rickett also received the Principal’s Award and awards for scoring a 5 on the language arts and science EOGs, having the third highest average in science, highest average in social studies and the top EOG score in social studies. Both students joined their classmates in “crossing over” to Andrews High School at the end of the ceremony.

Hiwassee Dam
    The highest award given at Hiwassee Dam Middle School’s graduation Thursday night is the Sarah Payne Award, which is given each year to a girl student who shows the same qualities Payne did – integrity, hard work and good citizenship.
    Payne, who was a Hiwassee Dam student, is the granddaughter of Melvin Payne, one of the teachers. She was born with a heart defect, and after she died teachers decided to give an award in her name each year. The first Sarah Payne Award was given in 2001, and her parents, Doug and Sandy Payne, usually are on hand to present the award each year.
    At the graduation ceremony, one student gives a speech – the school’s student council president, Avery Hawkins. He said it feels good to be able to represent his school and classmates. Hawkins said most of his class has been friends since pre-K.
    Principal Kami Tipton said Hawkins represents the class well, as each class that goes through the school has it own personality.
    “That is a very athletic group and high-performing group academically,” she said. “They are very motivated and very social.”
    Hawkins was a four-sport athlete during his time in middle school, participating in cross country, basketball, plus and both baseball and track in the spring. In sixth grade, he was a member of the Chess Club. To balance his activities and academics, he said his mom helped a lot.
    He said he’s excited about going down the hall to high school at Hiwassee Dam. He knows several of the teachers, and is excited to see teammates from Ranger in his classes. “We don’t really get to hang out with friends from Ranger that much,” Hawkins said.
    He recommended that the Ranger kids “just go in confident, be nice and make friends,” adding that the teachers are all nice at Hiwassee Dam.

Martins Creek
    For about 20 years, Martins Creek School’s Hornet Award has gone to one student who best represented the school.
    “We look for a consistent, exemplary academic record as well as involvement in sports, academic clubs and competitions,” said Amy Morin, the middle school math teacher. “We also take into account behavior, citizenship and maturity.”
    This year, Morin said the entire class was exceptional, and more than one student fit the criteria. The award is presented at tonight’s promotion ceremony.
    Eighth-grade students Connor Savugot and Hannah Cowart were both officers in the Junior Beta Club, competed in the Science Olympiad and maintained a 4.0 grade average.
    Savugot participated on the school’s Lego Robotics team, plus served as a mentor for team of younger students. As president of the Junior Beta Club, he led his classmates in raising more than $425 for a local veterans group. He said the Middle School Hangout, in which kids paid money to stay after school and do activities, was fun while benefiting veterans.
    Cowart is seen as a role model in sports, Morin said. She is an athlete on the volleyball, basketball and softball teams. She said it wasn’t easy to keep up her grades and had advice for other student athletes. “Try hard. Keep trying,” Cowart said. “Pay attention in class, and you can play sports and get homework done.”
    Cowart will be going to Murphy High School, while Savugot will be going to Tri-County Early College High School in the fall. The two playfully tried to convince the other to change their mind about which high school to go to. “I’m excited about going, but I don’t want to leave all my friends behind,” Savugot said.

Murphy Middle
    About two years ago, Francis Nguyen was overwhelmed moving from Andrews Middle to Murphy Middle School. On Tuesday, he was named the latter’s valedictorian at the school’s graduation ceremony.
    “I like being challenged,” Nguyen said.
    He also enjoys being challenged with differences in opinion, and will miss the school’s atmosphere of differing and opposing ideas.
    “Throughout the year, Francis was an active participant in class discussions, and he always supported his peers,” said Julie Hughes, one of his teachers. “His caring nature and personality allow him to work well with others in a team setting, as he always respects others’ opinions, even when they differ from his own.”
    He speaks three languages well – English, Vietnamese and Korean. He learned Vietnamese while growing up in a Vietnamese family, but recently learned Korean in about year since he’s been surrounded by that culture for most of his life.
    Nguyen said he is more of a spectator than a participant of a wide range of activities. Having an appreciation of everything from arts to sports has helped him succeed.
    “You need to appreciate a balance of activities to really show true interest in topics like math, language arts or science,” he said.
    Nguyen hopes to become a neurologist or go into psychology.

Ranger
    Ranger’s graduation was held Tuesday night, but valedictorian Payton Palmer hopes her speech was not a goodbye to the school, but just a see you later. She would like to come back as a middle school teacher someday. “I just like being around kids,” she said.
    Palmer, who has attended Ranger since pre-K, said she and her classmates are like family. She will be going to Hiwassee Dam High next year, and her only concerns are she doesn’t know the teachers or school building.
    Palmer was a member of the Junior Beta Club and played volleyball, basketball and softball at Ranger. She said it would be hard to keep up with her studies after getting home late from games, but her parents helped make sure she got her assignments in on time and encouraged her to do her best.
    “I just prioritized my schoolwork,” she said.
    One of her teachers, Tonia Forrister, said Palmer is not only a good student but a good person as well.
    “Her greatest attribute is her character,” Forrister said. “She is always willing to help others, sees the best in every situation and is a genuinely good person.”

The Learning Center
    Rylee Jerez was surprised when she was told last week that she was valedictorian of her 15-student class at The Learning Center charter school, as it wasn’t her goal.
    “I just really wanted to do my best and make my last year my best,” Jerez said.
    At the ceremony tonight, she plans to focus her speech on saying goodbye to this part of their lives. She thanks her parents, teachers and friends for encouraging her throughout the year to reach her goal.
    “She’s a fine, talented young lady what can do anything she puts her mind to,” said Ryan Bender, her homeroom teacher.
    Through her years at the charter, she has been involved in Junior Honor Society, Odyssey of the Mind, Girls on the Run and drama productions. She said she’s going to miss The Learning Center, but is excited about going to Tri-County Early College, as she’s heard the teachers there are great.
    Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokee scout.com or by leaving a message at 837-5122.