A Brighter Future
Photography by Jon Keeling
The future looked a little brighter on April 5 when 10 students received scholarships at this year’s Franklin B. Walter Scholarship Award Program, hosted by the Warren County Educational Services Center.
The group of dedicated, hard-working students from districts throughout Warren County were honored at a luncheon attended by educators and local elected officials. It was sponsored by the Greater Ohio Virtual School.
Established by the Ohio Educational Service Center Association (OESCA) 28 years ago, the Franklin B. Walter All-Scholastic Award Program was created to promote and recognize outstanding academic achievement. One high school senior from each county in Ohio receives the annual honor. However, several years ago, Warren County Educational Services superintendent Tom Isaacs felt it was time for the creation of a more locally focused scholarship program.
“One year I was sitting at the Franklin B. Walter program in Columbus, and the banquet is a very impressive event,” he says. “They typically bring in a notable person to speak, and I had the idea that it would be great to have a banquet like that at the local level.”
Now in its second year, the local program has been a tremendous success. Each district in Warren County submits one student for consideration for the scholarship awards. They were chosen based on academic achievements, test scores and positive contributions to their schools and communities. Each student chosen received a $500 scholarship, a plaque and a proclamation from State Senator Steve Wilson, who also attended the banquet. Lien Ngyuen of Little Miami High School was chosen to represent Warren County at the state banquet. But the most special part of the day was when each student had an opportunity to give recognition to a teacher or mentor who helped them along the way.
Isaacs felt that showing gratitude, even just the simple act of saying thank you, is one of the “soft skills” that is often missing in young people today, but is necessary to be successful. As a result, part of the scholarship application process required the students to write a letter to their chosen mentor.
“I have come to believe that one of the most important things … is recognizing the mission given to teachers who have had such an important role in the success of these students, says Isaacs. “I wanted not only to recognize the students, but I think it’s important for the students to publically recognize the role of some adult, teacher or coach who has helped them be this successful.”
Each student and their mentor were called to the podium where the student read the letter they had written, thanking them for their help, support and guidance through the years. “Typically, they cry," says Isaacs. “It’s very emotional. In many cases the teacher will cry as well. I just think the greatest recognition a teacher can receive comes from their students.”
For those who think the younger generation is not as hard working as their predecessors, Isaacs cautions against painting them with a broad brush. His experience as an educator and his involvement with the scholarship program has given him a tremendous confidence in the abilities of young people to be successful in the future.
“For people that think the millennial generation is terrible, and that kids are terrible, it’s amazing to see what these kids have done,” says Isaacs. “In addition to carrying an incredible academic load at school, all of them have also been very active in their school, involved in sports and are active as volunteers in their communities. They’re really some of the most amazing kids you’ll ever meet in your lifetime.”
As this special group of high school seniors looks toward the next chapter in their lives, one thing is certain: all of their accolades, accomplishments, diverse activities and community involvement reflect a diverse group of young people with bright futures ahead.
“They really are an amazing group of young people,” says Isaacs. “You just have to feel very positive that these kids are going to become our future leaders.”
It takes a special teacher to move a student to change her mind about her chosen career path. For Lien Ngyuen, a senior at Little Miami High School, Randy Gray was that teacher. From the moment, she walked in to Mr. Gray’s chemistry class as a sophomore and saw a life-size cutout of Gandalf the Grey guarding the stockroom, Lien knew she was in for an interesting journey. Lien says that Mr. Gray transformed chemistry from a dry, almost universally loathed subject into one that was engaging and interesting. It wasn’t long after she first walked into Mr. Gray’s classroom that she switched her career ambition from computer science to chemical engineering. She hasn’t looked back. “You are not simply an instructor; you are a friend and role model. I could not have asked for a better teacher than you.”
Kelsea Penney, a senior at Franklin High School, has many diverse interests and an impressive academic track record. An honors student and recipient of numerous awards, Kelsea credits much of her success to math teacher Merry Ann Evans. Whether it was through hours helping others, creating a positive, energetic environment in the classroom or through her unique way of explaining concepts so everyone could understand, Mrs. Evans set an example that Kelsea intends to live by. With help from Mrs. Evans, Kelsea learned to be determined, compassionate and steadfast, and the teacher’s stories about giving back and helping those in need inspired Kelsea as well. Kelsea’s mother also had Mrs. Evans as a teacher, and told Kelsea what a tremendous influence Mrs. Evans had on her life.
Lindsay Thornton, a senior at Middletown High School, epitomizes the scholar-athlete. While juggling her busy academic and athletic schedule, she knew she had Annette Bowles in her corner cheering her on. Mrs. Bowles, a math teacher, managed to make the subject exciting for her students; it is because of her that Lindsay has decided on engineering as a career. On a personal level, Lindsay saw Mrs. Bowles go beyond teaching to build lasting relationships with those she taught. It is apparent to Lindsey that Mrs. Bowles cares deeply about her students, both through her ability to see their full potential and the fact that she wants the best for them, even when they might doubt themselves. Mrs. Bowles encourages her students to realize what they are capable of and to never sell themselves short. “Thank you, Mrs. Bowles, for being an incredible teacher. And thank you for inspiring me to shoot for the stars.”
For Mackenzie New, a senior at Warren County Career Center, hard work and determination have led to a successful academic career. She gives much of the credit to Mark Rogal, her social studies teacher, for giving her the tools necessary to achieve her goals. His reputation as a tough teacher preceded him and his dual-credit government class was supposed to be the hardest class at the school. But sometimes, difficult can be a blessing. Ultimately, Mr. Rogal’s class forced her to improve her study habits and made her a much better student. Because Mr. Rogal expects the best out of his students, Mackenzie has also learned to be more meticulous in her assignments and those habits have carried over to her other classes. “Overall, it has helped me improve in all of my studies and helped me to be the best student I can be. For that, I will be forever grateful.”
Waynesville High School senior Kaitlin Krumnauer has had Leslie Schleman as a music teacher since the fifth grade. Since then, Mrs. Schleman has made a significant impact on Kaitlin’s life by instilling not only a knowledge of music, but a love for it. For the past eight years, Katlin has grown in her musical abilities and can see the influence of music in other subjects such as literature. “Although I can’t tell you why I chose to give up recess to go play flute in an old classroom way back in the fifth grade, but I’ll be forever grateful that I did.” Kaitlin went to band every day during high school, and learned that playing music helped her relieve stress and get her through hard times in her life. Because of the love for music she developed through Mrs. Schleman’s influence, Kaitlin knows that she will always have music in her life, and that it will be a passion that will continue to grow.
An influential teacher can grab a student’s attention, but can also change the course of a student’s life. For Micah Peterson, a senior at Springboro High School, biology teacher Beth Andrews was that teacher. Micah sees Mrs. Andrews’ dedication to her job in the way she creates a positive learning environment in which she teaches biology in fun and interesting ways; but Mrs. Andrews also creates an environment of mutual respect in which her students feel supported and are encouraged to ask questions. She goes the extra mile to encourage kindness between peers and make sure everything is ok with her students, both inside and outside the classroom. Beyond the classroom, Mrs. Andrews leads the Teen Mentoring program, sets a good example by being involved in the community and attends many student athletic events. Micah notes that Mrs. Andrews always puts the students and the school first, despite having many other commitments. “Great teachers like you bring out the best in students,” says Micah.
Hannah Rasmussen counts herself lucky to have an influential teacher and mentor in her life, both in the classroom and on the track. Hannah, a senior at Kings High School, calls Lynn Brant a natural teacher who leads by example, but also demonstrates a passion for her job that has earned her the respect and admiration of her students. Mrs. Brant has been Hannah’s math teacher as well as her track and cross country coach. In the classroom, Mrs. Brant showed Hannah how to appreciate the connection between math and science, and taught her that understanding comes through hard work. As Hannah’s coach, Mrs. Brant also taught her about hard work, dedication and being part of a team. The team approach extended into the classroom. Hannah is confident that the encouragement and support Mrs. Brant has taught her through the years will continue to guide her in the future.
Dylan McGrath, a senior at the Greater Ohio Virtual School, joined Young Life his freshman year of high school to meet people and learn more about the Bible. He got more out of the program than he ever imagined. It was through Young Life that Dylan met Danny Brooks, a Young Life Leader who works at MarriageWorks Ohio. Since then, not only has Mr. Brooks helped him in the development of his faith, but he has also helped Dylan through some personal issues as well. Despite Dylan’s social anxiety, Mr. Brooks saw Dylan’s leadership potential and encouraged him to take more of a leadership role. “I honestly believe that if I didn’t meet Danny … I would have stayed the same, even worse.” With help and encouragement from Mr. Brooks, Dylan has developed confidence and now used his leadership role within Young Life to helps other teens grow their faith as he has done.
From the first day Annie Campbell walked into Rachel Castro’s Spanish class freshman year at Carlisle High School, she knew Mrs. Castro offered something very different than her other teachers. It was not only Annie’s first day at the school, it was Mrs. Castro’s first day as well. Annie noticed right away that Mrs. Castro didn’t talk down to her students, but spoke to them as equals. And her experience with the Spanish language grew from there, as Mrs. Castro inspired what Annie knows will be a lifelong love of the language through her unique teaching methods and ways of connecting with the students. In addition to learning Spanish from Mrs. Castro, Annie came to see her as a mentor who she could always talk to, both in good times and in bad. “I am not sure how I am going to survive without our daily talks, but I know I will use the wisdom you have given me to shine light on my peers.”
Claire Pritchard, a senior at Lebanon High School, looks to special education teacher Jodi Titmas as an example of how she would like to live her life. Claire saw some of her classmates with special needs treated poorly by some of her peers and it hurt her deeply. But Mrs. Titmas had a profound impact on her life by demonstrating that all people have a fundamental right to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their capabilities. Claire has observed Mrs. Titmas encouraging her students to be the best version of themselves, and providing them with all of the tools they need to succeed. Claire looks upon her time as an aide in Mrs. Titmas’ classroom as one of the greatest joys in her busy schedule. She praises Mrs. Titmas as a person with a humble heart who works solely for the benefit of others instead of recognition. Because of Mrs. Titmas’ influence, Claire has chosen a profession in which she can have a positive impact on the lives of those with disabilities.