‘An incredible compliment’ Houston County High student, teacher win achievement award

jmink@macon.comFebruary 7, 2013 

At about 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Will Freeman took the big stage in Columbus. It was his 18th birthday, and the Houston County High School senior was part of the opening act for the school’s one-act play.

At the same time, Freeman won the top award for being a high-achieving student.

“This is an awesome birthday present,” his mother, Sheila Freeman said.

Will Freeman was the district winner of the Student Teacher Achievement Recognition or STAR program. Freeman, along with the winners from Houston County’s individual high schools, was recognized Thursday during a reception at the Go Fish Education Center in Perry

Students are chosen based on their SAT scores and must also be in the top 10 percent or top 10 students of their class based on grade point average.

Each student nominates a teacher who has had the biggest influence on them, and Laura Byrd, Freeman’s chemistry teacher at Houston County High, won the district STAR teacher award.

“This is such an incredible compliment,” Byrd said.

It’s Byrd’s seventh time winning the district STAR award. Byrd comes from a family of educators. Her mother was a principal, and Byrd remembers watching her work and thinking that she wanted to teach someday.

Now, as an advanced chemistry teacher, Byrd works to “stay one step ahead” of her gifted students. She has learned to admit when she doesn’t know the answer to a question instead of making up an answer.

Her favorite teaching tip: to laugh every day.

“Make sure the students are comfortable in the classroom because if they’re happy, I can teach them anything,” she said.

Byrd attributes much of her success to her students. She not only teaches Freeman in chemistry, but she is also adviser of the school’s National Honor Society, and Freeman is the president. Often, when Byrd is trying to explain a difficult concept to a student, Freeman will join the conversation and explain it in a way that makes sense to his peers, Byrd said.

“He’s one of the most intelligent students I have ever taught,” she said. “He is so well-rounded, and he is also an approachable, humble student.”

That outgoing personality was why Freeman had to skip Thursday’s award ceremony to perform with his school’s drama team. He enjoys singing, weightlifting and playing soccer, though he stopped playing school soccer to concentrate on his grades, his father, William Freeman said.

“He has a drive to excel. He has a competitive streak,” he said. “He works hard. He studies daily and on the weekends.”

The 18-year-old wants to attend medical school, perhaps to follow in the footsteps of his father, a dermatologist.

“But he studies a lot harder than I ever studied,” the elder Freeman said.

Now, Will Freeman will go on to compete in the regional STAR awards. In addition to Freeman, the winners from Houston County’s individual schools are: Hunter Smith from Northside High; Henry Mehserle III from Perry High; Somanth Das from Veterans High; Kathryn Martin from Warner Robins High, and Hamilton Way from Westfield School.

In addition to Byrd, the individual STAR teachers are: Jami Moore from Northside High; Nathan Dooley from Perry High; David Shepherd from Veterans High; Randi Collier from Warner Robins High, and Pam Pierce from The Westfield School.

“This is just a great example of what’s good about the youth of today,” Houston County Board of Education Chairman Tom Walmer said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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