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Sep. 23—For a student who relies on "routine" to help her balance a busy schedule, the COVID-19 pandemic is a "challenge" for Katherine Walker, but Coahulla Creek High School's class of 2021 salutatorian overcame the challenges and was a Georgia Scholar.
"I'm the type of person who likes to stick to a schedule and have the same routine, never (leaving) anything to the last minute, so the pandemic was definitely a curve ball," Walker said. Like so many others, her school shifted to complete virtual learning for the final two months of the 2019-20 school year, but "I still had AP (Advanced Placement) exams to prepare for and work to do, so it was a lot to sort out."
Then, the 2020-21 school year opened in a hybrid format, with students only attending certain days of the week while learning virtually others, which wasn't an easy adjustment, either, she said.
"Thankfully, I was able to work around that."
Walker also raised her class rank to second from third, where it was during that year's first semester, and "I was very, very happy I met that goal," she said. "My goal was second."
"I asked all my teachers for extra credit opportunities, and they probably thought I was crazy, because I already had an A," she recalled with a laugh. "I did all the extra credit I could, but I was still surprised" she was second, because "it was so close."
While "quiet and reserved, Katherine settles for nothing short of excellence in her classes, (and) she has consistently been one of the top performing students in all her classes," said Josh Deslattes, who taught her math at Coahulla Creek. She's "one of the most mature and self-motivated students in her graduating class."
Through the Georgia Scholar program, the Georgia Department of Education identifies and honors high school seniors who have achieved excellence in school and community life, according to the department. The program is coordinated by the department's excellence recognition office and through local coordinators in each public school system and private school throughout the state.
The honor is particularly meaningful for Walker, because both of her older sisters, Ashley and Rachel, were Georgia Scholars at Coahulla Creek, she said.
"I knew about it through them and asked them about it."
Walker "really enjoyed" her four years in the school's Beta Club, which "allowed me to get involved with so many different aspects of the community I might not have otherwise," she said. "I met new people and got different perspectives on life."
Her volunteer work with the Humane Society of Northwest Georgia was such a highlight she plans to continue volunteering with an animal shelter near Kennesaw State University.
"My favorite has been seeing dogs that have been there for a long time get adopted," she said. "That makes it all worth it."
Walker was a member of the student council for three years, and she was a catalyst for the annual Christmas toy drive, she said.
"We donate (those items) to Providence Ministries."
Walker, a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish Honor Society, was dual enrolled with Dalton State College, and she's majoring in psychology at Kennesaw State before heading to graduate school, she said. Though her father, Ken, is a psychologist, she hopes to focus more on researching "social sciences" than practicing psychology, as "I also really like statistics."
She is thankful for the faculty and staff of Coahulla Creek, as "they really care about you as an individual and get involved personally," she said. "They become mentors — even friends — and I'll definitely miss that."
For example, April Bryson's literature classes "are notorious for being very, very tough, but (they) really prepare you for everything, and she's a wonderful teacher who makes you better," Walker said. She always looked forward to "Socratic" debates in Bryson's literature classes, because "we found out so much about each other during those debates."
Walker's "charisma, kindness and positive attitude, along with her excellent academic qualities, contribute to her being one of the most outstanding students I have encountered in my 18-year teaching career," Bryson said. It was "an honor and a blessing to have taught someone as wonderful as Katherine."
"She is so bright and such a wonderful student and person, and I know that she will be very successful in the future," Bryson added. "She is such a dedicated and intelligent young lady with so much potential to make a difference in the world for the better."
Deslattes "teaches you life lessons," which Walker appreciated, she said. "He taught us about interest rates and loans, stuff that helps you in life."
An "extraordinary young woman who has really embraced her time at Coahulla Creek, she has embraced working with others and never been someone who is caught up in outperforming her peers, (but, rather) collaborates very well with others and is a true partner in learning," said Deslattes, now an assistant principal at The Dalton Academy.
"A classroom leader, (she) is always willing to contribute to class discussions, but also knows when to step aside and let someone else contribute so she does not overshadow anyone."