Jun. 7—After earning finalist status for the Governor's Honors Program last year, Northwest Whitfield High School's Courtney Jones followed that up by being named her school's STAR student this year, and "the word 'star' fits her very well," said Northwest's FFA adviser and agriculture teacher Janet Robbins.
"She's bright in more ways than I can count," Robbins said. "She's just spectacular."
The STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Recognition) program is sponsored by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) and the PAGE Foundation. Each STAR student chooses a STAR teacher to share in the recognition, and Jones chose Robbins, who has been a mentor to her for four years.
Choosing Robbins as her STAR teacher "was the easiest decision I've ever made," Jones, who recently graduated from Northwest, said. "I have a few teachers I'm really close to, but I don't think one has made so much impact on my life" as Robbins.
The confidence Jones gained during her four years at Northwest is remarkable to Robbins, but Jones also "hasn't lost that zeal for learning new things," Robbins said. "Even as a freshman, she was more mature than almost any other freshman, but she's gotten even more mature and reached a level most high school students never (attain)."
Jones will attend Berry College and plans to major in nursing, but could change to physical therapy or another medical field, she said. Immediately after she visited Berry, "it was a flip switch — I just knew that's where I had to go — and I've only heard good things about it."
While she's eager for college, Jones is wistful about departing Northwest.
"I'll miss the people, definitely," she said with tears in her eyes. "It's actually hard to think about, because I know how close we all are."
Robbins couldn't hold back her tears as she considers life at Northwest without Jones.
"It's hard for me to describe, because I don't want to think about it," Robbins said. "She's been so important to so many aspects of my life, not just school."
To receive the 2021 STAR nomination, graduating high school seniors must have had the highest score on a single test date on the SAT and be in the top 10% or top 10 students of their class based on grade point average, according to Kris Horsley, communications specialist for Whitfield County Schools. Students and their teachers are honored by their schools and receive special recognition in their communities from one of the more than 170 statewide civic organizations and businesses that serve as local sponsors of the STAR program, and STAR teachers continue with their students at every level of the program.
"I was a little surprised, because I only took the SAT once — the ACT was more my focus — but really grateful," Jones said. "Growing up, my parents raised me to do the best in whatever I was doing."
"Whatever I do, I want to give it my all," Jones added. "I mean, if you're doing it, why not give it everything you have?"
And Jones gave her all to a number of endeavors, from FFA and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to basketball and track and field to Beta Club, the National Honor Society, the diversity council and the math team. That led to her being named a Georgia Scholar for 2020-21.
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.
Jones is "so well-rounded and strives to excel in all areas," Robbins said. "That displays her character."
Jones has "so many curiosities, I thought, 'I might as well try them all,'" and while "it's definitely stressful at times, especially when (everything is at) peak, I enjoy it all," she said. "At the end of the day, when I've gotten everything done I can look back and know I did it all."
Robbins recalled a day when Jones had to be hustled out of an FFA competition as soon as she finished it so she could make it to a basketball game that night.
"She had to change out of her official FFA dress in the car, and I handed her shoes to her (while) we were running in the parking lot," Robbins said with a chuckle. "It's funny, looking back, but it was stressful at the time."
"I got there in the middle of warmups," Jones said. "We won the game."
FFA and the school's agriculture program were at the top of Jones' priority list, and she was part of a handful of students taking a leadership class from Robbins this year, she said. Those in the class devised a need-based food outreach initiative for students and their families, who received "Bruin Boxes" every couple of weeks.
"These students started meeting even before the school year began, and it's totally student driven," Robbins said. "They're not doing this for recognition or credit, but just the satisfaction of knowing (the boxes) are going to someone in the Bruin family."