PUSD Education Foundation 2022 ‘Rising Stars’ honors 8 seniors, 8 educators

Honorees recognized for being ‘shining stars’ in their lives, profession

By Nanci Hutson | HutsonNanci
Originally Published: May 3, 2022 10:13 p.m.

Eight rising stars and eight distinguished educators were feted in style on Monday, May 2, at the annual Prescott Unified School District Education Foundation “Rising Stars” banquet.

These eight exceptional Prescott High seniors are selected by teachers for succeeding against the odds. They are students who had to overcome educational and life adversity, learning obstacles and other challenges so as to persevere toward the K-12 finish line — high school graduation, all doing so with a B average or better. All have future plans to attend either a two-year or four-year college, enter the military or attain the work force training needed to pursue a career.

Foundation Executive Director Paul Kirchgraber said these are students who might fly under the radar, but have inspired their peers and their educators with their grit and determination on their “path to graduation.” None of them have taken their schooling for granted, but rather embraced significant life lessons as they move forward to do “wonderful things in their lives.”

“We’re glad to be able to do this,” Kirchgraber said of celebrating these young people and the educators they lauded for believing in them and inspiring them to pursue their ambitions and live their dreams.

One of the guest speakers was Judah Neese, a former Rising Star who nominated her choir teacher Erin Johnson for encouraging her when she was less-than- certain of her own future.

Judah, whose mother, Amberly Neese, was the event host who collected accolades for all the students and identified educational quotes for all the selected teachers and coaches, said she just completed her associate’s degree at Yavapai College in theater with a 4.0 grade average.

And Judah’s most exciting news.

She just got a call back to go and perform at Dollywood in Tennessee.

Her advice to the Rising Stars: Don’t let anyone tell you what your future looks like. Do what makes you YOU!”

Through video messages, all of the Rising Stars shared how their selected “Distinguished Educator” changed the trajectory of their high school education. They talked about how “tough love,” “praise” “confidence,” “high expectations” and “compassion” enabled them to grapple with their struggles in and outside of school so that they were able to accomplish the tasks and projects assigned. All said these teachers and coaches were patient even as they pushed the students forward. They didn’t accept excuses, but rather encouraged and brainstormed with them how to, proverbially, dance in the rain.

The teachers also lauded these students for their willingness to keep going no matter the adversity. They count them as people they admire and know with confidence they will make a difference in the world.

Prescott High physical education and golf coach Deb Fitzgerald is “one of the best people I have ever met,” declared Brannagh Woods. She said she discovered “tough love” was her way to show her students she cared and believed in their abilities to excel.

“She was so compassionate,” Woods said.

Fitzgerald’s words to Woods.

“She has been an inspiration to me,” Fitzgerald said. “She will always have a piece of my heart and will always be a part of my life.”

Orion Sam said his teacher Jen Hawley reinforced to him how to “take a breath” when times are uncertain, and has proved to be his “shining star.” In return, Hawley said Sam is a young man of style with a contagious smile who is “bright and creative,” “genuine and kind,” and maintains humor and an attitude when times are tough that “this too shall pass.”

For Madee Molster, teacher Krystal Kalmes was able to “coach” her through an experience that enabled her to “grow and learn in ways that made a huge impact on my life.”

“You are my favorite teacher because you knew I was ready for a challenge and you pushed me,” she said.

Kalmes considers Madee the reason she knows she chose the right profession.

“I cannot wait to see where she goes in life,” Kalmes said.

Sapphire Murphy surprised, and delighted, her “favorite” teacher Jenna Howard as they have not been in the same school together for several years, and Howard is now working in the preschool arena. Sapphire said Howard always made her feel “loved” and her kindness towards all inspired Sapphire to want to do likewise.

“Sapphire was, and is, the type of person others want to have as a friend,” Howard said. “I am so proud that I was able to be a part of her life and to see what an amazing person she is!”

With humor and a funny nickname, Desmond Bennett commended Cody Collett, the high school football coach, for calling him out when required, and lending encouragement and support when that was needed.

He appreciated that the coach always recognizes and rewards those who put in the effort, not just those who might have the talent.

Collett called Bennett “selfless” and said he has taught him lessons about “enduring tough circumstances” with a caring nature that envelopes those around him.

Not often, a teacher is selected by multiple students, and this year that was Helen Wanamaker, a PHS English teacher who was these students’ teacher also at Mile High Middle School. Liam Reeves and Katharina Seibert both picked Wanamaker even though they both said English was not their favorite subject. Yet she felt them belong, and felt confident that they could shine in their work.

Reeves said he ended up with Wanamaker three times, and though that could be a bad thing, for him it was the best.

“I think I got lucky and got the most down to earth, realistic, motherly teacher I have ever had.”

Wanamaker succumbed to tears over both nominations – with both students earning her praise and wishes for their “next adventure.”

Victor Ocampo is a quiet soul who his selected PHS teacher Harrison Chislock said is a welcome change in a sometimes hectic high school environment. Victor said Chislock helped him regain his motivation after students were forced to work at home online.

“You are a teacher I will never forget,” Victor said

To view a video of the Rising Stars sharing their Distinguished Educator choice, and delivering balloons to their classrooms, visit the website pusdeducationfoundation.com

The Rising Stars and their Distinguished Educators

Liam Reeves: Plans to attend Northern Arizona University to major in environmental science – Prescott High English teacher Helen Wanamaker. “I am not a teacher, but an awakener. Robert Frost.

Katharina Siebert: Plans to attend Yavapai College to pursue degree in applied pre-engineering – Prescott High English teacher Helen Wanamaker. “Teachers have three loves: love of learning, love of learners, and the love of bringing the first two loves together.” Scott Hayden

Desmond Bennett: Attend trade school to earn an apprenticeship as a journeymen pipe-fitter – Prescott High head football coach Cody Collett. “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” Albert Einstein

Madee Molster: Plans to enlist in the United States Air Force and become a security force officer – Prescott High School chemistry, anatomy and physiology teacher Krystal Kalmes. “A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.” Mustafa Kermal Ataturk

Sapphire Murphy: plans to attend Yavapai College to earn an Associate’s Degree in business management then pursue culinary school – Discovery Gardens preschool teacher and former Mile High Middle School learning center teacher Jenna Howard. “The word “education” comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul. Muriel Spark

Victor Ocampo: Plans to attend Yavapai College then transfer to Grand Canyon University to earn a degree in athletic training – Prescott High School economics teacher Harrison Chislock. “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Henry Adams

Orion Sam: Plans to attend Northern Arizona University majoring in orchestral performance focusing on the cello – Prescott High School AP literature and language teacher Jen Hawley. “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward

Brannagh Woods: Plans to attend Arizona State University to study business – Prescott High physical education teacher Deb Fitzgerald. “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” William Butler Yeats

Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041 or email nhutson@prescottaz.com.