PUSD Education Foundation dazzles with 7 ‘Rising Stars,’ and 6 distinguished educators

PUSD Education Foundation Rising Stars Banquet. May 3, 2021

Article from The Daily Courier (Nanci Hutson)


ll the way through high school, Karli Fish struggled to read.

She suffered medical ailments that required two serious surgeries that further impeded her schooling.

Yet her special education teacher Cari Greco never allowed her to falter. She encouraged her to dream big.

With graduation just three weeks away, May 28, Karli will be standing tall as she accepts the diploma that is her ticket to college and a career in nursing.

Karli is one of seven of this year’s Prescott Unified School District’s Education FoundationRising Stars,” a student who has earned a B average or higher despite overcoming academic, health or life obstacles with the steadfast support and encouragement of a “distinguished educator.”

On Monday night, May 3, the Foundation feted these special students and their chosen educators at a banquet at the Starting Point Church in Prescott; the bow to COVID was tables arranged at a distance, invitation-only guest list and guests wearing masks other than for dinner time. A year ago, the foundation was unable to host the event as schools and business venues were all closed because of the virus.

The Foundation, too, celebrated a distinguished educator guest — Prescott Unified’s own Terry Pemberton, an industrial arts teacher at Mile High Middle School finishing his 50th year in the district. (Pick up Sunday’s Courier for a story about Pemberton.)

Foundation President Jenna James explained this event was launched six years ago to honor those students who might otherwise go unrecognized. They are not the star athletes or scholarship winners, yet their accomplishments are as noteworthy for what they have needed to do to excel.

This year, one of the honored students, Jobie Lee, will become a first-generation high school graduate and a first-generation college student. She credits her PHS mathematics teacher Amanda Atherton for changing “the way I view life.”

Jobie plans to attend Northern Arizona University where she intends to study criminal justice before joining the United States Air Force.

“I just want to say thank you for being there when I thought everything was impossible,” Jobie said as part of a video presentation the selected students shared with the audience. “The music, the jokes, the laughter, the art, and the learning in the classroom has helped me learn skills to help myself with the next chapter of my life.

“I truly wouldn’t be the same without you.”

Prescott High English teacher Jennifer Hawley was selected as the “distinguished educator” for two students this year: Cheyla Daverman and Ellie Fenderson.

“This past year sucked … There were very things I looked forward to, but this English class was the reason I showed up to school and attended online classes,” Cheyla declared. “This class has been my safe haven, where rants are welcome and the tea is always spilled.”

Ellie said she wrestled with who she was given her family’s Prescott legacy. Yet, Hawley pushed her to think deeper about who she is so she could cherish and respect her unique qualities.

“Even when I struggled the most in school or just life in general, you were always there,” Ellie said. “You have taught me it is okay to struggle and persevere because, in the end, those accomplishments are always the ones that make you feel the most accomplished.”

The sole selected male educator was PHS math teacher Damian Espinoza, selected by Makenna Tippit because of the role he has played in her life her entire four years of high school.

Recognizing she “learns differently than most students,” Makenna said Espinosa never made her feel self-conscious. His limitless patience enabled her to understand how to get from point A to point B. He prompted her to pursue success beyond the classroom.

“You always know how to cheer me up!” enthused Makenna, who is headed to Yavapai College before transferring to the University of Montana where she intends to major in forestry.

Chairman and Mock Trial Advisor Brenda Lee, whose engaging class stimulated his mind and has inspired him to study law at the University of Arizona. He described Lee as a teacher who enabled him to reach a “higher level of thinking.”

“You’re the best teacher I will ever have,” Carson declared.

Kailey Hurley announced her choice of Prescott High French teacher Cathleen Cherry as someone who embodies this quote: “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

“You are an inspirational teacher and empowering woman who helps those around yourself,” Kailey said. “Just as you are, you encourage your students to be bold, challenge themselves and strive to create change.

“I can only hope to become a woman who is as inspiring and empowering as you are.”