“Rising Stars” Banquet honors students able to rise up against adversity

PUSD Education Foundation celebrates their annual Rising Star Banquet.

By Nanci Hutson
Originally Published: May 7, 2024
The Daily Courier

“Rising Stars” Banquet honors students able to rise up against adversity with help of devoted educators

On a night intended to celebrate eight, select Prescott High School “Rising Stars” and their chosen “Distinguished Educators” who enabled them to overcome academic, athletic, health and other life obstacles to earn their diplomas, mock trial and law instructor Brenda Lee coined a new word she said pertained to the student who selected her as an educational mentor.

At the annual 100-attendee “Rising Stars Banquet” hosted at The Starting Point Church on Monday, May 6, the high school’s Social Studies Department chairman hailed her student, Sherylann Vollmer, for an attribute the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, Amberly Neese, suggests is a superb new words suitable for all of these stand-out students: “Fantasticness.”

The almost decade-long signature celebratory event to honor select students and teachers, sponsored by The Prescott Education Foundation, incorporated videos of students sharing a bit of their stories and how these educators impacted their ability to see themselves as successes. Desert Financial Credit Union was the title sponsor for this year’s event.

All of these students earned a 3.0 or higher GPS – a couple boasted straight A’s thanks to the encouragement and support of their chosen teachers — and intend to pursue post-high school education for careers in the following: education, anthropology, biochemistry, dental hygiene, child behavioral health, engineering, biomedical technology/engineering and business administration, with intention of joining the elite United States Navy SEALS, a special-operations force.

The 2024 “Rising Stars” are: Anya Boothe, Megan Dachenhausen, Gweneth Felo, Rayna Houston, Adaline O’Farrell, Seth Peters, Sherylann Vollmer and Wyatt Rewerts. The 2024 “Distinguished Educators are: Jim Rhine, Brenda Lee, Helen Wannamaker, Stephen Moore, Jen Hawley, Diane Ryan, Erin Johnson and Sara Tomlin.

Prior to the banquet, the selected “Rising Star students” were surprised by Education Foundation board members who interviewed and videotaped them, and the students then surprised their selected “Distinguished Educators” with a presentation in their classes of balloons and hugs.

At the banquet, the teachers and students were called to the stage, where together they watched the student video — a gift from local photographer Bill Leyden — amid hugs, handshakes, tears and laughter.

Neese offered the students and teachers to share reflections about one another to the audience. Then she gifted each honored teacher with a celebrity quotation about what it means to have their superpower. Among the quotes were:

“We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark,”

  • Whoopi Goldberg

“Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.

  • Andy Rooney

One of this year’s students, Seth Peters, was treated to a special message from his selected academic advisor Helen Wannamaker, nominated multiple times for this distinction. Other multiple honoree educators were Lee and English teacher Jen Hawley and choir teacher Erin Johnson.

Due to a family emergency, Wanamaker could not attend, but made time to send Seth a special text message that Neese read aloud highlighting how much his nomination meant to her and her confidence in his future success. From a military family who relocated to Prescott in Seth’s senior year, Wannamaker noted he has a self-confidence, community spirit and “can-do attitude” that will enable him to make a “positive impact wherever his path may lead.”

Moore, a senior English teacher in his first year at Prescott High, was not able to take the stage with his “Rising Star” Adaline O’Farrell, as she was suffering from a respiratory infection that left her unable to attend.

But Moore was clear that he was honored that this young lady selected him, and commended her as one who has shown a tenacity, kindness and wit that will help her navigate whatever comes next on the way to reaching her goals. In the bios published in a “Rising Stars” booklet, Moore said Adaline is one of those teens who is proof-positive that this next generation is “ready to step up and carry on where the previous generation leaves off.”

Some of the compliments the students paid to the teachers included creating a safe place for them to learn and grow; bringing joy amid chaos in their life; sharing their passion for not just their subject but for taking chances and trying new things; their ability to mix praise and compassion while pushing them to meet rigorous standards of academic accountability. The teachers responded similarly, stating these students offer them “inspiration” because of their “giving hearts,” their “courage” to withstand tough challenges; and demonstrating a “maturity and grace” that is an example to their peers.

Several educators said these students are a reflection of what it means to be a Prescott High School Badger.

In praise for Hawley, Rayna Houston said her class will remain a favorite because Hawley stayed real with her students: she noted Hawley calling out students for “serial killer handwriting” as she prepared them to write a college-worthy essay. “You have been a continuous pillar of support,” wrote Anya Boothe about math teacher Sara Tomlin.

Megan Dachenhausen applauded choir teacher Erin Johnson, who she has known since elementary school, for planting the seeds of her passion for playing and performing music throughout her school years. “Being in your class is always a bright spot in my day … I’ll always be grateful for the mark you’ve made on my life,” she said.

Of her 46-year veteran science teacher Diane Ryan, Gweneth Felo said she finds it noteworthy that after all those years she has not lost her “spark.” Ryan’s passion for study and science “has inspired me to stay curious” and pursue a career in education.

A state championship wrestler Wyatt Rewerts, who will be attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with aspirations to become a Navy SEAL, credits his algebra/geometry teacher Jim Rhine with taking an interest in his athletics as well as helping him perform academically. Wyatt thanked Rhine for being “my teacher, mentor and friend.”

Of Lee, Sherylann Vollmer said, “I’ll remember you forever.”

Reach Nanci Hutson by email at nhutson@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333 ext. 2041

By Nanci Hutson – The Daily Courier
Reach Nanci Hutson by email at nhutson@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333 ext. 2041