Underclassmen recognized at PHS Awards Night

PELHAM – More than 100 awards were given to Pelham High School students in the ninth through 11th grades for their academic accomplishments throughout the year at PHS Awards Night on Tuesday, April 30, at 6 p.m.

At each grade level, awards were given to the students who achieved the highest grade in each core or elective class. Pelham Way awards were also given to students who exhibited excellence regardless of adversity, a strong sense of pride in their school and community and leadership with integrity.

“The winners of the Pelham Way awards are students who may not have the highest grade, but they come to class prepared, they’re always willing to help the teacher and other students, they’re a leader in their class and they’re the first to volunteer for classroom projects,” said PHS Principal Amanda Wilbanks.

Wilbanks said 116 awards were given, with some students receiving more than one award. In past years, awards for ninth through 11th grade students were given during Senior Awards Day, but Wilbanks said she wanted to do things a little differently this year.

“We wanted our younger kids to get some recognition and some time to shine apart from all of the senior-related events going on,” she said.

For the first time this year, the school selected one of its teachers to receive the Homes for Heroes of Alabama award. A retired American flag, the one that has flown over the school this school year, was gifted to a deserving teacher from PHS who emulates the characteristics of strength and endurance. Homes for Heroes donated a new flag to the school to replace the retired flag.

“This idea came from school board member Paul Howell,” Wilbanks said. “He wants to start this tradition in our schools. PHS is the first school to give the award.”

Second-year PHS teacher and Army veteran Juan Vasquez received the honor. He teaches English as a second language, language acquisition and health.

Although Vasquez has only been a teacher at PHS for two years, he’s already made a huge impact. Wilbanks said he’s always the first to volunteer for anything the school needs, he is respected by teachers and students and he started and is the advisor for the school’s Pelham United club.

Pelham United held its first club meeting in January 2018 with the goal of finding fun and creative ways to unite the student body and embrace diversity. In February 2018, Vasquez oversaw the club’s #YouMatter project, which consisted of writing personalized messages for each student enrolled at the school.

Club members spent countless hours over the course of a week cutting out paper hearts and writing the name of each student along with a positive message on each of them. Some of the messages on the hearts were written in different languages, such as Arabic, Spanish and Korean to reflect the different cultures within the school. The hearts were placed on a wall near the school’s entrance and students saw them as they walked into the school on Valentine’s Day.

“YouMatter got more than 19,000 likes of Facebook, including one from Ellen DeGeneres,” Wilbanks said. “It was a huge deal.”

PHS seniors will take their turn in the spotlight on Thursday, May 9, during Senior Awards Day at 8:55 a.m.