The Shelby County Chamber celebrates excellence in the classroom

Published 4:47 pm Wednesday, June 10, 2020

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Shelby County’s leading students and educators for the 2019-2020 school year were welcomed to The Shelby County Chamber to receive their cash award and congratulations from program presenters America’s First Federal Credit Union, Vulcan Materials Company and The University of Montevallo.

Schools throughout Shelby County were invited to submit both an “academic leader standout” and “career pathway standout” Student of the Year to represent their school. All of the nominees were evaluated on the following criteria: GPA, extra-curricular activities and awards, a written response (essay) on their proposed career track/course of study and letters of recommendation. Additionally, each student was asked to participate in a 20-minute Zoom interview with a panel of three judges.

The Educator of the Year candidates were nominated in three categories—elementary, middle and high school—by their school principals. Three judges evaluated them on their philosophy of teaching, community involvement and recommendations from colleagues and school administrators, including a brief video where many showcased their exceptional classrooms.

All of the nominees were visited by representatives from the Chamber, and presented with a yard-sign identifying them as a 2019-2020 nominee.

“We believe that recognizing the excellence that is demonstrated by students and educators throughout Shelby County each and every day is a worthy pursuit,” Chamber President & CEO Kirk Mancer said. “Coupled with the challenges presented to all of our students and educators during the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s program is extra special.”

“Career Readiness continues to be one of the four main areas in which our Shelby County Chamber is actively engaged through our current ShelbyOne – Next Level Up! programming,” said current Chamber Chairwoman Kathy Copeland with White Rock Quarries – Vincent Hills said. “Recognizing excellence in our Shelby County classrooms is one component of the Chamber’s expanded efforts in collaborating with our partners in education. Another is the ‘Keeping It Real’ program which your Chamber just concluded its seventh year with ninth Grade students throughout our county. Between August 2019 and February 2020, Chamber staff and volunteers visited with 1,451 freshmen to share information on financial responsibility, the impact training can have on their future, as well as their ability to have the resources they’ll need and want.

“We held our inaugural ‘Connect 2 Careers for 2,759 10th grade students in September 2019. This program allowed our Shelby County businesses the opportunity to share interactive information on the types of careers available in our communities and assist these students as they’re making decisions on their career path beyond high school. The goal is to make sure these students have a better understanding about the options available to them here in Shelby County with this new ‘hands-on’ approach, with more than 50-plus businesses and 150-plus volunteers.

“We also completed our fifth year of our Communication Matters – a program on soft skills for 11th grade students. We officially visited 11 schools with more than 1,786 students in 2019-2020.

“Finally, for the 2019-2020 school year, we were excited to help launch a new pilot program in several high schools – “Ready To Work” here in Shelby County with The Onin Group and 58 INC. This new program was taught in the senior classroom, sharing important entry level skills required for employment with most businesses and industries in Alabama. The training curriculum is set to standards cited by business and industry employers throughout the state. We look forward to supporting this new program to ensure it is a success for our students and educators, in the years to come.

“As the leading voice for businesses—both big and small—in Shelby County, your Chamber is engaged in these programs, and collaborating with our partners in education for two very

basic reasons: to ensure that our 1,180-plus investor organizations—and businesses throughout Shelby County—will have the qualified workforce they’ll need in the future, and that all of our students know about the outstanding opportunities they have for quality employment right

here in Shelby County.”

This year’s Student & Educator of the Year program concluded with eight recipients – two “Career Pathway Standout” students, two “Academic Leader Standout” students, and one “Future Leader” student, as well as one Elementary School Educator of the Year, one Middle School Educator of the Year and one High School Educator of the Year. The five student recipients each received a $1,000 cash award, and the three educator recipients received a $750 cash award.

“The five student recipients are receiving these funds to continue their education and career development, and the three teachers are receiving their awards for use in their classrooms at their discretion,” said Pari Barzegari, the Chamber’s director of community and career development.

The 2019-2020 recipients recognized were:


“Career Pathway Standout” Student of the Year recipients

Caleb Reed Horton, Shelby County High School

Kelsey Mooney, Helena High School


“Academic Pathway Standout” Student of the Year recipients

Matthew Bray, Oak Mountain High School

Yesenia “Yesi” Villanueva, Chelsea High School


“Future Leader” Student of the Year recipient

Abby Grace Walker, Thompson High School


“Elementary School Educator of the Year” recipient

Martha Bentley, Elvin Hill Elementary School


“Middle School Educator of the Year” recipient

Janet Griffith, Thompson Middle School


“High School Educator of the Year” recipient

Geoffrey Wymer, New Direction