Since 1958, the Student Teacher Achievement Recognition (STAR) program has honored the state’s highest-achieving seniors.

It was launched by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and in 1994 the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) Foundation was asked to coordinate the program in association with the chamber and the Georgia Department of Education.

The award is given to students whose standardized test scores elevate them to the highest 10% of their senior class.

According to Lynn Varner of the STAR program lead support team, which guides the program, its mission is to recognize Georgia’s highest-achieving high school seniors, as well as the teachers who have been most instrumental, in that student’s eyes, in helping that student achieve academic notoriety.

“The 86,000-plus members of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators are honored to recognize Georgia’s future leaders and the professional educators who have nurtured these students,” Varner said in a news release.

Annually the state’s STAR student overall winner and first runner-up each receive cash scholarship awards, and Georgia’s STAR teacher overall winner and first runner-up each get cash awards.

Though this year’s STAR state banquet was cancelled due to health concerns regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), winners will still be crowned. At the 2019 event, North Atlanta’s Robert "Jake" Churchill was named the state’s STAR student first runner-up. Could another local student be honored this year?

Here's a look at each local school’s STAR students and teachers:

Editor’s note: Atlanta Country Day School, Cumberland Academy of Georgia and The Howard School are not participating in the STAR student and teacher program this year.

Atlanta Classical

Taylor, Charlotte rgb

Charlotte Taylor

Roth, Kevin rgb

Kevin Roth

STAR student: Charlotte Taylor

GPA: 4.0415

Highest SAT score: 1530

Extracurricular activities: Key Club, Quintilian Honor Society, yearbook committee, varsity soccer, basketball and soccer, Debate Club, International Club

Awards and honors: National Merit finalist, Presidential Scholar nominee, Magna Cum Laude National Latin Exam recipient, National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta Society, High Honor Roll

College choices: University of Georgia, Georgia Institute of Technology, Furman University, Washington & Lee University, Hillsdale College, Davidson College

Career path: art restoration and conservation

STAR teacher: Kevin Roth, Latin

Atlanta Girls’

Kassis, Kimberly rgb

Kimberly Kassis

Player, Amber rgb

Amber Player

STAR student: Kimberly Kassis

GPA: 4.00

Highest SAT/ACT score: NA

Extracurricular activities: co-editor of the Atlanta Girls’ School literary magazine, School Lead ambassador, Chick Chat leader, varsity swimming

Awards and honors: English Scholar Award, Dartmouth Book Award, 7 scholastic writing awards

College choices: Georgia Tech, Washington & Lee and Wake Forest

Career path: international affairs

STAR teacher: Amber Player, English and creative writing

Atlanta International

Madan, Maanit rgb

Maanit Madan

Ghercioiu, Catalina rgb

Catalina Ghercioiu

STAR student: Maanit Madan


Highest SAT/ACT score: NA

Extracurricular activities: Model United Nations, playing bassoon, captain of the school’s iHOT Robotics team, co-founder of two tech startups: Tecshala LLC and bippy LLC

Awards and honors: iHOT Robotics World Championships, Apple WorldWide Developer Scholarship 2016 and 2017, Congressional App Challenge Winner 2017. Participated in 2018 GA Governor's Honors Program

College choices: undecided

Career path: computer science

STAR teacher: Catalina Ghercioiu, IB math

Atlanta Jewish

Goldstein, Max rgb

Max Goldstein

Rojek, Joel rgb

Joel Rojek

STAR student: Max Goldstein

GPA: 4.0

Highest SAT score: 1560

Extracurricular activities: Palette (school newspaper), baseball team, Model UN

Awards and honors: NA

College choices: Washington University

Career path: public policy, foreign affairs

STAR teacher: Joel Rojek, AP English language and AP English literature

Brandon Hall

Lin, Chih-Chun “Vivian” rgb

Chih-Chun “Vivian” Lin

Chapman, Nicole rgb

Nicole Chapman

STAR student: Chih-Chun “Vivian” Lin

GPA: 4.2 (weighted)

Highest SAT/ACT score: NA

Extracurricular activities: math team, which placed first three times in the GISA 2A category, top 10% in Kennesaw mathematics competition and earned a place in final run

Awards and honors: best performance in math, science and art in past years, awards for a STEAM Fair project for two years

College choices: undecided but considering University of California San Diego

Career path: plans to major in psychology in college

STAR teacher: Nicole Chapman, chemistry and forensics

Ben Franklin

Iskander, Jonas rgb

Jonas Iskander

Ellis, Edward rgb

Edward Ellis

STAR student: Jonas Iskander


Highest SAT/ACT score: NA

Extracurricular activities: cross country, the ultimate Frisbee; Atlanta Young Singers and the school’s band, where he sings

Awards and honors: National Merit finalist; as an Emory University math student, he participated in Emory Number Theory Research Experience for Undergraduates, and is attending again this summer; he and others have submitted two papers on high-level math research; sings in classical vocal competitions and was a finalist in the Schmidt Vocal Competition in 2018 and received an encouragement award in 2017.

College choices: undecided

Career path: research in mathematics and/or physics

STAR teacher: Edward Ellis, humanities


Hungria, Nicholas rgb

Nicholas Hungria

Despathy, Cheryl rgb

Cheryl Despathy

STAR student: Nicholas Hungria

GPA: 4.21

Highest SAT/ACT score: 36 (composite)

Extracurricular activities: policy debate

Awards and honors: none

College choices: NA

Career path: undecided but technology-related

STAR teacher: Cheryl Despathy, assistant director of teaching and learning and upper learning debate coach

Holy Innocents’

Keagle, Matthew rgb

Matthew Keagle

Cannon, Melody rgb

Melody Cannon

STAR student: Matthew Keagle

GPA: 4.48

Highest SAT score: 1550

Extracurricular activities: cross country, track and field, Boy Scouts, Young Life, Peachtree Presbyterian Church youth group

Awards and honors: National Merit Scholarship Program letter of commendation, Georgia Certificate of Merit Award, Eagle Scout, William T. Hornaday Bronze Award, English Honors Award, Photography I Award, French III Honors Award, AP World History Award

College choices: Georgia Tech, Clemson University, University of Virginia and Wake Forest University

Career path: orthopedic medicine, law, environmental science or business

STAR teacher: Melody Cannon, English

Holy Spirit Prep

Yepes, Manny rgb

Manuel "Manny" Yepes

Thornhill, Amanda rgb

Amanda Thornhill

STAR student: Manuel "Manny" Yepes


Highest ACT score: 36

Extracurricular activities: varsity soccer, Debate Club, newspaper, Cantias Society (initiative supporting professional development in Sierra Leone)

Awards and honors: National Merit finalist

College choices: undecided

Career path: unknown

STAR teacher: Amanda Thornhill, math


Chen, Jenny rgb

Jenny Chen

Wingate, Susan rgb

Susan Wingate

STAR student: Jenny Chen


Highest SAT/ACT score: NA

Extracurricular activities: internship with Lovett's marine biology program, Atlanta Professional Dance Academy ballet and Chinese folk dancer, Lovett Green Team co-president member, Student Service Board, Covenant House Georgia's Scholars in Service, classically trained pianist, speech and debate team

Awards and honors: National Honor Society

College choices: undecided but wants to study environmental analysis

Career path: undecided

STAR teacher: Susan Wingate, AP physics and 12th-grade level team coordinator


Callahan, Charlie rgb

Charlie Callahan

Gregory, José rgb

José Gregory

STAR student: Charlie Callahan

GPA: 4.43

Highest SAT score: 1550

Extracurricular activities: varsity lacrosse, Atlanta Coyotes club team lacrosse, National Honor Society, German Honor Society, Math Honor Society, plays trombone with the Marist Wind Ensemble, volunteer with Sunrise Assisted Living and Dogwood Assisted Living, owns a pressure-washing business

Awards and honors: dean's List, Notre Dame Book Award, Class of 2020 Georgia Certificate of Merit

College choices: Georgia Tech or Stanford University

Career path: mechanical engineering with an emphasis on automobiles

STAR teacher: José Gregory, social studies

Mount Vernon

Bruno, Eliza rgb

Eliza Bruno

Choi, Amy rgb

Amy Choi

STAR student: Eliza Bruno

GPA: 4.58 (weighted)

Highest ACT score: 33

Extracurricular activities: equestrian team captain, Interact Club, Vecinos de Sandy Springs (founding member), On the River magazine writer, cosmetic chemistry summer course at Brown University, Atlanta Equestrian intern

Awards and honors: Georgia Certificate of Merit, National Honor Society, AP Scholar, National Spanish Exam gold medal

College choices: undecided

Career path: possibly engineering

STAR teacher: Amy Choi, humanities and AP world history

North Atlanta

Midkiff, Ezra rgb

Ezra Midkiff

Hiers, Erica rgb

Erica Hiers

STAR student: Ezra Midkiff

GPA: 4.3

Highest SAT score: 1530

Extracurricular activities: Rho Kappa, 11 Stories Editor – North Atlanta student news broadcast

Awards and honors: Principal’s List, Governor’s Honors Program district nominee, Georgia Boys State Graduate – summer citizenship program, AP Scholar with Distinction, NOCTI certification in Graphic Design

College choices: Georgia Tech, University of Georgia, Ohio State University, Miami University (Ohio), Rice University, College of William and Mary

Career path: undecided but involving writing

STAR teacher: Erica Hiers, language arts, IB English and theory of knowledge

North Springs

Bernstein, Yaron rgb

Yaron Bernstein

Johnson, DeAndre rgb

DeAndre Johnson

Gresens, John rgb

John Gresens

Romero-Mondragon, Laura rgb

Laura Romero-Mondragon

STAR students: Yaron Bernstein and DeAndre Johnson


Highest SAT score: 1560 (both)

Extracurricular activities: NA

Awards and honors: NA

College choices: NA

Career path: NA

STAR teachers: John Gresens (Bernstein) and Laura Romero-Mondragon (Johnson)


Gannon, Aidan rgb

Aidan Gannon

Stevens, Grady rgb

Grady Stevens

STAR student: Aidan Gannon


Highest SAT score: NA

Extracurricular activities: student council (student body secretary), varsity lacrosse, senior giving committee, Model UN program and Pace Academy Entrepreneurship Mentor Day (co-leader)

Awards and honors: National Merit semifinalist, AP Scholar with Distinction, Social Entrepreneurship Challenge runner-up, member of the Cum Laude, National Honor and Orkin societies.

College choice: Yale University

Career path: undecided

STAR teacher: Grady Stevens, world languages and U.S. history


Ruiz, Ricardo rgb

Ricardo Ruiz

Schopke, Rod rgb

Rod Schopke

STAR student: Ricardo Ruiz

GPA: 101.8 (weighted)

Highest SAT score: 1580

Extracurricular activities: co-captain of the debate and math teams. Eagle Scout candidate

Awards and honors: Georgia Governor’s Honors Program (2018 for mathematics), National AP Scholar.

College choices: MIT, Georgia Tech

Career path: computer science and/or engineering

STAR teacher: Rod Schopke, math

St. Pius X

Buckley, Daniel rgb

Daniel Buckley

Ceccagnoli, Margherita rgb

Margherita Ceccagnoli

Kepler, Maria rgb

Maria Kepler

Stockard, Carrie rgb

Carrie Stockard

STAR students: Daniel Buckley and Margherita Ceccagnoli

GPAs: Buckley (4.0), Ceccagnoli (97.56)

Highest SAT/ACT scores: Buckley (36), Ceccagnoli (1530, not super scored)

Extracurricular activities: Buckley (music ministry, Atlanta Young Singers, Pius Players (drama)), Ceccagnoli (varsity girls' tennis (team captain), National Honor Society, student ambassador, Lion Leader (mentor for freshmen), Student Council Committee, Student-Athlete Advisory Council)

Awards and honors: Buckley (salutatorian, Harvard Book Award), Ceccagnoli (Georgia Governor's Honors Program finalist, Platinum Award for French II and Gold Award for French III on National French Contest- Le Grand Concours)

College choices: Buckley (Georgia Tech), Ceccagnoli (Georgetown University)

Career path: Buckley (college professor), Ceccagnoli (business, global affairs or government)

STAR teachers: Buckley (Maria Kepler, Latin) and Ceccagnoli (Carrie Stockard, French)


Schneider, Caroline rgb

Caroline Schneider

Rocamora, Olivia rgb

Olivia Rocamora

STAR student: Caroline Schneider


Highest SAT/ACT score: NA

Extracurricular activities: mock trial, Peer Leadership, Peace by Piece, Weber’s Safe Cracking Team, volunteering with the Atlanta Speech School and my Second Serve service project.

Awards and honors: class valedictorian, Georgia Governor’s Honors Program finalist/attendee, Georgia Certificate of Merit, president of the National Honor Society at Weber, three-time gold medalist on the National Spanish Exam.

College choice: undecided

Career path: lawyer representing criminal defendants who are part of underserved minority groups in hopes of preventing wrongful convictions

STAR teacher: Olivia Rocamora, Spanish and English


Yang, Andy rgb

Andrew “Andy” Yang

Holmes, Abby rgb

Abby Holmes

STAR student: Andrew “Andy” Yang


Highest SAT score: 1570

Extracurricular activities: president of the Wesleyan Honor Council, captain of Wesleyan’s math and science bowl teams, and a four-year member of the cross country and soccer teams, American Math Competition’s Distinguished Honor Roll, helped lead his Georgia chapter of the American Regions Mathematics League to a Division B victory in 2019.

Awards and honors: National Merit semifinalist, American Mathematics Competition 12 – Distinguished Honor Roll (11) and Honor Roll (8, 9, 11), American Invitational Mathematics Examination 2019 – Scored a 9, National Latin Exam – Summa Cum Laude (8, 9, 10, 11), Perfect Paper on Latin II (9) USA Mathematical Talent Search – Bronze (10), Silver (11), NAQT GISA high school state champions (11)

College choice: undecided

Career path: He plans to major in computer science with a focus on data privacy or artificial intelligence.

STAR teacher: Abby Holmes, Latin


Bottu, Anup rgb

Anup Bottu

Chen, Claire rgb

Claire Chen

Ewing, Laura Drewicz rgb

Laura Drewicz Ewing

STAR students: Anup Bottu and Claire Chen

GPA: both are in the top 5% of their class

Highest SAT score: 1600 (both)

Extracurricular activities: Bottu (math team – five-year competitor, with local to national-level awards, including selection for the USA Mathematical Olympiad; Science Bowl – co-captain (2019, 2020), regional champion team member (2019, 2020), ninth-place team member at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Science Bowl (2019); founding executive director of START, nonprofit that provides science enrichment experiences for elementary students attending Atlanta-area public and charter schools); Chen (all-state bassoonist and president of Westminster Symphonic Band; member of Atlanta Youth Wind Symphony, volunteer at Jacob's Ladder Neurodevelopmental School, developer and author of an independent study on music therapy, Mu Alpha Theta executive officer, volunteer with Odyssey Atlanta)

Awards and honors: Bottu (National AP Scholar (2019), U.S. Presidential Scholars nominee (2020), National Merit finalist (2020), Atlanta INTown 20 Under 20 (2018), honorable mention USA Physics Olympiad (2018)); Chen (National Merit finalist (2020), National AP Scholar (2019), U.S. Presidential Scholars nominee (2020), Governor's Honors Program attendee for music (2018),visual arts awards from scholastic art and writing (2018))

College choice: Yale University (both)

Career path: Bottu (undecided but wants to use his love of working with numbers in a way that's helpful to society); Chen (lawyer)

STAR teacher: Laura Drewicz Ewing, AP European history (both)


Edwards, Anne rgb

Anne Edwards

Horner, Jeff rgb

Jeff Horner

STAR student: Anne Edwards

GPA: 4.0

Highest SAT/ACT score: NA

Extracurricular activities: theater, cross country, Girl Talk, volunteer at WellStar Cobb Hospital

Awards and honors: National Merit finalist, salutatorian, Phi Betta Kappa Book Award, University of Georgia Excellence Award, honorable mention in Scholastic Writing Awards

College choices: University of Virginia, University of Georgia, Vanderbilt University

Career path: lawyer

STAR teacher: Jeff Horner, AP European history


Ghanate, Nishita rgb

Nishita Ghanate

Batterman, Bill rgb

Bill Batterman

STAR student: Nishita Ghanate

GPA: 4.90

Highest SAT score: 1590

Extracurricular activities: honor council/discipline board, debate team, WA Serves, 30/30 Vision Club, orchestra, My Mind Matters Club, Current Events Club

Awards and honors: National Merit finalist, National Honor Society, valedictorian and summa cum laude

College choices: University of Virginia Yale University, Stanford University

Career path: law/attorney

STAR teacher: Bill Batterman, assistant debate coach

Support Local Journalism

Now, more than ever, residents need trustworthy reporting—but good journalism isn’t free. Please support us by purchasing a digital subscription. Your subscription will allow you unlimited access to important local news stories. Our mission is to keep our community informed and we appreciate your support.


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.