Calhoun High School recently announced that senior Caleb McFarland was named its 2021 PAGE STAR Student, an honor earned through academic achievement and performance on the SAT. McFarland selected Dr. Sean McKenzie, a social studies teacher at Calhoun, as his STAR Teacher.
The Student Teacher Achievement (STAR) Program began in 1954 and has since honored more than 28,000 students and teachers for their successes in education. To obtain the STAR nomination, graduating high school seniors must have the highest score on a single test date on the SAT and be in the top 10 percent or top 10 students of their class based on grade point average.
McFarland checked all the necessary boxes.
In addition to scoring higher than any other CHS student who took the SAT this year, he has also maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout the entirety of high school and is the president of the CHS BETA Club. He is the secretary of the CHS National Honor Society and is both a National Merit Scholar and a National AP Scholar. Outside of school, McFarland is an Eagle Scout and studies Taekwondo. He participates in both marching and jazz band. Balancing all of these duties and activities would not have been easy, but Dr. McKenzie said a willingness to do hard work and self-discipline are virtues that make McFarland stand out from his classmates.
“Caleb is disciplined. He’s a smart kid, but it’s not just about getting a grade for him. This is a guy who knows he is really smart and owns that. He embraces that identity and runs with it. He studies hard, does the work and does it well,” McKenzie said of McFarland. “He lets other kids make comments in class nd take the lead. He doesn’t dominate the conversation, though of course he participates. He lets everyone learn and is really, really good at putting people at ease. There’s a maturity to how he handles things.”
McKenzie said that maturity and willingness to see others do well make McFarland a joy to have in class.
“He offers other students help when they don’t understand. He makes sure they get what’s going on,” McKenzie said. “Last year during the shut down we used Google Meets and so forth to get together and study for the AP History test. Sometimes there would be technology issues and whenever I got on, Caleb would already be reviewing whatever we were supposed to study with everyone. He’s an awesome guy.”
For his part, McFarland said he was inspired to be successful by teachers like Dr. McKenzie, who he praised as a passionate, enthusiastic teachers whose love of subject matter made coming to class a true joy.
“He is so passionate about his job,” McFarland said. “He really loves teaching and cares a lot about his students. He keeps us motivated and never takes days off. It’s really inspiring to see someone who loves their job so much and is so fulfilled by it. It isn’t like that for everyone and you can really see the difference. That’s why I chose him for STAR Teacher.”
As STAR Student and Teacher for the Calhoun City Schools system, both McFarland and McKenzie will go on to contend for the honor of being named Georgia PAGE STAR Student. Participants in the state competition are judged in the areas of scholarship, extracurricular activities, academic ability, personal philosophy, leadership, initiative, citizenship, opinion, personal objectives and attitudes. STAR Teachers continue on with their STAR Students at every level of the program. Winners at the state level receive cash scholarships.
Asked what advice he would give fellow students about studying or school, McFarland said he would encourage them to focus and work hard. Nothing else, he said, is a substitute for putting in effort.
“To anyone taking the SAT, I’d say be prepared to take it multiple times. Don’t wait until the last minute to take it,” McFarland said. “Study hard, and that goes for the test and classes. Doing well is all about how much you want it.”
McFarland will attend the Georgia Institute of Technology next fall, where he will study computer science. Dr. McKenzie will continue to teach at Calhoun and hopes to continue inspiring and educating young people for as long as he can.
“It’s important to me. There’s a religious component to teaching for me. I see it as a ministry, so I don’t want to phone it in and just go in and sit at my computer. I owe the kids my best,” McKenzie said. “This is what I do with my life, so I want to be able to look back at the end and say I gave it everything I had.”