By Jennifer Wohlleb
It’s a sendoff that could inspire even the most jaded student: sitting on a stage flanked by parents and balloons while teachers sing your praises as you sign a paper affirming your college scholarship.
Top athletes usually get this experience, but for the past two years Beechwood High School has made this a reality for its students receiving academic scholarships.
PHOTO: Beechwood High School senior Shelby Cansler, flanked by her parents, listens as English teacher Mark O’Connor sings her praises during Senior Scholarship Signing Day. She was one of 20 students in the district earning more than 50 percent of her college tuition through a scholarship.
“This really gives kids who aren’t at the top of the class the chance to get recognized,” said Shelby Cansler, one of 20 seniors recognized at the district’s 2012 Senior Scholarship Signing Day in May. “Usually, you have to be the valedictorian to get recognized like this, and that’s usually just one person.”
Beechwood guidance counselor Mary Philippe, who created the scholarship signing day program, said academics should get the same recognition as athletics.
“It really mirrors an athletic signing, but with much more focus on the academics,” she said. “We invite representatives from the college to come so they explain the value of the scholarship, what some of the opportunities are that the student will have by accepting the scholarship.”
Since scholarships ranged from in-state schools to those as far away as New York and Michigan, representatives from each college could not attend, but officials from Northern Kentucky University, the universities of Louisville and Kentucky, Thomas More College and the University of Cincinnati were there, welcoming their newest students.
Teachers also spoke on behalf of each student, a process that veered between emotion and humor, showing the bonds that are forged in education. “I’m very proud to be your teacher,” was the most common sentiment heard.
Parent Rob Bruce, whose daughter Anna received a scholarship to Central Michigan University, said it’s a wonderful idea to recognize students’ academic achievements.
“The teachers also provide a different perspective (of your child) when they speak,” he said. “You get to see the true relationships between teachers and students. And hearing the number of teachers say they loved their students, it was really heartfelt.”
School board Chairman Brad Hood said programs like this put the attention where it needs to be.
“The administration team came to us and said they were going to do it, and we thought it was a great idea,” he said. “The principal, Ginger Webb, and Superintendent Steve Hutton said, ‘It’s time to recognize what’s really important.’ Beechwood has a reputation sometimes for football, like a lot of schools, but academics is what we’re most proud of.”
Hutton, who opened the ceremony by saying this is one the “neatest events” he’s been a part of, said in an earlier interview that events like this put Beechwood’s values into action.
“When you walk through someone’s front door, you find out what people value just by looking at what’s in their trophy cases,” he said. “And then you find out what people value by what they do and with Ms. Philippe and Ms. Webb, it’s about valuing academics. Our kids are really achieving and they are going to some really great places.”
There could be an even more extensive list next year if the enthusiasm from the assembled student body cheering on their classmates was any measure. The audience included seniors as well as juniors, who hopefully aspire to their own spot on the stage next year.
It worked for Cansler, who has a full ride to Berea College this fall. What did she think after attending the first scholarship signing day last year? “I wanted to sit up there,” she said.