BATON ROUGE: The Louisiana Department of Education on Wednesday evening named the winners of the 2017 Students of the Year competition during an awards ceremony at the Louisiana State Museum. The winners--one student from the elementary, middle and high school grades--were selected based on criteria that measure academic achievement, leadership skills, character and service to their schools and community.
"Every year, it gives me great joy to recognize these students, who are among the best and brightest in Louisiana," said State Superintendent John White. "These students are truly remarkable, and we are proud of the hard work and leadership they contribute to their classrooms, schools, communities and state."
The 2017 Students of the Year include:
Elementary School: 5th Grade
Zachary Evans Cryer attends Kingston Elementary School in Bossier Parish, where he balances academics with leadership roles, sports and community activities. At school, he serves as president of the Student Council and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes; acts as branch manager for the school's bank; and is a member of the 4-H Club, Robotics Team and National Elementary Honor Society. In the community, he volunteers with the Kingston Safety Squad, the parish's AIM program, the Cypress Baptist Church Kids Staff and the HUB Ministry. Through these activities, he has organized an archery tournament to benefit an ill student at a neighboring school, and he's planted seeds as part of a beautification project, among other efforts.
In addition, Zachary is a talented athlete, who plays basketball, baseball and soccer, runs cross country and competes in archery, and a musician, who plays piano and participated in the school's talent show.
Zachary has been recognized for his involvement and leadership. In recent years, he has won four writing and poetry competitions, in some instances multiple years in a row, and a spelling bee; taken home various awards for reading, book projects and even shooting sports; participated in the regional science fair; and earned straight As for five consecutive years. In 2016, Kiwanis presented him the "Terrific Kid" award.
Zachary hopes to one day become a biomedical engineer and design prosthetics and medical diagnostic equipment. His career ambition stems from his interests in robotics and science.
Middle School: 8th Grade
Madison Elise Nelson attends Ouachita Junior High School in Ouachita Parish, where she has found success in the classroom and on the dance floor. At school, she has maintained a 4.0 GPA in the honors program, while serving as president of the Student Council, the Junior Honor Society and the 4-H Club. She's also a member of the National Junior Honor Society, the Fellowship of Christian Students and Beta Club. In the community, she is a member of Girl Scouts and is actively involved with the True Vine Baptist Church, where she acts, sings in the choir and participates in youth group activities. Through these activities, she has hosted canned food drives, vigils and events; donated Christmas gifts to children in need; cleaned her community; visited nursing homes; and mentored at-risk youth, among other efforts.
In addition, Madison is a gifted dancer. She dances both at the Delta Academy Dance Studio, as well as at school, as part of the dance team, of which she has served as co-caption and line leader.
Madison has received numerous awards for her service and academic achievement. Among them, she was named a Duke Scholar and a finalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship; was presented awards for oration, for crafting and for maintaining a high GPA; and was selected to attend a math and science summer program at Xavier University.
Madison wants to pursue a career in medicine and ultimately work as a cardio-thoracic surgeon.
High School: 12th Grade
Yehia Gamal Elkersh attends St. Paul's Catholic High School, part the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Born in Egypt, he moved to the United States at the age of 14, and has since built a curriculum vitae as impressive as it is diverse.
At school, he has earned a 4.5 GPA, a 36 on the ACT and perfect scores on four AP exams, while holding numerous leadership positions and working for his letterman as a member of the powerlifting team. He serves or has served as founder and president of the International Key Club; president of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Spanish Honor Society, Spanish Club and YMCA Youth Government; vice president of Student Council, Computer Science Club, Robotics Club, Film Club and Shell Eco-Marathon Club; senior mentor with the Brotherhood of the Paw mentorship program; service coordinator for the Lasallian Youth Leaders; and senior web designer and e-commerce marketing director for Ain't Life Good, among other roles. In the community, he has worked with various service organizations and school groups to restore playgrounds, maintain community gardens, host drives for food, clothes and books; and volunteer for the Teen Court and Advanced Pain Institute.
Yehia has a collection of accolades as a result of these many achievements. He is an AP Scholar with distinction and a commended National Merit Scholar who has earned a long list of awards for building homes with Habitat for Humanity, designing apps, participating in science fairs, and mastering science and mathematics, among other gains. He has also participated in state engineering competitions and acted as a student host and ambassador for a statewide academic program.
He wants to pursue a career in the medical field, with an emphasis on neuroscience.
In addition to announcing the overall winners, the Department recognized all 21 regional finalists with certificates. A complete list of those students can be found here.
The annual competition has multiple steps. First, all public schools, including charter schools, and non-public schools are asked to submit one candidate from their student body. Students then compete with their peers at the school system level, and winners advance to the regional competitions.
At the regional level, students are selected based on criteria that measure academic achievement, leadership skills, character, and service to their schools and communities. Regional selection committees also use student-made portfolios of accomplishments, along with student writing samples and interviews, to assess the communications and critical-thinking skills of each candidate.
Each finalist then submits a portfolio and completes a written composition the day of the awards ceremony. An independent selection committee also interviews the finalists to evaluate their communication and critical thinking skills before selecting the winners at each grade level.
For more information about the annual competition, click here.
For photographs of the 2017 Louisiana Students of the Year awards ceremony, see the Department's Facebook page.