By Todd Martin

    In a culminating celebration of academic excellence, the Killeen Independent School District shined a light on the brightest luminaries of the Class of 2017 and a talented group of influential “starmaker” teachers.

    The Killeen ISD Education Foundation hosted the Starmakers Academic Achievement Banquet Monday at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, honoring the top 10 graduates of each high school and their chosen most influential teacher.

    Each of the four high school principals took turns, introducing their top 10 ranked seniors set to graduate in a few days and a favorite teacher.

    Concluding the night of honors, Bill Kliewer announced the recipient of the $10,000 Kliewer Family Leadership Award and three recipients of $1,000 finalist awards.

    Gwyneth Udy, a top-10 Harker Heights High School student won the top prize, a scholarship to be spread over four years.

    “It’s a relief,” she said following the ceremony. “I’ve been nervous awhile. It’s really exciting and it means a lot.”

    In making the surprise presentation, Kliewer praised Udy’s completion of the Texas Bioscience Institute, including summer research projects, as well as leadership roles in her school’s Junior ROTC battalion, community service and church youth group activity.

    “The hard work has paid off,” Udy said, noting that she has earned scholarships and completed college hours through TBI. She is headed to the University of Texas to study medical laboratory science in hopes of entering the pathology field.

    The other finalists include Patricia Lane of Shoemaker High School, Yesenia Chaves of Killeen High School and Makayla Smith of Harker Heights High School.

    Students praised their favorite educators for teaching beyond the classroom and chosen teachers expressed humble gratitude to walk alongside top students.

    Ellison top-10 student Eduardo Pelliccia Mercado said his fourth-grade teacher Ivette Torres did more than teach curriculum, she taught him English during his first year in the United States.

    “I’m overwhelmed,” he said of his impressive class ranking and nearing graduation ceremony.

    Though the native Spanish speaker spoke little English just eight years ago, he learned quickly and excelled. Mercado completed the TBI program, earning college credit in the rigorous curriculum.

    “Being in college classes helped me grow academically,” he said. “My goal was to finish in the top 10 and I made it.”

    His chosen teacher, Torres, said she knew the young man was special as soon as she met him and expected to hear great things from him.

    “I knew he was going to go above and beyond,” she said. “I knew in my heart I would hear from him in the future. This is an honor for me. He’s saying that I did a good job.”

    Patterson Middle School math teacher Seth Edwards was another teacher thrilled to earn an invitation to the awards banquet. Two of his students chose him as their most influential teacher.

    “That was a special class,” Edwards said, noting that the two students who chose him did not have him as a math teacher, but in advisory class, where he had more time to act as mentor teaching life lessons.

    “I knew that group would do amazing things and finishing in the top 10 is tough,” he said. “Tonight, I get to tag along with them.”

    Harker Heights High School top-10 senior Connor Atkins chose orchestra instructor James Clarkson as his honored teacher.

    “It’s almost unreal,” Atkins said of coming to the edge of his high school years. “It was just a few years ago we were all freshmen.”

    He said Clarkson was his strings teacher going back to elementary school and more recently orchestra instructor at the high school. “I’ve known him since I was little,” the senior said. “He’s taught me music and life skills.”

    Superintendent John Craft praised students’ efforts and teachers’ guidance and thanked parents, the first and most influential of instructors, he said.

    This year, he said, the Education Foundation has distributed $213,000 in classroom grants, professional development grants and student scholarships. Since its inception, the foundation has distributed almost $2 million.

    The awards banquet also served to thank community donors. Sponsors from Union State Bank, Toyota of Killeen, Metroplex Health Systems and Purser Homes assisted with recognizing honorees.

    This year’s top 10 graduates of each KISD high school and their chosen most influential teacher include the following:


    Tiara Boquiren Jennifer Zehr

    Aaron Brothers Seth Edwards

    Caitlin Dunnells Jennifer Roden

    Sidonie Gallinger Lillian Spencer

    Samantha Huggins Jennifer Zehr

    Gisela Jackson Joseph Merlo

    Luis Johnson Roger Allen

    Shroq Kesbeh Betty Rutledge

    Eduardo Pelliccia Mercado Ivette Torres

    John Waldrop Amanda Bolten


    Connor Atkins James Clarkson

    Taylor Botset Jamay Michael

    Sarah Chon Andrea Hall

    Adam Duvall Jeremy Cameron

    Jinsol Victoria Kim David Norris

    Joseph Kim Lisa DeHart

    Megan Melvin Amanda Kennedy

    Karenina Pelias Joe Flores

    Makayla Smith David Norris

    Gwyneth Udy Garry McNeish


    Camille Batts Cody Parrott

    Alondra Berrios Laviena Portia Talley

    Yesenia Chaves Inocencio Lugo

    Heaven Colbert Portia Talley

    Caitlyn Harris Donna Fritsche

    Jhona Allea McDavid Valerie Nogle

    Carina Peterson Jose Rodriguez

    Michelle Robbins Angenet Wilkerson

    Christian Wintz Seth Edwards

    Sirena Woodall Amanda Guhlin


    Maria Atanasiu Jemeka Summerhill

    Chantel Blakes Merium Hodge-Cummings

    Patricia Lane Jemeka Summerhill

    Kelly Lathrop Katherine Bennett

    Jason McDonald Wayne Spears

    Brianna Pilcher Danielle Whitehead

    Jakob Reifsnyder Don Webster

    Haylea Renguul Racheal Broussard

    Jaelyn Rivas Christopher Hochstetler

    Chelsie Thomas Don Webster

    May 16, 2017

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