8 seniors honored for ‘outstanding’ academic achievement, community involvement
|Published: 12-08-2023 5:29 PM
TURNERS FALLS — Each year, students from across the state, including in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region, are recognized by their respective superintendents for their academic achievement and community involvement.
The annual award is sponsored by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, according to Pioneer Valley Regional School District Superintendent Patricia Kinsella. The award aims to recognize the “outstanding performance and contributions” of seniors, she said.
This year, eight seniors from across the county were recognized: Maree-Ellis Benitez of Greenfield High School; Laura McGinnis of Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange; Sophia Goodnow of Mohawk Trail Regional School in Buckland; Syna Katsoulis of Turners Falls High School; Cody Germain of Athol High School; Leah Gump of Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield; Ashley Bobala of Franklin County Technical School in Montague; and Maddax Wegiel of Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield.
Maree-Ellis Benitez was described by Superintendent Christine DeBarge as a “conscientious student, a dedicated athlete and a natural born leader.”
She’s also an avid volunteer, having volunteered throughout the community, in particular as a caroler at local elementary schools, churches and nursing homes. Benitez also serves as president of the National Honor Society and is a member of Key Club and Student Council.
“I feel very honored to be chosen from a group of very competitive students that I admire to represent GHS,” said Benitez. “It’s a huge praise and I’m so grateful I was recognized for my hard work.”
Laura McGinnis was recognized by Superintendent Elizabeth Teahan-Zielinski as a “top-ranked student” who has consistently challenged herself at the highest level. She’s also a dancer who performs with the Inside/Out Dance Co., and plans to continue studying dance through college.
McGinnis is also a two-season athlete, playing both field hockey and softball since seventh grade. Over the summer, she is a camp counselor at Morse Hill Educational Center day and overnight camps.
“Laura’s desire to put in her best effort goes beyond the personal and inspires her to pursue studies that combine environmental sustainability with engineering and science,” Teahan-Zielinski said. “Laura is the kind of youth that makes me hopeful for the future.”
Sheryl Stanton, superintendent of the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts, described Sophia Goodnow as hard working, determined, compassionate and dependable. In addition to being a high-achieving student, she is a three-sport varsity athlete.
Goodnow is also an active volunteer in the community, having been named an ambassador in 2020 for Project 351, an organization that brings together one eighth-grade “ambassador” from each of the state’s 351 municipalities for a year of service and leadership.
“I was surprised,” said Goodnow. “There’s a lot of great people so I was really honored.”
Syna Katsoulis is ranked third in her class and has “consistently challenged herself by completing the most rigorous academic courses,” according to Gill-Montague Regional School District Superintendent Brian Beck.
“Syna has always valued school and community service, both for the purpose of helping others and as valuable opportunities to continue learning,” Beck said.
Katsoulis was recognized by the district not only for being an outstanding student, but for being a leader who will leave a legacy of leadership, kindness and caring for others, according to Beck.
In addition to being ranked top of his class, Cody Germain is an avid volunteer, a musician and a member of several school clubs, including Diversity Club, Pride Crew and stage crew for a theatrical production. He has interned in Town Hall and represented Athol High School at Boys State, a program of the American Legion.
“I was pleasantly surprised to get the email,” Germain said. “It’s nice to be recognized. … I try to get involved and be hands-on. I see things I want to change and the best way to do that is to get in there and do it.”
Germain became a member of Athol High School’s Early College Academy and attends all of his classes on the campus of Mount Wachusett Community College. Germain plans to attend college after high school and is beginning to work on his applications.
Leah Gump “defines the meaning of work hard, play hard,” according to Frontier Regional Superintendent Darius Modestow.
In addition to being a top student and an accomplished athlete, she volunteers on Sundays at Baystate Franklin Medical Center and hosts a storytelling event for seniors in Conway. As a junior, she was accepted to Alzar School, which brought her to Chile, South America for a semester.
“I was super honored,” Gump said. “My school is full of really smart, active-in-the-community people, so I felt really honored to be chosen and to be able to be here tonight.”
Ashley Bobala, who is currently ranked at the top of her class, has dual enrollment with Greenfield Community College, according to Franklin County Technical School Superintendent Rick Martin.
She is studying animal science with a concentration in veterinary science. Bobala works as a dietician’s assistant at Charlene Manor Extended Care in Greenfield and also works part-time at Brookside Animal Hospital.
“Ashley is one of the most highly career-motivated students I have come in contact with during my 30 years in education,” Martin said.
Maddax Wegiel is an “accomplished percussionist on the snare drum, timpani, triangle and cymbals,” according to Pioneer Superintendent Patricia Kinsella. He was also a founding participant in the school’s new jazz band and is captain of the cross-country team.
The Pioneer senior is also a member of the National Honor Society and a volunteer with Bread of Life.
“It’s definitely an honor to be recognized tonight,” Wegiel said. “I’m encouraged to continue keeping up my best work.”
Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-930-4429. Twitter (X): @MaryEByrne.