Superintendents recognize achievements of 9 students

  • Recipients of the Franklin County Area Superintendents Association awards, from left, Colby Soltysik, Ella Potee, Gabriel Jones-Thomson, Natalie Szewczyk, Tucker Ninteau, Gabriel Larouche, Joseph Kochan, and brothers Joshua and Benjamin Blais, during the annual awards dinner Thursday evening at Franklin County Technical School’s Apprentice Restaurant in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Autumn Harris, right, serves meals prepared for the Franklin County Area Superintendents’ Association annual awards dinner Thursday night at Franklin County Technical School’s Apprentice Restaurant in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • The Franklin County Area Superintendents’ Association held its annual awards dinner Thursday night at Franklin County Technical School’s Apprentice Restaurant in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • The Franklin County Area Superintendents’ Association held its annual awards dinner Thursday night at Franklin County Technical School’s Apprentice Restaurant in Turners Falls STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • The Franklin County Area Superintendents’ Association held its annual awards dinner Thursday night at Franklin County Technical School’s Apprentice Restaurant in Turners Falls STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Chef Ben Pike puts the finishing touches on dishes prepared for the Franklin County Area Superintendents’ Association annual awards dinner Thursday night at Franklin County Technical School’s Apprentice Restaurant in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 12/6/2019 10:04:24 PM
Modified: 12/6/2019 10:04:10 PM

MONTAGUE — High school seniors, their families and superintendents gathered at Franklin County Technical School to celebrate the achievements of nine exemplary students at the annual Franklin County Area Superintendents’ Association awards dinner on Thursday.

This year’s award recipients were: Gabriel Larouche of Greenfield High School; Natalie Szewczyk of Mohawk Trail Regional School; Joseph Kochan of Turners Falls High School; Colby Soltysik of Athol High School; Tucker Ninteau of Ralph C. Mahar Regional School; Ella Potee of Pioneer Valley Regional School; Gabriel Jones-Thomson of Frontier Regional School; and Benjamin and Joshua Blais of Franklin County Technical School.

Greenfield

Though Superintendent Jordana Harper was unable to attend, Greenfield High School Principal Karin Patenaude spoke to Larouche’s academic accomplishments and character.

“Gabriel is an academic powerhouse, a true scholar, a committed environmentalist and a dedicated community servant. His kindness, humility and self-deprecating wit has endeared him to teachers and fellow students alike,” Patenaude said. “Gabriel is the class valedictorian and has earned a cumulative grade point average of 4.39 in the most rigorous courses available to him. He is ranked first in the class, by a significant margin, out of 70 competitive seniors.”

Larouche’s community service, such as speaking at the Greening Greenfield community forum on climate change, demonstrates his appreciation for the environment. He also plans to go to college for atmospheric science.

He said his achievements were from hard work and sacrifices he’s made over the last five years.

“From time with friends, family, sleep — I did it because I wanted to help the community and others succeed,” Larouche said. “I want to promote the things people can do to achieve their goals, too.”

Mohawk Trail

Award-winner Szewczyk said she was shocked when she found out she had won the award and cried.

“There are a lot of smart and involved people in the school,” she said.

Superintendent Michael Buoniconti spoke about Szewczyk and her many achievements in theater arts.

“Natalie is involved in theater arts and has performed in the MTRS Productions of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘Seussical,’ ‘Urinetown,’ ‘Shrek,’ ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Cinderella,’” Buoniconti said. “In addition to her many accomplishments both in and out of the classroom, Natalie’s caring, generous spirit lights up the Mohawk Trail hallways.”

Her future plans include going to a liberal arts college in New England, but she’s “keeping her options open” as far as her major.

Turners Falls

Kochan said he was somewhat surprised about being the award-winner in his school district.

“It was a competitive group,” he said. “I have good grades. One of the things I do is volunteer with the Boy Scouts. We do things like the Flag Day ceremony or placing flags in cemeteries.”

Superintendent Michael Sullivan said, “Joseph has also had a busy and accomplished extra-curricular life. He plays on the Turners Falls High School golf and tennis teams, where he has been captain and co-captain, respectively. He has been an active member of the Boy Scouts of America for many years and he is currently working on an Eagle Scout project. Joseph also has participated in numerous volunteer activities across the community including working at Stone Soup (Café) blood drives and at events supporting veterans.”

Kochan plans to pursue mathematics in college. He is interested in Northeastern University, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Athol

Superintendent Darcy Fernandes spoke about Soltysik’s help with YONDR — a locking phone case system that allows for phone-free classrooms.

“Soltysik led a team of students, faculty and parents that researched and presented to the School Committee the concept of having each student lock up their cellphones in a YONDR pouch when they entered a classroom,” Fernandes said. “This has resulted in positive feedback by both students and teachers, as our classrooms are now free of cellphone distractions.”

Soltysik was also part of developing “unity guidelines” to allow students to feel safe.

“Its guidelines let students know no matter what their sexual orientation, gender or race, they feel safe,” Soltysik said. “I wanted to leave an impact on the school.”

Mahar

Superintendent Tari Thomas said Ninteau “is the student that every teacher wants in his or her classroom; intellectually engaged, asking thought-provoking questions and always prepared.”

“Rather than simply excelling in our school system, Tucker has researched and collaborated to redesign and improve the system to better serve students,” Thomas said. “Importantly, Tucker does all of this while remaining a kind, modest, humorful young man who connects well with peers and faculty alike.”

Ninteau said his older sister was also an award recipient and he felt he lives up to his sibling. He said it was validating that his hard work was noticed.

“This shows that those in charge at the school are seeing what students are doing and how hard we work,” he said.

Pioneer

Superintendent Jonathan Scagel highlighted Potee’s involvement in the school system.

“I personally met with Ella last week to inform her that she was selected to receive this award, and I was not only extremely impressed by her humbleness, but also with the goals she has set for herself after high school,” Scagel said. “Ella plans to attend a four-year liberal arts college and obtain her law degree. She is also interested in running for public office and working on policy reform.”

Like Ninteau, Potee said her brother was a recipient of the award and she wanted to live up to the competition.

“It’s really exciting to be recognized. It means a lot to me,” she said. “I care a lot about the environment and I hope to be able to make policy change to combat climate change.”

Frontier

Jones-Thomson also wants to combat climate change and promote hope for the future.

“One of the things I wrote about in a column for the newspaper was how we hear the news and it’s always about doom and the world ending,” he said. “But it’s ineffective. I want to give people hope about how much we can do and opportunities for the future. I want to level the playing field.”

When he presented the award, Superintendent Darius Modestow shared a personal story about Jones-Thomson.

“Over the summer I sent my son and daughter to a basketball came where Gabe was a camp counselor. Part of the camp was promoting children to read,” Modestow said. “Not only did Gabe encourage the kids to read, he challenged them to out-read him. He spoke about the books he was reading passionately and it was something that really stuck with me. He’s someone I want my son and daughter to look up to.”

Franklin Tech

There were two winners at Franklin County Technical School: the Blais twins.

Benjamin is a top student in the automotive technology program, while his brother Joshua is a top student in the collision repair program.

Superintendent Rick Martin said when he was interviewing the final selection of seniors for this special recognition, both Benjamin and Joshua stood out from the rest of the students because of “their enthusiasm and work ethic in vocational education.”

“Both students work full-time in their respective co-op jobs 40 to 45 hours a week. One works in auto mechanics while the other works in auto body at North Amherst Motors. This unique bond within the industry propelled the Blais boys to build their own trucks,” Martin said. “So, it just makes sense they want to go into business together and start their own auto restoration company.”

The two said the situation was unique for both of them to win. They also vie for third and fourth place in their class.

“It feels good, like we’ve accomplished something in our four years,” Benjamin Blais said. “We’re both good students, but I didn’t expect we’d win the award.”

“It’s been a really great experience at Franklin Tech,” Joshua Blais said. “I’m really happy we picked trade school.”

Reach Melina Bourdeau at mbourdeau@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.




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