After an intense round of interviews, writing exercises and a review of portfolios, a panel of judges has made their picks for elementary, middle and high school Students of the Year.
Representing the best of Bossier Parish is Layla Clayton, a fifth grader at W.T. Lewis; Makenzie Chaffin, an eighth grader at Benton Middle School; and Abhishek Shah, a senior at Airline High School. Bossier Schools Superintendent D.C. Machen surprised each winner at their school earlier this year to personally congratulate them.
Each winner was also given an iTunes gift card to go with tablets they received from sponsor Citizens National Bank.
Layla Clayton said it was an honor just to be nominated to represent her school.
“I was competing against some great students, including my best friend,” Clayton said. “It’s an honor just to be compared to them.”
As student of the year, Clayton said she strives to be a role model to others, working hard in class and being a positive person. Basically, she wants to have all of the qualities that other students would want to look up to.
Clayton is a member of the FCA, 4H, cheerleading squad, AIM, soccer, basketball and robotics, which is her “favorite club ever.”
“[Robotics] gives me a chance to use my knowledge in a way that I enjoy,” she said.
Clayton also enjoys spending time with her family, roller skating, riding her bicycle and playing basketball with her friends. As she prepares to be a sixth grader at Cope Middle School, Clayton encouraged her classmates to keep moving forward and be happy, no matter what happens.
“Even if I didn’t win [student of the year], I’d still be happy,” she said. “The important thing is to be happy for your friends.”
Clayton also thanked her principal, Lisa Burns, for being “an amazing role model” and someone she has “always looked up to.”
“She really helped me through this process,” Clayton said. “Without her, none of this would have been possible.”
Just up the road from W.T. Lewis is another shining star at Benton Middle School. Makenzie Chaffin has been through this process before in elementary school.
Even though she didn’t win as a fifth grader, Chaffin said it motivated her to become more involved in school and in the community.
“That was really eye opening. I was really quiet in elementary school and this really brought me out of my shell,” she said.
She chose a series of pay it forward initiatives that would benefit local and national organizations. One of the things she started was sewing pillow cases for the children at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital and she created a Facebook page (Cases from Makenzie) to share the news.
“They may never see me, personally, but they have received a pillow case from someone and that feels really good,” she said.
Chaffin encouraged others to find what they are passionate about and to pay it forward, too.
As she looks ahead to her future, Chaffin said she is excited about high school. She already has plans in mind to take advanced placement and college credit courses.
She also hopes to one day play softball in college and would like to have a career in the medical field, involving cancer research in particular.
Her advice to others is to not let shyness overtake the best years of your life.
“Don’t worry about what other people think of you,” she said. “Be yourself and everyone will love you. Get involved in your community and find what you’re passionate about.”
Being named student of the year was the cherry on top of the sundae for Airline senior Abhishek Shah. Simply known as Abhi to his friends and teachers, Shah said the accolade could have gone to any senior at his school.
“There’s no difference between me and them than a label,” he said. “We’re all really close friends and that’s something unique about this class. Some schools are competitive, but this school wants you to be a successful person.”
Shah said his final year of high school has been his most transformative year. It all started last summer when he attended the Louisiana Youth Seminar.
From there, Shah said everything he has accomplished has been a product of what he learned there. He spent a week in Washington D.C. as one of 104 youth senate delegates, which he called the “best and brightest youth in the country.”
He also met the U.S. President Barack Obama, had a one-on-one chat with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal at the state capital in Baton Rouge and has mingled with State Senators, Supreme Court Justices and members of the Department of Homeland Security.
“I never thought my senior year would go this way,” Shah said. “It really has exceeded all expectations.”
Despite the highs, there were also lows. Shah had his heart set on attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but was not accepted. Though it was disheartening, he has kept a positive attitude, saying “when one door closes, another will open.”
Shah said he would love to be an entrepreneur and start his own business.
“The best revenge is massive success,” Shah said. “Never settle, and prove the ones who doubt you wrong.”