10 students advance to GHP state interviews


Erin Schilling

Kelly Wildermuth (left), Alexa Echevarria (middle), and Anna Hall are GHP nominees preparing for state in the Fine Arts.

Erin Schilling, Staff Writer

The phone rang one afternoon in sophomore Alexa Echevarria’s fifth period chemistry class. When her teacher told her to go to the assistant principal’s office, she knew she wasn’t in trouble. It was the call she had been hoping to get.

When Echevarria walked into Allen Leonard’s office, he gave her an envelope with the good news. She made it through to the state-level interview for the Governor’ Honors Program, a  highly touted four-week accelerated summer program for exceptional high school students at Valdosta State University.   The GHP state interviews will be held at the end of January.

Echevarria was one of 10 SMHS students to advance.  Also getting “good news” letters were juniors Marcus Bost, voice; Thomas Evans, cello; Alexandra Nails, Spanish; Kelly O’Shaughnessy, dance; Matthew Reindl, theater; and Anne Rentz, German. Sophomores who qualified were Anna Hall, dance; Ricky Macke, math; and Kelly Wildermuth, voice. When the process began in Oct. 23,  Mill students made it through to the county-level interviews.

“I was really nervous going in [to the county interviews], but when I left, I was really confident,” said Echevarria, who was nominated by David Spearman for theater performance.

GHP targets students who truly enjoy and have a passion for a particular discipline. “Students who get selected are the ones who show a genuine interest in the subject area. Anyone can get good grades, but you have to really love a subject and do things with that subject outside of school to be selected,” said Leonard, who is the administrator in charge of GHP nominations at Starr’s Mill.

The state interviews for music, arts, dance, and theater will be at Pebblebrook High School in Mableton. The other auditions will be at Luella High School in Locust Grove. Music and visual art auditions are on Jan. 25, and the other auditions will be on Feb. 1. Students will be notified about the final selections by March 7, said Leonard.  If they advance, they will be among the 650-700 Georgia students who will descend on VSU in mid-June.

During the program, students will pick a major field of study, the field they were nominated in, as their morning class and a minor of their choice for their afternoon class. According to the GHP website, the “independent atmosphere allows the sophomores and juniors eligible to experience the college life first hand.”

During county tryouts in October, the students had to sit for an interview and if appropriate, an audition. “I had to sing a solo, sight read, and participate in an interview,” said Wildermuth, a soprano nominee. “During my interview, they asked me questions like why I auditioned, what can GHP do for me, and what will I contribute.”

For dance, Hall had a different experience. “I had to do ballet, jazz, and solo. The solo went awful because the CD didn’t work, so I did a different dance from another recital, which was scary.” Despite a few mishaps, Hall felt confident after the audition.

The process starts with the teachers who select students based on their fascination with their subject areas. They met as a department and chose students who showed the most interest in the topic inside and outside of school. Three different teachers asked Macke if he wanted to audition for GHP in their fields. “I was also asked to be nominated for science and music, but I knew I was being nominated for math, so I declined,” Macke said.

Each school can send any number of students to the county auditions but only a select number move on to state, said Leonard. Fayette County schools are sending 55 students to the state interviews. The county receives 46 slots, but free slots are available depending on the classes each of the high schools offer. For example, Starr’s Mill offers German as a foreign language, while McIntosh High School offers Latin instead.

According to Leonard, Starr’s Mill usually sends anywhere from one to four students to GHP a year. “We don’t send a lot to county because we have a lot of kids with other summer opportunities. We only sent 23 to county interviews unlike some schools who send 40 or 50. All of our kids who didn’t make it were close to getting in,” Leonard said.

The students know they have full support of their school and teachers and are excited about moving on to the next level.

“I’m not nervous about state yet, but when it gets closer, I know I will be,” Echevarria said.