Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Chamber honors community’s best and brightest

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For the first time in its 24-year history, the Wheaton & Kensington Chamber of Commerce Community Awards Banquet will include honors for the best and brightest from Albert Einstein and John F. Kennedy high schools.

The presentation, 6 p.m. today at the Hollywood East Café on the Boulevard in Wheaton, will include its usual awards in public safety, education and community involvement, but will add a Teacher of the Year, English for Speakers of Other Languages Student of the Year and Student Community Service of the Year award for Einstein and Kennedy, joining Wheaton High School, which has been part of the annual awards for 12 years.

Ellen Riger, a board member of the Wheaton & Kensington Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber had long wanted to honor standout students and teachers at Einstein and Kennedy but never had the capacity to do so. With increasing membership, growing resources and a desire to encompass more neighborhoods within the community, Riger said this was the perfect year to show appreciation to two integral parts of Wheaton and Kensington.

‘‘It’s very important to let everyone know that we wanted those students to know we are behind them 100 percent in any endeavor,” Riger said. ‘‘If you don’t have good local students to go into business or become entrepreneurs, there is no community.”

The winners were selected by teachers and administrators, and representatives from each school will present the awards. Each student will receive a plaque and a ‘‘surprise gift” at the event, which will be hosted by Riger and chamber President Tim Wiens, and will include opening remarks from Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger.

There was no formal nomination process, so Kennedy High senior Rebecca Rother, winner of this year’s Student Community Service award, learned of the honor in an unconventional way.

‘‘To be honest, I didn’t even know I was nominated, so when my teacher came up and said congratulations and I was like, ‘What?’ ” said Rother, who was part of Kennedy’s Leadership Training Institute, which requires participants to complete more than 50 hours of community service in a school year.

Rother estimates she will graduate with more than 700 hours of service during her high school career. ‘‘ I didn’t know anything about the award, so I was surprised and excited when I found out.”

The student government president at Kennedy this year, Rother said she has volunteered at various summer camps in the area, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraiser and several blood drives. She’s also had an internship with Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring and plans to pursue political science in college and later work in local government.

Einstein senior Giulia Goletti, her school’s first recipient of the Student Community Service award, was also surprised to be considered, even though volunteering has taken her halfway around the globe.

Goletti spent part of the summer before her sophomore year working at schools in rural Nicaragua in addition to spending last summer in Madagascar, where she taught underprivileged children how to speak English.

Goletti was matched with a non-governmental organization by her father. Using some textbooks borrowed from an ESOL teacher at Kennedy, she designed her own course for the children, who could only speak a local dialect used among the uneducated lower class of the country.

‘‘I want to go to college and study economic and international relations,” she said of her plans. ‘‘It’s important to be immersed in an environment that isn’t as well off as we are. I got over the initial shock of being in that environment, so I’m ready to go back and really help out [in the future].”

Kennedy High Teacher of the Year, medical careers instructor Barbara Marchwicki, credited the dedication of her students for helping her receive this year’s honor. Through the program, her students train for future studies or work experience in health care and can earn a Maryland nursing assistant license — a program that costs $1,700 at Montgomery College — for free.