By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Rachel Patterson Elementary School Principal Toya McMillian likes to refer to her school as the “best-kept secret in Atmore.” Apparently, the secret is getting out.
The local elementary school, which was named a Bicentennial School of Excellence in 2020 as part of the state’s 200th year of existence, became Escambia County’s first school with a chapter of the National Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Honor Society.
In a solemn ceremony unlike most the school’s second- and third-grade students are used to, 18 students were inducted into the Rachel Patterson chapter of the national honor group.
“Today is a very special day, because this is the first chapter of the National STEM Honor Society, and these will be our first inductees, so this will be a huge deal for us,” said RPES STEM Coach Megan Bibeau, who then addressed the honorees. “STEM requirements are a 3.0 GPA and wonderful behavior that exemplifies great character and citizenship within the classroom and within the school. I am so very proud of you; I am honored to be your STEM coach.”
The event’s honorees entered the school cafeteria in a processional. When they were seated, Kambrie Hudson led the room in the Pledge of Allegiance and Kaylee Brown recited the NHSH motto.
The induction was attended by several guests, including school board members Coleman Wallace (the BOE president) and Loumeek White, Assistant Superintendent Sandra Reid, Pastor Willie Hawthorne, Dale Ash, and Bibeau’s father, Lee Shaughnessey, a former mechanical engineer who now works with Escambia County Healthcare Authority.
“This is a great program, very impressive,” Shaughnessey said. “It’s great for our community and great for the kids to see they have the ability to succeed and then get honored. It’s a feather in their cap, now and in the future.”
Bishop Catadro North of Empowerment Tabernacle in Atmore introduced the keynote speaker, Karean Reynolds, noting that the local attorney’s “fingerprints are all over our community.”
Among the hats he wears, Reynolds serves as Atmore’s Municipal Court Judge, holds the District 5 seat on the Escambia County Commission and chairs the county’s Children’s Policy Council.
But, he explained, child advocacy is the driving force in his life.
“One of my most prized jobs has been being a youth advocate,” he said, directing most of his remarks to the students who awaited their induction. “That means I work for you guys. My primary job is to work hard to identify the needs of the youth in our community and work hard to find every resource needed so you guys can have every opportunity your counterparts in other cities might have.”
After stressing the importance of an education, Reynolds challenged the students who were not among the initial chapter’s members to make an effort to excel academically.
“All you students who are not members, make this your goal, to be as great as you can and to pursue every educational opportunity you can, so that you will have every opportunity that you want. Make sure you listen to your teachers. Make your parents proud; make yourselves proud. Open those doors that will help you be successful in the future.”
Following the keynote address, the 18 inductees stood, faced the crowd and sang “It’s Our Time,” then five honor society members lit the Candles of Honor. LaRoyia Turner lit the Leadership candle, followed by Jah’Liyah Dawson (Service), Tro’Darrius McWilliams (Character) and Paisley Macks (Scholarship).
After Khamyiria Finklea read the NSHS pledge, the honor society’s first members were formally inducted. As school counselor Teresa Crayton called out their names, the youngsters were pinned by Bibeau, presented cords by Malorie Buckhault-Johnson, received a certificate from Assistant Principal Terries Lett and congratulated by their principal.
McMillian said in her closing remarks that the process of establishing the local chapter wasn’t an overnight task, due in large part to the effects of the COVID pandemic on the school.
“My heart is just full of joy this morning because we wanted this to take place last year,” she said. “This has been in the making for two years, so I’m grateful we were able to carry it out. We have a team here, and they worked so hard to help the children.”
She also promised that more and more of the school’s “secrets” would be leaked.
“This is just a trial,” she said. “We have some scholars here and we could have triple the number of kids next year. I’m super-excited to be the first and only NSHS chapter in Escambia County. You are not only the leaders of tomorrow; you are the leaders of today.”
McMillian and Bibeau pointed out several previously unmentioned people who made the event possible, including Michelle Parish and Rachel Hadley, who decorated the cafeteria for the ceremony, Jacob Middleton, Lindsey Mims-Banks and Shannon Martin.
Wallace said after the event that such a display of academic excellence gives him hope for the future of the school system.
“It is truly an honor to see these children perform at this level at such a young age and then to be able to present themselves the way they have throughout this program, as well as school year. This is huge.”
Students who were inducted into the Rachel Patterson Chapter of NSHS are:
**Third-grade honor student