By Curt Yeomans
Ryan Freeman has his life planned out for the next several years.
A senior at Lovejoy High School, Freeman, 17, wants to be his class valedictorian, play football in college, get a bachelor's degree in physics, and a master's degree in either physics or engineering. If he pursues a doctoral degree, it would be in physics. Ultimately, though, he plans to work as an engineer after college.
He thought he might have to alter those plans last year when the school system lost its accreditation, but he said nothing has changed.
So far, Freeman is one of the top students in his class, and he has a scholarship to play football at Colgate University, in Hamilton, N.Y.
Freeman was named the county's Student-Teacher Achievement Recognition (STAR) Student for the 2008-09 school year during a luncheon hosted Wednesday by the Clayton County Rotary Club.
"It's a really good feeling," Freeman said. "Even though we lost our accreditation, everything is going according to plan."
Freeman will now compete for regional STAR Student honors. STAR Students are seniors who scored the highest among their classmates on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. They are also in the top 10 percent - or among the top 10 students - in their graduating class.
The STAR Student program is overseen by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.
The county STAR Student is the pupil with the highest SAT score. Regional STAR Students are picked on a number of additional criteria, including leadership, citizenship, personal objectives, extracurricular activities, personal philosophy, initiative, opinions, and attitudes, Clayton County Chamber of Commerce President Yulonda Beauford said.
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce has been running the program for PAGE since 1994. The Clayton County Chamber of Commerce is the local sponsor, and it teams up with the county's Rotary Club chapter each year to recognize the students.
Clayton County is in PAGE's STAR Student Region 3B, which also includes Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Henry, Rockdale and Spalding counties. The Region 3B STAR Banquet will be held March 19, at 7 p.m., at the Griffin Regional Welcome Center, 143 North Hill St., in Griffin.
Freeman said he is actively involved in the outreach efforts of the Hampton-based Liberty Hill Baptist Church's youth group. The church has a group called "World Changers" which spends roughly a week each year going to other parts of the country to do home improvement projects for elderly, sick and poor people who cannot perform the improvements themselves.
"It gives you a sense of appreciation at the end of the week, knowing you helped somebody else," Freeman said.
He said he and other members of his church's youth group also help elderly church members with lawn maintenance throughout the year.
Freeman also juggles academics and football with his community outreach efforts. He plays offensive lineman for Lovejoy's football team and has a 4.17 grade-point average. He scored a 2130 on the SAT, out of a possible score of 2400.
"It's not always how long you study, but how well you understand the subject matter," Freeman said. "To me, if I know why something happens, then it's easy. I guess I'm blessed with a mind that works."
Francis Onukwuli, Freeman's STAR Teacher, said Freeman's academic success is more the result of work ethic, than mind power, though. Onukwuli teaches pre-calculus and algebra, and has taught Freeman in four classes over a two-year period. He said Freeman listens to directions, is well behaved, and follows through with his tasks.
"He set the bar high, and he'll fulfill whatever he sets his mind to do," Onukwuli said. "He tries at every task you give him."
Freeman told Rotary members, Clayton County Chamber of Commerce officials and school system leaders Wednesday he chose Onukwuli to be the STAR Teacher because the educator instilled in him a desire to succeed.
In addition to Freeman, other STAR Students for Clayton County high schools are: Chelsea Davis (Jonesboro High School), Khoa Dang Nguyen (Morrow High School), Tyler Ondrea Jones (Mount Zion High School), Abigail Oludoyin Akinosho (Mundy's Mill High School), and Jeremiah Wadley (Riverdale High School).
Beauford said PAGE and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce plan to recognize all school-level STAR Students at the state STAR banquet, in late April, in Atlanta.