An Elkin High School senior has been chosen as one of five nominees to represent North Carolina as a potential U.S. Presidential Scholar for career and technical education students.
Every year, the 115 school systems in North Carolina can nominate one student each for the scholars program, which was established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Out of the statewide nominees, five are chosen to be added to the larger pool of potential scholars from across the country who are invited to apply for the program.
Patsy Burgess, Elkin High School career development coordinator, nominated Hunter Simmons for the scholars program based on his academic and career technical resume built over four years at Elkin High.
In January, Simmons will have the opportunity to submit his application to the Commissioner on Presidential Scholars, with the final scholars announced in May. Those receiving the honor will get an expense-paid three-day trip to Washington, D.C., in June where they will received the Presidential Scholars Medallion.
“The good thing about Hunter he’s graduating this year with three CTE concentrations,” Burgess said of Simmons, who serves as president of the National Technical Honor Society, which is specifically for CTE students who have excelled. “You have to take four courses in one CTE area with one being a Level II class to qualify as a concentration.”
Simmons’ three concentrations include agricultural/natural resource; business management; and STEM (science technology engineering mathematics).
“Obviously in making that nomination, I look at students with the strongest focus and who emerges as the strongest leader — leading by example, integrity, role model for their peers, and [Simmons] fits those categories well,” said Burgess.
“One of the attractive things about Hunter is he’s very committed to following an academic schedule, but he’s not sacrificed anything. He’s maintained an academically rigorous schedule, but also is willing to try out areas he’s had interest in,” she said.
Simmons was one of the charter members and is treasurer of Elkin High’s Future Farmers of America chapter and is a member of both the National Honor Society and National Technical Honor Society.
There were three things Burgess had to address in the application she submitted to the state, she said. The first tackled the student’s demonstration of technical competence.
Simmons’ senior project involved sponsoring a dove hunt through the Sportsman for a Cause organization, which allowed hunting for Wounded Warriors, handicap and youth participants.
“Hunter’s very community involved. He’s very compassionate to those who might have need,” she said.
Another topic Burgess had to elaborate on was how the student demonstrates employability skills. “I talked about his role working as project manager in his project management class. He also participates in summer FFA courses at the state and national level,” she said.
In demonstrating ingenuity, creativity and problem solving, Burgess said, “I talked about how through project management and National Technical Honor Society, he was chosen by Elkin Vineyards Kids Fest to develop and coordinate a music video for a nationally known children’s recording artist.
“I could talk about a lot of good things with a lot of kids, but it’s hard to talk about specifics. It’s easy with Hunter, because he’s been very focused,” she said.
Simmons said he knew he had been nominated by Burgess because he helped provide the specific project information she needed for the application. But beyond that, he didn’t think about it much.
“It was in the back of my mind, but I was very surprised and very pleased,” he said.
As he completes the first half of his senior year, Simmons said his plans for the future include studying criminal justice or criminology and joining the State Bureau of Investigation. He’s applied to several schools including the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, N.C. State University, High Point University and Appalachian State University.
In his earlier years of high school, Burgess said he thought he might pursue a career in agriculture, so he got involved in FFA and CTE classes.
“I just really wanted to get a feel for a little bit of everything,” he said of ending up with three CTE concentrations.
Simmons’ grandparents have a Christmas tree farm in the mountains, his mother, Holly Simmons, explained.
“I’m extremely proud, but I was already proud before” he received the nomination, she said of her oldest child.
Holly Simmons and her husband, Wesley, also have a daughter, Jaclyn, 12. Hunter’s grandparents are Jack and Linda Richardson of State Road and Bea Simmons of Elkin.
“We were all in a state of shock when he got the letter,” said Holly Simmons. The announcement letter was signed by North Carolina Schools Superintendent Dr. June Atkinson.
In addition to his CTE and academic interests, Simmons plays golf and is a member of the high school’s shooting team. He also enjoys hunting and fishing. Simmons volunteers his time at the shooting range on Wildlife Road where he helps with lawn care and has helped build a restroom and outbuilding.
This year he is taking part in the Youth Leadership Surry program as well, which is a select number of students from each of the county’s high schools who come together once a month for educational and community learning experiences. Simmons also serves as a leader in the youth program at his church.
As far as his interest in law enforcement, Simmons said, “The seed’s always kind of been there. My grandfather was a trooper for 30 years. I looked up to him a lot.”
He said his parents and grandparents have been a huge influence in his life as far as his work ethic and wanting to be successful. His mother is a sixth-grade math teacher at Elkin Elementary, and his father is in the construction industry.
According to information on the scholars program, since its inception, it “has honored more than 6,000 outstanding high school seniors. The mission of the program is to recognize and honor superior high school seniors and thereby to encourage high attainment among all students.”
This will be the first year the scholars program was expanded to include students in the career and technical education arena.
“Except for the first dozen or so years of the program’s existence, nominees have been invited to apply for Presidential Scholars recognition based solely upon SAT or ACT scores. Starting in 1979, outstanding students who demonstrated ability and accomplishment in the visual and performing arts or creative writing have also been included … Then in 2011-12, the program was expanded through a pilot to include students who have overcome special challenges or hurdles while still achieving academic success,” noted the information on the program.
“In June 2015, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to expand the original program by including recognition for career and technical education students. Standards for selection of CTE students include academic rigor; technical competence; employability skills; and ingenuity/creativity/problem solving.”
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.