Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories featuring the honored students across the county. The first installment ran in Thursday’s paper.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about so many changes in people’s lives, and high school students are no exception.
In past years, winners of Superintendent’s Awards typically were recognized with a banquet dinner, but large gatherings have been suspended until the novel coronavirus is under control. Instead, the seniors selected for 2020 received their certificates from the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents in different, less ceremonial settings.
The Pioneer Valley Regional School District selected two students for this year’s Superintendent’s Award.
“It feels really cool to be recognized with this award after working hard over the past four years,” said Skyler Cohen, one of the two recipients. “I also feel very grateful for my friends, family and everyone in the Pioneer community who has supported me and helped me get to where I am now.”
Cohen is a member of the National Honor Society and a multiseason athlete. She plays center back on the varsity soccer team, and is a sprinter and jumper on the varsity indoor and outdoor track teams.
Reflecting on her education, Cohen said the advanced placement biology class she took sophomore year was her favorite class, solidifying her passion for the sciences. She still has notes from the class, which she “will definitely be using” as she looks to pursue a major in exercise science at Simmons University in Boston this fall. She plans to play soccer there as well.
“I’m very excited to be continuing my education while studying what I’m passionate about, and eventually being able to help others become stronger and healthier,” Cohen said.
Also honored was Noah de Ruiter, who said he was “a bit surprised” when he first learned he received the Superintendent’s Award while sitting at home during an online class.
“Honestly I’m not completely sure how to explain how it felt to receive the award,” he said. “It feels like my work as a student at Pioneer for the past several years is beginning to pay off, and this is just the beginning.”
Throughout his time at Pioneer, de Ruiter has been a member of the cross country and track team. In addition to athletics, another favorite activity has been the school band. Academically, he said he enjoys math and science.
“After graduating high school, I’ll be attending (Greenfield Community College),” de Ruiter said. “I haven’t figured out what I want to do in the long run, so I’ll be spending at least a year there in hopes of figuring out more of what I’m looking for. I can see myself going into the science or math fields, but I do still want to be able to play music in my life, and I still want to grow as a runner. I’m hoping I’ll be able to have all these things even if they aren’t part of my professional career in the future.”
Alara O’Bryan was chosen as Greenfield High School’s recipient of the Superintendent’s Award for 2020.
Principal Karin Patenaude said with O’Bryan’s “extensive resume” that includes challenging coursework and participation in numerous clubs and organizations, “the choice was an easy one.”
“Alara continually shines in and out of the classroom, and has left an indelible mark on Greenfield High School,” Patenaude said.
She said she has known O’Bryan since she was in fourth grade, and has watched her blossom into a confident, determined young woman. She has a warm personality and is thoughtful and caring. Teachers have described O’Bryan as bold, intelligent, diligent, compassionate and disciplined — a young woman whose contributions to the school have been tremendous.
“I’m so honored for being chosen,” O’Bryan said. “There are a lot of amazing people in my grade, so that makes this even more amazing.”
O’Bryan said the past year — the end of her junior year and the beginning of senior year — has been “weird” because, as a result of the pandemic, she has missed out on so many extracurricular activities and hasn’t been able to participate in clubs except virtually.
“The pandemic has changed things, for sure,” she said. “It makes things a little lonelier. But we’ve all managed to come together and work toward unity — a family that doesn’t get to see each other in person, but still embodies the spirit of GHS. That’s amazing to witness.”
O’Bryan is heading to Yale University in Connecticut to study linguistics as a first-generation college student. She is ranked first in her class with a 4.46 grade point average. She is a National Merit Scholarship Commended Student and a Collegeboard National Rural and Small Town Recognition Program winner. Her awards include the University of Rochester’s Xerox Award for Innovation and Information Technology. She was inducted into the National Honor Society in her junior year.
She was a winner of the Greenfield Film Festival for her “smart, witty” film about the life of a bearded dragon, and has been president of the French Club since sophomore year. She is a member of the Audio/Visual Club, the Community Service Key Club and Environmental Science Club.
O’Bryan said she looks forward to starting at Yale and hopes in-person learning will be offered by fall.
“The positives of the pandemic are that it has forced us to push ourselves,” she said. “We still have the safety net, to some extent, that high school provides, but we have to take more initiative. It would be easy to decide we don’t want to do something because we’re not with the teachers who would do the pushing.
“I’m looking forward to college, and trying new things learning new things,” she said.
The Mohawk Trail Regional School District plans to announce the recipient of the Superintendent’s Award next week, according to Communications Director Carla Potts.
Franklin County Technical School is planning to give a Superintendent’s Award for 2020, but has delayed its decision until April, said Superintendent Rick Martin. He said he wanted extra time to meet with students in person, considering the difficulties of working in the pandemic.
“We just need some additional time to be sure that we have selected the appropriate candidate,” Martin said.