Mobile County Public Schools recently surprised four students as its It Starts With Me award winners for the 2018-19 school year.
They are: Georgia Howell of Mary G. Montgomery High School, Samuel Gaston of Causey Middle School, Haedyn Wiggins of J.E. Turner Elementary School and Allison Brown of Leinkauf Elementary School.
Each of these students was surprised with the news of their award last week with their parents and family members on hand. They also will be honored at the It Starts With Us awards ceremony on May 2 at Murphy High School.
“I’m shocked,” Howell said after being surprised with the news at school last week. “I was in study hall — not really a class you’re expecting anything to happen in — and there’s balloons and I looked up and I was like: ‘OK, that’s my parents.’ It’s something definitely good — there’s balloons — but I wasn’t expecting that.
Howell survived life-threatening injuries from a car accident in October. While she could have studied from home after her release from hospital and rehabilitation center care, she chose to return to MGM, where she has maintained a cumulative GPA of 4.27 and is a member of the National Honor Society and National Technical Honor Society. As a member of the school’s leadership class, she has also given back to her community through volunteering at elementary school field days, sock drives for the homeless, blood drives and other activities. She inspires her teachers and classmates daily, and plans to pursue a degree in physical therapy at the University of South Alabama after graduation.
“I wanted to come back right away,” she said. “I’ve worked really hard to get where I am so I can get scholarships and go to college and I wasn’t about to let it be thrown away because something happened. Accidents happen, but you don’t have to let it stop you.”
Gaston has a passion for helping special-needs students. He has volunteered to tutor special-needs students at Causey’s feeder elementary school and acted as a special helper to another at Causey, helping him between classes. He and a group of classmates will serve as runners at this year’s Special Olympics in Mobile and he organized a fundraiser to provide T-shirts for the student-athletes and volunteers. He has also been involved with Feeding the Gulf Coast, Our Savior Angel Tree program, Meals on Wheels, Kiwanis Kids, along with being a member of the National Junior Honor Society and a Duke TIP recipient.
“I feel like special-ed students are sometimes left out because of their disabilities and I just want to make sure they’re incorporated in everything else that normal students do,” Gaston said.
Wiggins has overcome a speech impediment to be a leader at her school. She started a drive to collect muslin swaddling blankets for infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital, and also collected money for carriers, sleeper beds and other supplies for the hospital.
“I’ve been struggling with my speech half my life,” Wiggins said, “and I know that if I can go through the stuff that I go through, I know that everyone can do something to help the world become a better place.”
Brown is a member of Leinkauf’s student council, National Elementary Honor Society and Golden Leprechaun News team, along with other organizations. Last year, she spearheaded the “Many Miles” program, collecting over 100 pairs of shoes for homeless children. This year, she and two classmates created a Secret Santa Shop to support school programs.
“I know kids can make a difference,” Brown said. “We have wild imaginations and we can make our imaginations a reality in a snap.”