The top 20 Lufkin High School students honored their educators of influence on the same night that the valedictorian and salutatorian were named at the Panthers of Prestige banquet Tuesday.

“Tonight we are here to celebrate the achievements of the top 20 graduates and recognize the dedication and exceptional teaching of our educators of influence,” Lufkin Education Foundation President Shelli Ellis said.

“I would like to start by saying a big thank you to the Education Foundation for tonight’s banquet and for the support they’ve given LHS this year with grants and providing opportunities for our students in the classroom,” LHS Principal Brandon Boyd said. “This is a very special night that recognizes a very special senior class. All of our students here tonight have shown the hard work, devotion and at times sacrifice to be the top students of the class.”

Ali Kurshid was named valedictorian and Anisha Rao was named salutatorian.

Kurshid chose Robert Inman as his educator of influence. Inman teaches calculus and geometry, and he has taught at LISD for seven years.

Anisha chose Elizar Caldera for her educator of influence. Caldera is the assistant boys’ soccer coach and teaches Spanish I and II. He has been at LISD for nine years.

Rosy Ramirez chose her Spanish III, IV and V teacher Guadalupe Lila. Lila has taught at at LISD for four years.

“I chose her because she is an amazing teacher and a friend, as well,” Ramirez said. “Put two in one — this is her. I call her my school mother.”

“I’m feeling a little bit nervous, but it’s very humbling and honoring to be chosen,” Lila said.

Daisy Lopez chose her seventh-grade science teacher Faith Leger as her educator of influence. Leger has been teaching at LISD for 16 years.

“She was always motivated, and science was a subject I hated,” Daisy said. “She made me kind of enjoy it. She was really passionate about what she did.”

“I’m still in disbelief,” Leger said. “It’s such an honor, especially being a middle school teacher. As the kids grow up and move on to high school, to think they remember that far back and that someone still had an impact is just an awesome feeling.”

Sebastian Gonzales chose band director Jonathan Aviles as his educator of influence. This is Aviles’ second year at LISD. Sebastian said when he met Aviles during his junior year, he told Aviles he wanted to get into a drum corps.

“Instead of saying you can’t do this or you can try to do this, he said you can do this,” Sebastian said. “I wouldn’t have been able to experience that life-changing event without him. He’s relatively new to Lufkin, and I found it awesome that he would connect with students right off the bat. That really tells something about his personality.”

“When I got into education, I knew that I wanted to impact kids’ lives, just like my band director did for me,” Aviles said. “I didn’t know I would be doing it so soon.”

The foundation showed an emotional video of the students surprising their educators with an entourage of cheerleaders and drumline. Then the students read letters to their educators, and the educators were allowed to respond.

Executive Director Vercie McMillen said the purpose of the Education Foundation is to award grants to teachers for innovative projects not funded by the normal operating budget.

“The mission statement of the Education Foundation is to provide opportunities for excellence in education, to promote innovation in teaching and to partner with the community to enhance the quality of education for all students in Lufkin ISD,” Ellis said.

The grants for the 2018-19 school year were showcased through a video hosted by the Brandon Bear Broadcast team, a recipient of the Lights, Camera, Action! grant. The reporters talked about the 25 grants and $54,000 given out by the foundation and interviewed teachers who received the grants.

The grants included things like a virtual reality anatomy program allowing students to review what they’ve learned in class on a human body, Ozobot Evos that teach students beginner coding, classroom yoga equipment for managing emotions and a 25 by 25 foot map of Mars to teach students of any grade level about Mars and the universe around them.

For more information about the Education Foundation, visit lufkineducationfoundation.org.

Grace Juarez’s email address is

grace.juarez@lufkindailynews.com.