Gardiner Area High School student receives presidential honor

RayeAnne DeSoto, left, and Brett Palmer, seen in the small theater at Gardiner Area High School in Gardiner on Thursday, both recently received national recognition. Palmer was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar, becoming the school’s first student to earn the honor, according to school officials. Palmer was able to nominate DeSoto for the Distinguished Teacher award, which she won. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

GARDINER — Brett Palmer, a senior from Gardiner Area High School, was recently named a U.S. Presidential Scholar, one of the nation’s highest honors given to high school students each year. He is the first from Central Maine School to win the award, school officials said.

Palm tree and Sirohi Kumar from Bar Harbor, the only other Maine student honored this year, is among 161 students to receive the award after 5,000 students applied nationwide, including 80 from Maine.

The U.S. Department of Education invited Palmer to apply to the program based on his high scores on standardized tests.

When he received the email earlier this school year, he had never heard of the program.

“I was surprised, to be honest. I put a lot of time into it, but I was on vacation, so it was a pleasant surprise,” said Palmer, who filled out the application during February break on the way from Boston to West Gardiner.

As part of the program, Palmer appointed RayeAnne DeSoto for the “Distinguished Teacher” award, which she won. He has known the REACH K-12 program coordinator for nine years through his time in the Maine School Administrative District 11. REACH is the district’s program for gifted and talented students.

“It’s amazing how much she goes out of her way to help people, I think I would need three pairs of hands to list all the positions she holds – Tiger Food Pantry, drama, gifted and talented. She does everything,” he said.

Brett Palmer wears the US Presidential Scholar and other medals Thursday at Gardiner Area High School in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Last year, DeSoto won Maine’s Teacher of the Year award. So when she received a large manila envelope in the mail from the federal Department of Education, she thought the agency might have noticed the state honor.

As she told Palmer, students can “rarely surprise her.”

“I told Brett, I’ve been carrying it every day since I got it,” DeSoto said, referring to the actual contents of that envelope: his Distinguished Teacher award. “I thought maybe they saw my Teacher of the Year award, but then I saw and said to Ms Riddle, ‘I’m so happy to be wearing waterproof mascara today.’ “

In the nine years the couple have known each other, DeSoto has seen Palmer go from being the third student to a young adult who plans to go to college in the fall. They first met when Palmer joined the REACH program in elementary school.

Then, in college, Palmer was part of the drama club run by DeSoto. In high school, Palmer saw DeSoto in the halls and for a time he volunteered with her to help out at the college drama club.

He even dressed like her on ‘dress your teacher’s day’, where he joked that he wore sunglasses on top of his head, a scarf and his silver bracelets iconic cuffs.

“Brett is modest, but as a middle schooler, he came to this high school to take math classes,” DeSoto said. “When we were talking about it, I asked him if he would feel good sitting with the high school kids, and he was like, ‘Yes!’ To see the joy on his face when he came back after math, because that was his passion and his strength back then, that’s what you want to see as a teacher.

The United States Presidential Scholars program was established in 1964 and each year approximately 5,000 high school students apply for the award.

Students can become Presidential Scholars through three pathways – most are chosen based on SAT and ACT test scores; approximately 20 are chosen based on a combination of academic achievement and talent in the visual arts, performing arts, or creative writing; and some 20 others are chosen for their achievements in the technical and educational fields.

The program invites the 20 women and 20 men with the highest standardized test scores in each state to apply, according to its website.

The application process, according to Palmer, was long and took him about a week, although he did it at the last minute on vacation, something he now doesn’t care about.

For one of the essay topics, Palmer had to send in a picture of something important to him and write why. He chose his black belt, which he received when he was 15 – he did karate for 10 years, more than half his life, he said.

“I had to write, I think it was five or six essays – it was about seven pages of writing,” he said. “The invitation to apply was based on SAT scores, but from there it was just about getting to know me. I wrote seven pages about myself – it’s tough, but I’m ‘have done.

One of Brett Palmer’s digital works Courtesy of Brett Palmer

Another essay Palmer had to write concerned the advice he would give to a prospective student. He wrote about learning to “say no” because “you don’t have to do everything,” which was admittedly difficult for him, he said.

Being a member of student government, student council, math team, Spanish club, drama club, civil rights club, and the National Honor Society left Palmer little time for himself to pursue. his passion, which is art.

By dividing his time and following his own advice, he began to draw realistic portraits and dabble in digital art. He realized that exploring that interest didn’t always mean doing something “college-friendly,” but he was able to learn more about himself along the way.

“I struggle with the culture in which we go to (class) desks because it looks good on their college application, and I’ve seen that often and it’s hard for me,” he said. “I didn’t get my black belt because I thought, ‘This is going to make me a presidential scholar,’ or I didn’t run for class president because I thought it would get me into a certain college. . I did it because I wanted to.”

Brett Palmer, left, receives a hug Thursday from gifted and talented teacher RayeAnne DeSoto at Gardiner Area High School in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Congratulating him on his award, Palmer said Governor Janet Mills and Senator Susan Collins sent him a letter.

Next year he plans to attend the University of Maine at Orono, where he plans to double major in computer science and new media, a hybrid arts and computer science program for people who want to get into web design, software development and related fields. His merit status granted him free room and board.

In a normal year, he and DeSoto could go to the White House for a tour, but because of the pandemic, he said the event was virtual this year. President Joe Biden will make a pre-recorded appearance, Palmer said.

And this Saturday, Palmer will cross the stage at the Augusta Civic Center with her diploma.

“I’m very excited,” he said.


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