Annual RCS Education Foundation Banquet recognizes excellence
Russellville City Schools Education Foundation highlighted excellence through scholarships and special recognitions during its annual banquet.
Addie Harbin, treasurer of the Foundation board, said the event is a wonderful Russellville tradition. “Our community enjoys attending and supporting our schools through recognitions and scholarships while generating funds to continue to provide scholarships for our students.”
Proud Russellville alum, actor and producer Sonequa Martin-Green, spoke as the alumnus honoree.
Born and raised in Russellville, she earned a degree in theatre from the University of Alabama, after which she moved to New York City. She now lives in Los Angeles and has been in a number of television shows and films, including “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Gossip Girl,” “Once Upon a Time,” “The Walking Dead” and “Space Jam 2.” She has made television history as the first black female captain with her starring role in the series “Star Trek Discovery.”
“Tonight is very special,” said Martin-Green. “It means a lot to be here with all of you and to see the students and teachers being recognized and uplifted. It really means a lot. You’re all so beautiful. This is my home, and it always will be.”
Green thanked the Foundation “for the huge honor of being here tonight. I can’t express how much the love and support means to me, and I want y’all to know that I feel it and that it propels me.”
She said she has learned understanding and celebrating where she comes from is “pivotal to understanding yourself and where you’re going.”
“I’ve also learned the only constant in life is change,” she added. “No matter how you might change over the years, no matter how many places you go, how many people you meet or how many experiences you gain, your connection to home can be a continual foundation, and I believe that where you come from should carry with you in a sense of pride and comfort and joy. We’ve all had our shares of ups and downs in this rich city.”
Martin-Green said she prays that the recipients of the scholarships are propelled forward by the pursuit of their dreams.
“Don’t be afraid to pursue the calling that God has on your life, no matter how unfamiliar it is or how difficult it may seem,” she said. “For some of you, that calling will take you far away from here, but for others, you are already right where you need to be.
“And it doesn’t always come to you right off the bat, as all of us that are older know; a lot of things get revealed to you over time. The path is not always clear. Sometimes, all you know is the step right in front of you, and you just have to have the courage to take it.
“We are changing the world one good decision, one act of love at a time.”
RCS Superintendent Dr. Heath Grimes remarked on the importance of successful alumni to the community. “I think it’s wonderful when our alumni go on to be so successful and make the time to come back and contribute to Russellville. We are honored to have her with us tonight.”
A number of award-winners were honored during the course of the evening.
Fourth grade teacher, Kellie Sturdivant, received the Star Polisher Award. It’s a special recognition created in honor of former RHS principal Dan C. Hindman and presented to an exemplary educator who sees children with needs and meets those needs without expectation of anything in return. “I’m extremely surprised and excited to receive this award,” said Sturdivant. “It’s a tremendous honor.”
Memorial Torchbearer Awards went to Cecil Batchelor, Paul Foster and Judy Pounders. This award was created to recognize and honor those who have led, inspired and guided RCS to be a better school system. It is one of the highest honors conferred by the RCS Education Foundation, given to exemplary educators dedicated to the mission of integrity, character and educational excellence.
Batchelor was a longtime businessman who served the community through his businesses, First United Methodist and civic organizations. He also served 18 years on the RCS Board of Education.
Foster began his career at RCS in 1964 and retired in 2020. He was the longest-employed in RCS history. During his time at RHS, Foster served as a math and government teacher, guidance counselor and mentor to those he worked with.
Pounders joined the RHS faculty in 1973. While there, she taught English for 23 years and went on to serve as the school’s guidance counselor for 12 years. She retired after 35 years of service but continued her support of the schools by serving as a member of the board of education for 10 years.
- Nicholas McSpadden received the Lanny Norris Scholarship.
- Sophie Hill received the Flanagan/Hellums Scholarship. “It’s so meaningful to me to see how our area reaches out and uplifts its young people,” said Hill. “I can’t wait to follow in the footsteps of those around me and make an impact on my community.”
- Nathan Brockway received the Dr. Wayne Ray Scholarship. “I’m very thankful for this scholarship,” said Brockaway. “It will further my education by helping pay for my college so I can work toward getting started in a career.”
- Ella Burcham received the Wayne Collum Memorial Scholarship.
- Gabe Amick received the Dot Murphy Memorial Scholarship.
- Tal Hamilton received the Judy Pounders Memorial Scholarship. Hamilton said he was thankful to be selected. “I know a lot went into choosing, and I’m grateful for this opportunity.”
- RCS Education Foundation Scholarships went to Madeline Cooper, Zadie Cooper, Reed Hill, Airreon McCulloch, Avary Miller, Arely Mojica, Jayna Poss and Leah Rushing.
“I’m extremely appreciative to the foundation for their willingness to invest in students like me,” said Madeline Cooper. “I’m thankful they saw fit to award me this scholarship.”
McCulloch agreed, saying it represents a terrific opportunity. “Giving us a head start on college expenses is a great opportunity to help us be successful without as many worries about expenses as we get ready to go to college.”
For RMS principal Tony Bonds, who was among winning live auction bidders, it’s all about supporting the students. “We do what we do for the kids. It’s important to support them and be there for them, and I’m proud to be part of doing what I can to help them succeed.”
Greg Batchelor, a member of the Russellville City Schools Board of Education and the son of the late beloved Cecil Batchelor, was another auction winner. “The future of our schools is so important,” explained Batchelor. “I’d like to thank everyone for participating in whatever capacity they’ve been involved. It’s wonderful to see our community give back in this way.”
He added the community is fortunate to have great leaders in the school system. “They are continuing the Russellville tradition of excellence, and I’m so proud of all of them.”
For RCS curriculum director, Natalie Bendall, the outpouring of community support for the event has been encouraging. “We have had many community donations, and we’re very thankful for their support. This all goes to a good cause, helping connect our students to their future.”
RCS Foundation Education President Sharon Hindman Hester announced the awards and scholarship winners. “It’s wonderful to see Russellville support its school system with such a large turnout. “
In addition to the live auction, the evening’s entertainment included a performance by the RHS Singers, directed by Aaron Freeman, silent auction, dinner and door prizes.
The Russellville City Schools Education Foundation, established in 2012, is a nonprofit organization created solely for the purpose of providing educational opportunities for students, both presently and in the future. The Foundation operates under the oversight of the Board of Directors which includes community leaders, system volunteers, alumni, educators and business people who have the interests and needs of RCS at heart.