Successful students often speak of teachers who inspired them.
For South Effingham High School’s 2014 STAR student and teacher, the inspiration has been mutual.
Liam Bendig is this year’s South Effingham STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Recognition) student, the accolade for the senior with the highest SAT score. Bendig’s score of 2,180 also makes him the countywide STAR student.
Bendig selected SEHS science teacher Brian Witrick as his STAR teacher, for being his most influential instructor. He said he has never known a teacher who is as willing to help students during, before or after class as Witrick is.
“That willingness has inspired me to work that hard to be able to emulate that work ethic in the coming years,” Bendig said. “I’m really proud to know him not just as a teacher but as a person.”
That’s even higher praise considering Witrick has been a full-time teacher for just two years at South Effingham and three years total. He is Bendig’s Advanced Placement physics teacher this year.
Witrick taught history for a year in Chatham County, which he admits left him “turned off to teaching.” He went back to school and landed a long-term substitute position at SEHS, teaching Bendig’s honors physical science class.
“I was new to the area and got very fortunate to kind of fall into that situation, and it’s because of students like Liam that I really fell in love with teaching again,” Witrick said.
Bendig’s county-best SAT score included a near-perfect total of 1,520 on the math and verbal sections. That was no surprise to Witrick, who described Bendig as a student who “wants to know everything.”
“He is one of the most motivated students I’ve ever met,” Witrick said. “If we didn’t cover a concept enough in class, he’d go home and look it up, and he’d come back and we would talk about it further. He was so curious to know everything about the concept we were learning and how it’s going to apply to him and how it’s going to apply to the world.”
After he was chosen as Bendig’s STAR teacher, Witrick spoke to some of his STAR pupil’s former teachers about their experiences with him in the classroom. He said Bendig’s AP biology teacher spent an hour after school one day singing his praises.
“She said she hadn’t seen lab techniques as refined as his in anybody in high school she had ever taught,” Witrick said. “His thirst for knowledge has just intensified over the years.”
South’s STAR plans to attend the University of Georgia and embark on a career in medicine. He is interested in specializing in infectious diseases and working in countries in need around the world.
Bendig has been accepted into UGA’s honors program, and he didn’t have to look far for a mentor. Witrick, an alumnus of that program, advised Bendig on the high school classes he should take to prepare for the rigors of honors coursework in college.
“He didn’t have to spend the time with me and tell me that after school, or to give me this advice and his experience,” Bendig said. “But he takes that upon himself — and he does that with everything he does.”
Case in point, Bendig said, he would be “hard-pressed to say any name” of a student in his AP physics class who hasn’t at some point sought Witrick’s help with an assignment.
“He uses his own personal experiences and his own personal knowledge to make sure that we all understand that material,” Bendig said. “He breaks it down in the most basic level to make sure that everyone in the class — from everyone who’s just in there to get the credit to everyone who really loves physics — understands it.”
Though Witrick is accustomed to teaching high-performing students, he acknowledges that Bendig is in a class by himself. He credits Bendig with being able to comprehend complex material that most students struggle to understand.
“He is able to grasp specific details while simultaneously seeing and understanding the big picture, which is something I’ve never seen in a high school student,” Witrick said.
Witrick described Bendig as not only highly intelligent, but also caring, driven and socially conscious. Considering those attributes, Witrick sees a medical career as an ideal fit for Bendig.
“I truly believe that he can make a difference,” Witrick said. “He has the ability, he has the drive and he has the passion to be able to make a difference in the world, and it really has been an honor to get to know him and be able to teach him.”