Liza Whitaker says she's always enjoyed helping others, and her actions as a child have long been remembered by a former teacher.
"When I reflect back on Liza's first-grade year, I remember a petite little girl with a huge heart," said Kathy Holley, a teacher at North Harlem Elementary School. "Liza has to be one of the sweetest children I have ever taught in my 20 years of teaching. Liza was a wonderful student as far as academics went, but her sweet nature was such a blessing in our classroom. She was always eager to help other students and reached out to all the children in our classroom."
Now a junior at Harlem High, Liza said she applies the Golden Rule as she goes about life.
"I want to treat others like I want to be treated," said the daughter of Mark and Roxanne Whitaker, of Harlem. "I enjoy helping others."
Liza was given the opportunity to show her caring side this year when she enrolled in an advanced placement literature class. Her teacher, Patty Bradshaw, has implemented a Hundred Minutes of Kindness project that each student must complete every nine weeks. The purpose is to instill in the students the idea that helping others can be a wonderful thing.
For one of her projects, Liza made ribbons in memory of Cora Neal, a teacher at North Harlem Elementary School who lost her battle with cancer in August.
"Liza is a student who realized from the beginning of the assignment that she wanted her project to be meaningful," Bradshaw said. "She is the typical 'good kid' kind of teenager on which all the rest of us base our positive hopes for the future. She really cares about her friends, her family and her school."
The ribbons, which included black and red ribbons - Harlem High's school colors - and a pink ribbon to signify breast cancer awareness, were sold to raise money for the Cora Neal Memorial Fund. Just over $100 was raised for the fund, which will help pay for curtains for North Harlem's new stage; any remaining money from the fund is planned to be used for a memorial garden.
When Liza isn't busy helping others, she can be found participating in club activities. She's a member of the national and Spanish honor societies at Harlem High and serves as secretary of the Y Club and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She also is the baseball team's scorekeeper and is captain of the school's dance team, which is composed of 15 students.
The importance of a good education is a major thing in the Whitaker household: Mom Roxanne is a member of the Columbia County school board and former chairman of the board.
"Her grades are a priority with her, and she wants the people she loves to be proud of her. Liza is one of the students who teachers depend on to always have her assignments and to have done the best work that she is capable of doing, even if that means working beyond the assigned parameters of the project," Bradshaw said. "As you can see, I like Liza. I have never heard her say anything unkind to another student. She is smiling most of the time."
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