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The Sentinel Teen of the Year for 2019 can’t wait to get to the University of Florida to play in the dirt.

After all, the dirt around Gainesville is quite a bit different from what Carlisle High School senior Zoe Spielman is used to seeing in North Middleton Township.

Spielman was named Teen of the Year at a Tuesday evening reception at UPMC Pinnacle Carlisle at which each of the 33 students recognized as part of the Teen of Week program during the 2018-19 school year were honored.

The program, sponsored by UPMC Pinnacle, was started in 2016 to honor local high school seniors who are model students.

"These students come from various backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common: their drive to succeed,” said Sentinel publisher Kim Kamowski, who hosted the event.

Spielman said she was shocked at being named Teen of the Year.

“When you read everyone else’s [story] and compare them to yourself, you feel like these people deserve it so much more than you,” she said.

As teen of the year, Spielman receives a $5,000 scholarship that she will use as she studies either soil and water science or forestry. It depends on whether she would rather work with farmers on preventing stream pollution from excess fertilizer runoff or work with the U.S. Forestry Service to conduct controlled burns to prevent forest fires.

Neither option comes as a surprise. Spielman became a junior firefighter at 14 and was named Junior Firefighter of the Year for her department, Buchanan Valley Fire Department in Franklin County, in 2014 and 2016.

In 2017, she placed first in the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science state competition and was the earth and space science category winner in the regional competition thanks to an experiment that tested plant growth in non-burned soil compared to growth in soil scorched by brush fire.

Between higher out-of-state tuition rates and concerns about finances, receiving any scholarships or grants will help defray costs associated with college, Spielman said.

“I’m thankful for everything,” she said.

Dr. Christian Caicedo, president of the Cumberland Region for UPMC Pinnacle, said choosing the Teen of the Year was difficult given the amount of activities the students are involved in.

“How do you participate in sports, band, volunteer, work … all the things that all of you folks are doing on a day-to-day basis to get you to this point while maintaining an incredible grade point average and being respected by peers and administration?” he asked the students.

He said 20 different career goals were represented among the students being honored, and he encouraged them to not only pursue those goals but also to be adaptable to changes that will inevitably come.

When the students reach their goals, Caicedo asked them to remember their roots.

“This community that you live in right now is the community that nurtured you, made you who you are,” he said. “When you reach that educational goal, come back to this community. We need you.”

“When I look at this room of such gifted young adults, I know our local communities are in good hands and our future is bright,” Kamowski said.

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Email Tammie at tgitt@cumberlink.com. Follow her on Twitter @TammieGitt.

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