West student receives national leadership award

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West High School rising senior Mackenzie Verdiner speaks after receiving the Student of the Year award on Wednesday at the 2023 national GEAR UP conference in San Francisco. Courtesy photo

SAN FRANCISCO – Mackenzie Verdiner, a rising senior at Manchester High School West, has been named the national GEAR UP Student of the Year.

Verdiner was selected for the award from among 500,000 students nationwide who participate in the federally funded GEAR UP program. She received the award Wednesday at the national conference of the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships in San Francisco.

“It means the world to me to be selected as the Student of the Year for the national GEAR UP conference,” Verdiner said. “It’s an honor because there are so many great students in Manchester and across the country who also deserve to be recognized. The theme of the conference is ‘The Power of Possibility’ – I want to thank GEAR UP, MYTURN and Y.O.U. for helping me see what is possible when adults truly believe anything is possible for Manchester students.”

Principal Richard Dichard said Verdiner embodies everything West High School administrators and staff want to see in their students.

“Mackenzie is a model of compassion for others, care for her school and community, and activism for what she feels is right,” Dichard said. “The West High School community could not be prouder of Mackenzie for this amazing and well-deserved recognition, and we know that this is not the last we will hear from this extremely talented young lady. She will do great things in this world.”

GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is a federally funded program that operates in all four high schools in Manchester School District. As the program’s full name implies, it aims to introduce students to higher education opportunities.

“We are delighted to have MacKenzie’s hard work, passion and dedication recognized by GEAR UP programs from across the country,” said Stephanie Lesperance, Project Director for GEAR UP Manchester. “This national award is a fantastic achievement and her many contributions to GEAR UP Manchester and her commitment to her community showcase the reasons she was selected as the GEAR UP Student of the Year.”

Natalie Barney, who serves as the GEAR UP Access Coordinator for West High, nominated Verdiner for the award. Her job has given her the opportunity to work closely with Verdiner, so Barney knew she would stand out from her peers.

“It’s no surprise to me that out of more than 500,000 GEAR UP students in the nation, Mackenzie was recognized as the Youth Leader of the Year,” Barney said. “Mackenzie has dedicated her time and effort to making positive changes in our school community and advocating for student voices. She is brave in the face of challenges and fearless when obstacles that might impede her dreams are presented to her. Mackenzie is proof of the power of possibilities for the youth of Manchester.”

The award was presented on the final day of the three-day conference, which brings together GEAR UP programs from around the country each year. Superintendent of Schools Jennifer Gillis was among the District staff who took part in the conference and celebrated Verdiner’s recognition.

“On behalf of the entire Manchester School District, we are thrilled to have one of our own recognized as the GEAR UP student of the year,” Gillis said. “Mackenzie’s contributions to our district stand as an indicator of the power of student voice. We are so proud of Mackenzie’s accomplishment and are happy to celebrate her.”

You can read more about the GEAR UP Alliance at https://nhgearupalliance.org/.

About this Author

Andrew Tolanc

Director of Communications and Community RelationsManchester School District