'Distinguished' winner loves teaching

John Joyce

Not quite 24 hours after hearing her name called as winner of the 2016 York County's Distinguished Young Women program, the excitement still resonates in Rebecca Smith-Kingston's voice.

This time of year, most girls her age are focusing on their prom dates, their dresses and which after-party invites to accept or to decline. And while Rebecca, a West York Area High School junior, is still debating just how she will wear her hair May 27 — the night of her own prom — she knows she has tougher, more lasting decisions to make.

But choosing a college can wait a little while longer. Today she is celebrating with her friends.

"It is still really a shock," she said.

Rebecca Smith-Kingston, 17, of West York Area High School took home more than $15,000 in scholarship money Saturday

Rebecca, 17, bested 29 other York County high school juniors in Saturday's showcase, an event attended by more than a thousand parents, teachers and friends. The 30 young women competed in areas of academics, fitness, talent, interviewing, leadership and self-expression, all with the hope of winning money for college.

Rebecca, who not only won the overall competition but took home five total awards, also pocketed $15,200 toward her education. And she earned the right to compete for a chance to increase her winnings in the upcoming state competition where, if she again places first, she can win a spot in the national competition later this year.

Sisters: It has taken a lot of work to get here, she said. And she is sharing her achievements with her fellow sisters. She said she did not have competitors Saturday night, she was having fun with her friends.

"We're were all just showing off all the things we can do," she said. "We're all still texting each other today. We all said it didn't matter who won, we were all going to be happy for each other."

That promise extends beyond her program sisters — don't call it a pageant, it is a showcase — but is also shared with her real sister, Jordann, 19, who won top spot at the 2014 program.

"She is definitely a major inspiration for me," Rebecca said. "She is the reason I wanted to be in the program."

Teaching: Rebecca has her sights set on teaching. She is currently taking some advanced placement classes in addition to her regular course work, one of which is calculus. She said math has always been an enjoyable subject, but the advanced class has required a lot of work. She will be glad in a few weeks when the school year comes to an end.

"It was intense," she said. "But it was good. It is a subject I've always really enjoyed learning about."

Her goal is to focus on a career in elementary education. She has already spent time working with teachers in third- and fourth-grade classes, assisting with small group participation programs. Rebecca knows her place is in the classroom helping young minds learn and understand things, she said. She just has to figure out where in that equation to apply her calculus background.

"I'm trying to figure out where the math is going to fit in all of that," she said.

Program: Program chair, director, producer and former winner Lyn Bergdoll described Rebecca and her sister as both astoundingly talented and bright. But then, all her girls are, she said.

And while each girl is required to perform an individual talent, the major prerequisite to enter the program is a strong academic background.

"We accept 30 girls into the program," Bergdoll said. "Their (guidance) counselors send us their transcripts."

Rebecca Smith-Kingston and fellow winners at Saturday's York County Distinguished Young Women program

In addition to high marks and possessing a talent, the girls must learn a choreographed fitness routine, must interview with a panel of academic judges and must display leadership, self-expression and community service, she said.

But the showcase goes beyond highlighting the young minds and athleticism of York's best and brightest high school juniors. The program included performances by the West York Jazz Ensemble and the York County Senior Honors Choir. Both groups are of the highest prestige and talent, she said.

Scholarship money: Thanks to the program's 31 sponsors, which include area companies and local businesses, a total of more than $40,000 in college  tuition is paid out annually through the program. The girls attend the college of their choice, and when the time comes they send the bill to the program administrators, who then pay out the portion of winnings the girls have earned each year.

"We pay the highest amount in the state (in scholarships)," Bergdoll said. "In fact, twice as much as any other."

Not only will the girls go on to attend the college of their choice and become leaders in their communities in a variety of ways, she said, but past winners have routinely gone on to careers in the fields of medicine, law, technology, engineering. And teaching.

"It is something I really love doing," Rebecca said.

Support: Despite the pressure on her to succeed and to do well, Rebecca said she finds she is able to manage her time well between classes and extracurricular activities to hang out with her friends, many of whom are in the same classes and programs as she. She and her friends just completed a performance of their school musical, "Shrek," in which Rebecca played Fiona, the lead female role — naturally.

But she said it is her close network of support that gets her through when things get tough.

"I have people there to help me get through."

The winners: 

  • Winner —                    Rebecca Smith-Kingston, West York Area High School
  • First Runner-Up —      Caroline Wolfe, Dallastown High School
  • Second Runner-Up — Megan Conway, Central York High School
  • Third-Runner-Up —     Lydia Fairlamb, West York Area High School
  • Fourth Runner-Up —   Melanie Schaefer, Eastern York Area High School

Interview awards:

  • Rebecca Smith-Kingston, West York Area High School
  • Megan Conway, Central York High School

Scholastic awards

  • Avery Van Etten, Red Land Area High School
  • Elizabeth Huh, York Suburban High School

Talent awards

  • Caroline Wolfe, Dallastown High School
  • Melanie Schaefer, Eastern York Area High School

Fitness awards

  • Megan Conway, Central York High School
  • Rebecca Smith-Kingston, West York Area High School

Self-expression awards

  • Rebecca Smith-Kingston, West York Area High School
  • Ayushi Gupta, Central York High School

Be your best self award

  • Lydia Fairlamb-West, West York Area High School

Leadership awards, sponsored by the Arthur J. and Lee R. Glatfelter Foundation

  • Meghan Guy, West York Area High School
  • Lauren Bass, Northeastern High School
  • Alexandra Strausbaugh, Central York High School
  • Madison Maloney, Hanover Senior High School
  • Rebecca Smith-Kingston, West York Area High School

Spirit award

  • Rebecca Smith-Kingston, West York Area High School