Elizabeth Benner has the nickname "Zibby" among family, friends and teachers, which fits the outgoing, friendly and personable teen to a tee.
The McCracken County High School senior, who attended Lone Oak High School prior to consolidation and moved from Springfield, Ill., with her family about four years ago, has taken on her new school environment with gusto though leadership of a major organization, determination with her studies and awards from classmates and teachers.
"It's been such an amazing opportunity, I wish I could have started my freshman year here," she said. "It's such a fun, happy, good environment to be in."
Benner, who lives with her mother Becky Benner-Straley and stepfather Tim Straley and two sisters, is the Mid-Continent University Teen of the Week. Each Monday, the Sun features a different MCU Teen of the Week selected from nominees guidance counselors throughout western Kentucky and southern Illinois submitted to the Sun. Mid-Continent University will provide each Teen of the Week with a $2,500 annual scholarship to its university, which is renewable for four years.
In the spring, a Teen of the Year will be chosen from the weekly winners. The Teen of the Year is eligible for a full four-year scholarship to Mid-Continent University or a cash award of $2,500, paid through the Paducah Sun, if the student selects another college to attend.
She is the first ever editor-in-chief of The Mane's Tale, the McCracken County High School 300-plus page yearbook, and leads the large staff, promoting fundraising through community sales initiatives, and serves as the student representative in design meetings.
"I get to make a lot of the decisions about the design and layout," she said. "Working with the team has been a struggle at times but it has been a fun process to go through."
Benner is also active in other organizations including serving as junior Rotarian for the month of October, and as a member of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), National Honor Society and Beta Club. She served as the vice president of community service and public relations for FCCLA as a junior at Lone Oak High School, where she helped to organize several large-scale fundraising projects. She helped to lead nutritional aid snack programs, the Project Graduation Chili Cook-off and a reading night at Lone Oak Elementary School.
Although the gifted student said she isn't an athlete, Benner has helped to organize and participated in Powder Puff Football tournaments while at Lone Oak High School and with a newly formed team at McCracken County High School and was named as a senior to the Mustang Homecoming Court. She said many of her favorite high school moments are from the stands of football and basketball games and the fun atmosphere in the new Mustang student section.
The 3.708 grade-point average student is interested in pursuing a career in Psychology and said she has enjoyed many of her history classes throughout high school, specifically military and sports history, and learning more about her grandfather's involvement in the Vietnam War. She was also selected to participate in the two-year pilot AP | Cambridge Capstone program and has taken many Advanced Placement (AP) and challenging elective and honors courses throughout high school.
Benner spends much of her free time working on homework assignments, hanging out with family and friends and giving back to the community.
"I dedicate a lot of my time to my school work and spend a lot of my time doing homework," she said. "But my family is my top priority."
While at Lone Oak, she served as a cross-age tutor in the elementary school, as a nursery attendant, leader of bible classes and usher and helped serve meals at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Paducah. She also has worked part-time at Kirchhoff's Bakery & Deli in Paducah since last January. Benner said her favorite part of the job is becoming friends with her co-workers and meeting customers from across the country who are visiting Paducah.
She plans to attend the University of Mississippi to major in Psychology and minor in intelligence and security studies. Benner said she stumbled onto Ole Miss during a college trip to Texas and felt at home immediately on campus.
Benner said her last semester in high school will bring some mixed feelings because of her deep connection to her new school and classmates along with her excitement about the next step.
"It a bittersweet thing," she said. "I've loved being at McCracken so much, but I'm excited for graduation, prom and all those senior things. I'm just going to make the best and most out of everything while I still can."
Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.