The public hears plenty about young people these days. Dead in drive-by shootings. Arrested with drugs. Falling behind in standardized test scores. Pregnant. Unemployed.
When the media focuses on positive achievements of teen-agers, the subject is most often athletics. Say a football all-star team or the next potential basketball millionaire.
Scholarship winners and valedictorians get a little newspaper space, usually in small type in the back pages. You'll wait a long time before seeing such news lead a television newscast.
The Arkansas Times has heard the complaints from parents and educators of the silent majority--the kids who go to school, do their homework (most of it, anyway), graduate and go on to be contributing members society. And we agree: They deserve news coverage, too.
So we decided several months ago to honor the best of this year's crop of high school seniors, the success stories of education in Arkansas. It was, as best we could tell, an unprecedented effort.
We drew up a nomination form and sent it to school districts and high schools, public and private, throughout the state. We forgot to figure out a way to reach home schoolers, a shortcoming we'll attempt to remedy next year. School districts were limited in nominations based on size.
More than 300 nominations came in. With cooperation from the Arkansas Education Association, we assembled a panel of judges to review the entries.
The judges' work produced our first All-Star Team, 10 boys and 10 girls with records that would be the envy of students anywhere. They were drawn from a group of 50 finalists.
We'll recognize the top 20 next week in a ceremony co-sponsored by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and other businesses that joined the Times in creating a scholarship fund for the 20 winners, each of whom will win $300 scholarships. We didn't look, by the way, just for good grades and high test scores. We looked for students with multiple talents and achievements in their communities as well as schools. Yes, some of them are also athletes. And hospital volunteers. And musicians. And Bible scholars.
We'd never try to say these are the absolute best high school seniors in Arkansas. Some students undoubtedly were overlooked in the nominating process. And we attempted to ensure diversity in the final team, based on such factors as school size and geography.
But we're comfortable in saying these kids are the pride of their high schools. They stand as living proof that good things are happening in Arkansas schools.
You'll find profiles of the winners, short sketches of the finalists and a complete list of nominees in the pages that follow.
RANI L. CROAGER
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Central High School
Parents: Neil P. and July B. Croager
College plans: Duke University
July Croager remembers when her daughter, Rani, was in elementary school. "She would cry during the summer because there was no school. She feels she's a sponge and there's all this information out there she needs to absorb."
And what a sponge. Rani Croager moved with her parents to Little Rock at the beginning of the ninth grade. Says Rani, "Henderson Junior High wasn't challenging." At mid-year, she skipped to Central High School and set about completing high school in just two more years, a goal she achieved with the third highest grade point in a class of 530.
Rani made the tough look easy. She took six advanced placement courses one semester and aced them, for a 5.0 average. Though Central offers only six class periods, Rani has taken as many as eight, by giving up a free hour in the afternoon for an advanced science seminar and taking Greek during a brownbag lunch. She has also taken three correspondence courses and numerous summer school classes, including independent study of Latin to qualify for a course on Horace and Catullus.
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