The 2006 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star team 

These 20 students — 10 males and 10 females — are living proof that good things are accomplished in Arkansas schools.

click to enlarge ALL-STAR: Jennifer Wu
  • ALL-STAR: Jennifer Wu

With great pleasure, the Arkansas Times announces the 12th edition of our the Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team.

These 20 students — 10 males and 10 females — are living proof that good things are accomplished in Arkansas schools.

The media are full of sports all-star teams. But the Times is the only publication that has spent more than a decade devoted to a systematic, statewide search for academic excellence.

We seek nominations from every high school, public and private. Each school may submit one male and one female nominee. The initial entries are subjected to two rounds of judging. The first produces 30 finalists, from which the 20 winners are chosen.

The winners will be honored in a ceremony this week at UALR, a sponsor of our team from the first year. They also will receive cash awards, bringing to $60,000 the dollars we’ve awarded.

If past years are any guide, this will not be the last you hear of our all-stars. Early winners have won prestigious scholarships, become researchers, doctors, lawyers, teachers and more.

You’ll have further opportunities to meet the all-stars thanks to the Arkansas Educational Television Network. It will be filming our awards ceremony. Look for clips and vignettes on the winning students throughout the year on AETN.

Our winners:

Gives shelter
Age: 18
Hometown: Arkadelphia
High School: Arkadelphia
Parents: Tom and Barbara Barito
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville or Georgia Tech; leaning toward mechanical engineering

In 2005, Adam went on a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico, where he helped build a concrete shelter for an 80-year-old man. It was one modest structure in an expanse of poverty, he says, but the experience had a profound effect on him. “It transformed me from a naïve, slightly self-centered teen-ager to a more aware, more conscientious adult. I felt I had contributed to something bigger and better than myself.”

Adam stays busy at home in Arkadelphia too. At school, he’s captain of the Quiz Bowl team and a member of the swim team, the cross country team, the Student Council, the National Honor Society, the National Spanish Honor Society, and the CONE Foundation, a student-led philanthropic group that raises money and makes grants to nonprofit organizations.

In his spare time, he coaches a children’s soccer team, plays guitar in two bands that perform for benefits (and for patients at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital), and is a substitute Sunday school teacher at the First United Methodist Church. He also helped organize and performed in a tsunami relief benefit that raised more than $1,000.

He’s a National Merit semifinalist and has won the Kiwanis Club Academic Achievement Award and numerous other academic awards in algebra, Spanish and English. His principal, Odas Parsons, adds that “For the past two years, Adam and a friend, trying to improve fan enthusiasm, have appeared at each home football game, and, with painted faces and strange costumes, spent the entire game ringing the spirit bell and entertaining the crowds. … Adam is an excellent role model and scholar.”

‘Charismatic leader’
Age: 17
Hometown: Cabot
High School: Cabot
Parents: Mark and Elizabeth Bartels
College plans: Probably the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville; considering a major in chemical engineering

Tyler’s school has a class called “service learning” that offers unusual opportunities. “A class period a day, I am able to leave campus to aid in the education of elementary school students. In early October, an assignment led me to a fourth-grade student who had trouble reading and understanding basic mathematical concepts because of educational shortcomings and slight signs of autism. The student and I immediately connected, and, despite his disadvantages, have been working to restore confidence in his education. His dedication and desire for knowledge inspire me to continue a life of assisting those whom a competitive society forgets.”

Taking every Advanced Placement class he’s eligible for, Tyler ranks first in a class of 507. In addition to his academic prowess, he is possessed of “charismatic leadership qualities,” according to his principal, Tony Thurman. He was elected vice president of the National Student Leadership Conference on Intelligence and Homeland Security. Thurman also said that Tyler loves to debate politics and government policy, “but he sees both sides. I think he’ll be running for office someday. People like being around him.”

Tyler wasn’t ready to announce any political races, but he said he’d thought about attending law school at some point.

Tyler is a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society, the JV soccer team and the Quiz Bowl team. He is a National Merit semifinalist and attended Governor’s School. He has won the Kiwanis Academic Achievement Award and the President’s Award for Educational Excellence, among other academic honors.

His community contributions include the ROTC canned food drive, the Cabot Cleanup and Teen Court. He’s active in his church too.

Playing in tune

Age: 18
Hometown: Jonesboro
High School: Nettleton
Parents: Paul and Tina Teague
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, biological engineering

Jack Teague is one of four National Merit finalists at Nettleton High School (160 seniors) and his class salutatorian. He’s accepted an Honors College fellowship to the University of Arkansas.

He’ll also be donning red and white on football Saturdays as a member of the UA marching band and its other bands.

“Definitely,” he said, “but I’m not going to major in music.” He’ll study biological engineering, which brings together his interests in agriculture and the environment.

“I’ll probably be a research scientist at a university,” Jack says of future plans. “I definitely want to get a Ph.D.”

Still, music won’t be far away, he says. Besides his interest in trumpet and classical piano, Jack has put his baritone singing voice to work as the lead in the past two Nettleton High School spring musicals. In early May, Jack will swing for the fences as Joe Hardy in “Damn Yankees.” He also performs in community theater at Jonesboro’s Forum.

Jack has also finished all his requirements to be an Eagle Scout. He said he hopes to be a scout adviser one day. “I want to give back to it,” he said.

Jack said that his parents, who were both in band in high school, let him make his own choices. His music teachers — Peggy Jeffries, Jon Adams and Grant Brinkle — were his strongest motivators, Jack said.

As for ranking second in his class, Jack said, “It’s good, but it really doesn’t mean much to me how I rank against other people. It’s how I do for myself, measured against my standards instead of what other people do.” His counselor, Debbie Findley, said, “Jack is a very focused young man. He’s just very well liked and respected by his peers. He’s a remarkable young man and just down to earth.”

Student in the sun
Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Hall
Parent: Ruby Bland
College plans: Accepted at Yale, Stanford, Vanderbilt; biology

Bland — what an ironic name for this energetic, self-confident teen-ager, who even as a ninth-grader was so ambitious that she won Miss Hall High, an unheard-of achievement for a freshman. So it’s no accident Naomi — who laughingly recalls she was an “excessive talker in elementary school” — is now captain of the cheerleading squad, president of the Student Council and a familiar figure in the footlights on Hall’s stage. She landed one of the top roles in Hall’s production of Lorraine Hansberry’s “Raisin in the Sun,” also in ninth grade. She planned her course every step of the way, enthusiastically tackling her studies and extracurricular activities, and, as she put it, working her way to the top. For example: She decided to try out for cheerleading even though she’d never had training in tumbling; she made the squad and learned from the others. And even though as a child she was “afraid of germs” because of the pictures she saw in the St. Vincent Infirmary laboratory where her mother works, she determined to get over it and become a doctor. For Naomi, “leading comes naturally.”

For all the self-confidence, however, Naomi kept her college applications to herself. “I felt I was qualified,” she said, but didn’t want the world to know if she didn’t get in. She needn’t have worried; she’s leaning toward Yale, which accepted her last fall (though full-ride scholarship offers from other colleges could change that).

After college, Naomi says, “I intend to be a positive force in the world.” She wants others to think the same way, so she started a “quote of the day” broadcast each morning at Hall. Some are original; hers comes from Gandhi: “Be the change you wish for the world.” She’s taking it to heart.

“Humanitarian responsibility”

Age: 17
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Central
Parents: Abul and Naimi Kazi

College plans: Vanderbilt, Rice, Duke or the University of Arkansas, pre-med

From the time he was little, Rafi Kazi says, he always wanted to know as much as everyone else. He seems to have succeeded: He’s a National Merit semifinalist, a Siemens Westinghouse Competition semifinalist, and a winner of the Harvard Book Award, among other honors. And he’s helped researchers at the Veterans Hospital in Little Rock study a molecule involved with vascular disease.

He’s also volunteered at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, which helped steer him toward a possible career in pediatrics.

“I really enjoy working with kids,” he said. “I really want to make them better.”

Rafi is known around Central for his wit and charm as well as for his academic prowess, said Nancy Keyes, a counselor at the school.

“I just can’t say enough nice about him,” she said. “He is just very friendly to everybody.”

And while he’s involved with the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, the National Science Honor Society, Quiz Bowl and Mathletes, he’s no stereotypical bookworm: His hobbies include basketball and soccer.

He is also a Muslim — his family is from Bangladesh — and he said he’s had a lot of opportunity to explain his faith to people over the last few years.

“Ignorance is the main issue,” he said. “All I’ve had to do is tell people about myself and my religion.”

Although he’s not sure exactly what he’ll end up doing career-wise — he’s considering pediatrics, teaching at a medical school or doing research — Rafi said he eventually wants to establish some kind of medical clinic and school in Bangladesh. That desire comes from a research project his sister did in college, highlighting the huge disparity between health-care systems in industrialized and third-world countries.

“I felt I had a humanitarian responsibility to do something about it,” he said.

Age: 17
Hometown: Morrilton
High school: Morrilton
College plans: University of Arkansas

Engineering, Johnathan Conley says, “is the most exciting thing in the entire modern world.” Without it, “we wouldn’t be a society.” So the No. 1 ranked student at Morrilton High is already thinking about a post-grad berth at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to wrap himself in the discipline’s “spirit of development and discovery” and create things to make a better world.

This serious-minded, articulate teen-ager’s desire to do good can partly be traced to a trauma he experienced two years ago: He lost a big toe in a lawnmower accident. Doctors could not reattach the toe, and Johnathan had to learn to find balance again in his walking. Rather than fret over the difficulty he faced in relearning to walk, he told himself he would succeed.

“I don’t let anyone tell me I can’t do something,” he said. He drew a parallel between the accident and his approach to life: “Some things are best left in the past.” Had it not been for the “new respect for the time given to me in my life,” it might not have occurred to Johnathan to memorialize two bandmates who lost their lives in separate car accidents the following summer. He did so by creating the program Let the Music Live, which provides used musical instruments to disadvantaged students in Morrilton.

When he has his own nanotech company, Johnathan says, he can help the world on a macro scale — maybe build a minute machine to attack cancer cells and leave the rest of the body healthy. He acknowledges the negative impact new technology can have: It’s a balancing act. Johnathan is already prepared.

On the line for Harvard

Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Pulaski Academy
Parents: Louis and Cheryl Sessions
College plans: Harvard

When Ben Sessions went to summer football camps, college coaches would ask him what he wanted to be in life. A doctor, he’d answer.

“The coaches would then say all the linemen and quarterbacks are usually the smartest ones on the field,” he said. “I found that interesting they’d say that.”

With Sessions, who anchored the Pulaski Academy lines as an offensive tackle and defensive end for three years, they would be right. He has a 4.5 gradepoint at PA (which doesn’t rank its students), his test scores are out of this world, and all the “academic” schools and military academies pursued the 6-foot-4 athlete to play football.

While he could have had a scholarship at several prestigious schools, Sessions chose Harvard, which, as an Ivy League school, doesn’t offer athletic scholarships.

“It IS Harvard,” he said, “and the name recognition that comes with Harvard is incredible. The coach sat me down and talked to me about playing for them. Instead of asking why should I go there, I said, ‘Why not.’ It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Harvard will be getting a winner, his high school coach, Kevin Kelly, says.

“If you could make a kid in a mold that you wanted to come through your program as a football player and excelling academically, Ben fits it,” Kelly said. “He’s a good kid with good values and morals. He’s a leader by example and has the respect of everybody here. He’s mature beyond his years.”

What free time Sessions has outside of many volunteer activities and school organizations, he likes to spend with family and friends, or working around the house “with my hands.” He may put those hands to work as an orthopedic surgeon, though he’s not sold on any specialty yet. Just in case, Sessions adds, he’s going to take business classes at Harvard. “I’m going to sample everything there.”

A page from history

Age: 18
Hometown: Maumelle
High school:
Wilbur D. Mills
Parents: Anita L. Hammons and Mark Hammons

College plans: Bowdoin or Georgetown, engineering or political science

Mark Hammons’ six months in Washington, D.C., serving as page to Sen. Mark Pryor left him with proud memories: of being on the Senate floor during fiery debates, of seeing parts of the Capitol “that most people can only dream of” seeing, of getting to know a diverse group of teen-agers from all across America.

“It had a huge impact on me,” the Mills senior said. “I am now a part of history.”

But Mark’s star has just begun to rise, his page in history just now being inscribed. Besides being scholarly — he’s ranked 6th in a class of 170 and has a 3.43 gradepoint average — he’s a good kid who thinks of others, a guidance counselor says. On Valentine’s Day, he made her day, bringing her a box of candy. On Sundays, Hammons and his 13-year-old sister perform hymns in sign language with the Anointing Sign Language Choir at First Baptist Highland Church, something he really enjoys. He’s an Eagle Scout, earning his rank by collecting canned food for the Watershed project.

“It taught me about helping other people and not worrying about myself all the time,” Hammons said.

He combines these qualities with the belief that he can succeed at anything (even if his varsity football team — he played offensive line — was 6 and 4) and the knowledge that he can work hard, whether at the Senate or weekends back home at Sonic Drive-In. In 10 years, he sees himself practicing law “at a pretty nice law firm” somewhere on the East Coast. Baltimore, maybe. Making a new chapter in the history books.

Straddling two cultures

Age: 18
Hometown: Bella Vista
High School: Springdale
Parents: Mohammad and Roshan Ismail
College plans: University of Arkansas (Honors Scholarship), bioengineering

With a list of accomplishments that includes being governor of Girls State, awards in oratory, band and just about every academic subject, and the ability to speak five languages, it’s hard to imagine how Amen Ismail could ever refer to herself as ignorant.

But that’s the word she uses when she describes the poverty she encountered on a trip she took three years ago to Pakistan, where she was born.

“In America you think the world can’t possibly be that bad,” she said. “At first I was just so overwhelmed. I felt almost as if I’d been lied to in some respects.”

She was sad and angry at herself, Amen said, but eventually she was able to channel those emotions into pursuing a goal of becoming a doctor and practicing in third-world countries.

Amen’s school counselor, Connie Williams, said she’s taken every AP class offered at Springdale, but “you would not know how intense she is. She’s a typical teen-ager.”

Except that, as Amen says, entering her family’s home is “like coming into a totally different country.” She isn’t allowed a lot of the freedom her friends have to socialize after school, but she is a committed volunteer at her local hospital and in the special education classroom at her school, where her sister is a student.

Her parents “always remind me, ‘It’s much bigger than you — it’s about how you feel on the inside after you help someone.’ ”

For fun, she studies Pakistani dancing, which she first saw on a Pakistani satellite TV channel.

“Dancing to the music of my home country, I feel a connection with my culture,” she wrote. “Whether it is classical dancing in which I am graceful … or bhangraa, in which I am energetic, swaying to the rhythmic beat of the drums, I am free.”

Clarinet ace
Age: 17
Hometown: Jonesboro
High School: Nettleton
Parents: Dr. Robert and Vicki Hornbeck
College plans: St. Olaf or University of North Carolina, liberal arts

Although she had plenty of academic accomplishments to choose from — including being a National Merit semifinalist — Melanie Hornbeck wrote that she’s most proud of being selected the top clarinet player in the state during her junior year, something she “worked the hardest for.” Melanie took up the clarinet in sixth grade, and had to learn several difficult pieces to audition for All-State band in the 11th grade.

“The moment of seeing my name at the top of the score sheet is one I will never forget — a moment of joy and reassurance of my own hard work, talent and determination,” she wrote in an essay.

When she’s not practicing the clarinet, Melanie spends much of her time on her schoolwork — she’s kept a straight-A average, including several AP classes. She won class awards in AP literature, AP U.S. history, trigonometry, Spanish, world history and algebra, among others.

“Getting good grades and high honors makes me feel satisfied,” she said.

She also makes time for volunteering. When 300 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina landed in Jonesboro, Melanie helped gather toiletries and serve food at the shelter.

School counselor Debbie Findley described Melanie as “one of the kindest, gentlest souls that you can imagine.

“She’s friendly to everybody. She’s the kind of student everybody gravitates to.”

Unlike a lot of high-achieving high school students, Melanie hasn’t yet decided on a career, and she’s not leaning toward the sciences either. It’ll be something in the liberal arts area, she said — possibly English or anthropology. She said she may want to join the Peace Corps.

“I really want to travel the world a lot and learn about different cultures,” she said.

Immigrants’ son
Age: 17
Hometown: Texarkana
High School: Arkansas High School
Parents: Khoa and Dung Nguyen
College plans: Hendrix College, pre-med

Maxwell Nguyen’s parents risked their lives to escape from Vietnam in 1975. They found their way to Arkansas, where Maxwell’s father, Khoa, completed his medical degree at UAMS.

“I realize that my parents came to America primarily to give me a better life,” Maxwell wrote in his essay for this competition. “This has taught me not to take life for granted.”

The proof behind these words is Maxwell’s academic record, which puts him first in his class with a 4.11 gradepoint average. He also was the defensive captain of the soccer team and editor of the school newspaper.

His counselor, Marilyn French, uses only superlatives to describe him. Calling him “courageous” and “a born leader,” French says Maxwell is “a neat all-around guy who is well-liked by teachers and peers.”

Still, Maxwell says it hasn’t always been easy coming of age in Texarkana as the son of immigrants.

“Growing up, I didn’t really have the freedoms everyone else has,” he says. “My parents are naturally stricter and they’re not very Americanized. That, and living in a small city, there are very few Asians. There are always going to be the people who are kind of ignorant, and I get racial slurs, but I think I’ve assimilated pretty well with most of my peers.”

Maxwell is looking forward to going to Hendrix College in the fall, where he will be a pre-med major. He is inspired by the example of his father, who not only overcame many obstacles, but who now reaches out to Hispanic immigrants by learning Spanish and accepting them as patients in large numbers. Maxwell’s proficiency in math should serve him well.

“Right now, I’m in calculus and everything is just clicking,” Maxwell says. “A lot of people don’t really understand math, but for me everything comes together.”

Age: 17
Hometown: North Little Rock
High School: North Little Rock
Parents: Robert and Robin Bookhout
College plans: The University of Arkansas, Duke, Washington University or SMU; double major in international business and industrial engineering with a minor in Spanish

Mattie Bookhout and three other students produced a documentary film about the internment of Japanese-Americans in Southeast Arkansas during World War II. It began as a simple history project, she says, but then the students developed a passion for it, and it became “the most influential experience of my life.” They received a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, visited the camp sites, traveled to California to talk to former internees. In all, they interviewed about 50 people.

“The whole point of the project was that so many people don’t know about the camps in Arkansas,” she says. “We wanted to prevent anything like this ever happening again.” The 17-minute film, “Arkansas’ Forgotten,” premiered at the Japanese-American National Museum in California. It won awards at the T-tauri Film Festival and the Eureka Springs Film Festival and was shown at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival.

“One of the individuals we interviewed in California was Roy Uyeda, who’d been a soldier in the 442nd Japanese-American Infantry Regiment. He said he’d wanted a chance to tell his story. He died seven months later.” His story is preserved in the film.

Mattie ranks first in a class of 572 and is enrolled in the challenging International Baccalaureate curriculum. She’s president of the Student Council and a member of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, the Beta Club, the Key Club and the National Spanish Honor Society and was a delegate to Girls State. An athlete as well, she’s been a member of the soccer team and the swimming team, and was North Little Rock High School’s Scholastic Athlete of the Year. Her guidance counselor, Mary Taylor, says, “She’s astonishing.”

Business sense
Age: 18
Hometown: Arkadelphia
High School: Arkadelphia
Parents: Ross and Mary Whipple
College plans: Washington and Lee, economics

The daughter of a banker, Emily Whipple seems to have inherited her father’s sense of business. Arkadelphia High School’s valedictorian was part of the seven-person Community Problem Solvers team, a gifted and talented group that found great value in old computers sitting in storage, gathering dust.

Project Reload, as it was named, has so far delivered 60 computers to students in need. It didn’t happen, though, without overcoming obstacles, Whipple said.

“It became a challenge first because there was the legal issue that the school system can’t give away school property, so we had to get them to come in and declare no value,” she said. Also, the computers had to be cleaned and hardware reloaded, she said, and the team had to come up with an application process that would determine need without the students feeling judged and uncomfortable about their family’s financial status.

Project Reload ended up winning a state competition and finishing second in a national contest. Whipple hopes other communities will adopt the plan.

Whipple wants to major in economics in college but also study a language or two. An older sister also attended Washington and Lee and eventually obtained a law degree; another sister is a pre-med student at Davidson. “I didn’t get the science genes,” Whipple says, adding that business and maybe law degrees are most likely in her future.

The National Merit finalist’s drive to be at the top in her class, she said, “came from my two sisters. They set a great example for me to focus on school and do good things outside of school.” While acknowledging she felt a lot to live up to, “Most of the pressure I feel comes from me wanting to do well for myself, not from the expectations of others.”

She gave up cheerleading this year to commit her time to being Student Council president. “I haven’t had time to miss it,” Whipple said.

Piano man
AGE: 18
Hometown: Fayetteville
High School: Fayetteville
Parents: Cathy Von Hatten and Wendell Weed
College Plans: Accepted to Stanford, waiting to hear from Yale, Harvard and Princeton; undecided on a major

While Fayetteville High School All-Star Jason Weed finds inspiration for his original compositions for piano in “melodic minimalism” and the works of early 20th century Russian composers, some of the ideas he explores in his music come from what might seem an unlikely source — as in: straight outta Compton.

“In rap music, rhythm is the driving force,” he said. “There’s usually not much melody or harmonic complexity, so the rhythm in rap music is very, very well done and intricate.”

Still, people have surely come to expect the unexpected of Jason. Number one in his class at highly competitive Fayetteville High School, his GPA stands at a more than respectable 4.38. A member of the tennis team, he also serves as Quiz Bowl team captain. An AP scholar and National Merit finalist, Jason’s already-blinding transcript really shines when it comes to his music. In 2004 his original work for piano won the senior state music piano competition sponsored by the Music Teachers National Association. With his confidence bolstered, Jason submitted a much longer and more complicated piece the next year, and won again.

The day we spoke in early March, Jason was preparing to take the next step in another endeavor: getting his open water scuba diving certification — something that will serve him well if he accepts the offer to attend Stanford University, within easy driving distance of the Pacific.

As for why he pushes himself so hard academically, Jason’s answer might be the easiest: because he can. “A lot of people, their parents push them to go to college and become a doctor,” he said. “But for me, I try to do things for doing them in themselves.”

Math whiz
Age: 16
Hometown: Forrest City
High School: Forrest City
Parents: Rick and Maureen McCollum
College plans: MIT or Harvard

At 16, Frederick McCollum is graduating as high school valedictorian with a perfect 4.0 gradepoint average and more than the average quota of academic awards.

“In all of my 27 years in education, he is the most accomplished student I’ve ever encountered,” said Forrest City High School principal Abbie Robinson. “How many ways can you say ‘extraordinary’? ”

Frederick started taking classes at the high school in eighth grade, to challenge his unusual proficiency in science and mathematics. Robinson had to restructure the school’s schedule to accommodate him.

Then he skipped the 10th grade, and later spent the summer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to conduct research for his entry in the national Siemens Westinghouse Competition, “Dynamic and ergodic properties of the generalized 3x + 1 mapping,” ending up as one of three Arkansas students to be named semifinalists.

He reflected on his accelerated high school career.

“It wasn’t as much of a chore as it might sound, since I basically just followed my interests and took the classes that interested me,” Frederick said.

He also has taken the time to share his gift by coaching junior high students in the MathCounts program and teaching AP calculus to his peers. (He got a perfect score on the test last year, and earned a perfect 800 on the math portion of the SAT.)

Frederick will study either mathematics or brain and cognitive sciences in college, and he plans a career in research. But he also intends to continue playing classical piano, a passion he has cultivated since childhood. His favorite composers are Rachmaninov, Ravel and Prokofiev, and he sees a connection between mathematics and piano composition.

“I think it involves a type of thinking that can be applied to both areas,” he said.

Small town, big thinker
Age: 17
Hometown: Crossett
School: Crossett
Parents: Alan and Stephanie Wilson
College plans: University of Arkansas; undecided on a major, but thinking about advertising and graphic design

Things tend to move slowly in Crossett, but there’s nothing slow about Lauren Wilson. Ranked number one in her class of 152 students, Wilson was recently named a National Merit Scholarship finalist.

While she’s a star in the classroom, Wilson often finds herself under the bright lights as well, as a cheerleader for Crossett High. In addition, she finds time to play clarinet in the band (well enough to earn a chair in the 2005-2006 All-Region Honor Symphonic Band) and play piano at the highest competitive levels.

When she’s not tickling the ivories, her favorite subject — like many of our All-Stars — is math. There is, she says, something nice about knowing that, through logic, you can always figure out a math problem. “There’s always a right answer,” she said. “It’s not really something like English where there could be a whole bunch of different answers.”

Already accepted at the University of Arkansas, Lauren was waiting to hear if she had received the prestigious Sturgis Fellowship as the Times went to press. Lauren’s college options are open, but she says advertising and design appeal to her. “Watching commercials, I wonder what kind of people think up those things. It sounds fun. And I definitely want to do something that I think is fun.”

How does she keep working and not succumb to senioritis? Wilson said her drive comes from without and within. “I think a lot of it is that I know I can do well in the higher classes,” she said. “My parents know I can, too. They’re behind me. So it’s part me knowing I can and part them pushing me because they know I can, too.”

Final Jeopardy
Age: 18
Hometown: Arkadelphia
School: Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts
Parents: Anping and Mei Wu
College plans: Harvard, William and Mary or Princeton

Answer: Jennifer Wu.

Question: Who was one of the youngest $75,000 Jeopardy winners in Teen Tournament history and student government president at the state’s residential school for scholars in Hot Springs?

Jennifer was a high school sophomore when she won the Jeopardy tournament with her knowledge of Da Vinci’s hometown. (She’d studied the painter in fourth grade, along with All-Star Adam Barito.)

But a recall of trivia isn’t all that distinguishes Jennifer, who emigrated from Shanghai when she was 5. Jennifer is also a poet, writing in her all-star application form:

I am rain falling slanted, soft and hushed

A pianist, Doctor Without Borders, always a writer,

Two X chromosomes dancing,

The F4 tornado howling across O’Connell Street where families pray.

The tornado is the devastating twister that felled a tree on Jennifer’s home when she was a third-grader, huddled in the kitchen with her parents. Doctors Without Borders is also meant seriously. She’s been consumed with taking medical service to the needy since reading about the group in the fourth grade. With her Chinese language skills and love of children, she thinks she could do great work in the mountains of western China.

She’s an award-winning pianist and honor band clarinetist. A National Merit Scholarship semifinalist, she writes for the school paper, tutors, and volunteers in a nursing home and an animal hospital.

Her counselor, Paula Branch, says Jennifer is a science whiz (she recently made news for a cheap test she devised to check houses for crystal meth contamination). But Jennifer said the quality of an English class she observed persuaded her to move to ASMS. It was a popular choice. No one bothered to challenge Jennifer for her election to student government president.

She told us more but insisted we mention her parents and teachers. An article about her, she says, is really about them.

Cheerleader for Central
Age: 17
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Little Rock Central
Parents: Kezhuang Zhao and Yan Yang

College plans: Yale; undecided on a major, but thinking about some form of higher mathematics

Leave it to a sterling student like Little Rock Central’s Faye Zhao to pick her favorite subject — physics — based on how much it tries her patience. “It’s the only subject in which I’ve ever been thoroughly confused,” she said.

Her record shows scant confusion. Currently number two in her class of 460 (she’s “duking it out” for number one, she said), with a GPA of 4.508, Faye is a National Merit Scholar finalist and last year was one of 100 high schoolers nationwide named an Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction. An award that typically goes to seniors who compile high scores on the greatest number of AP tests, her win was based on tests she took as a sophomore.

Faye helps others by tutoring UALR students in math. It makes her feel her skills have purpose.

“It’s really fulfilling to be able to impart to them my love of the subject,” she said. “I never had a hard time getting math — not to sound pretentious or anything — and being able to help other people understand is really a great feeling for me.” Faye has donated the proceeds from much of her paid tutoring work in recent months to charities helping victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Faye credits her parents and teachers at Central, a place important to her. “Honestly, when I walk into Central every year, I just feel like I’m not that smart,” she said. “I think: Wow, in this building are so many kids who are so talented in so many ways. It’s a great school.”

Gets a kick out of writing

Age: 17
Hometown: Little Rock
School: Pulaski Academy
Parents: Susan and Peter White

College plans: Accepted at Sewanee and Duke, awaiting word from nine others

We couldn’t resist a pun for Allyson White, a midfielder on a two-time state soccer championship team. But she scores in academics, too.

She’s been a state winner in both the National Peace Essay contest (in which she contrasted the relative success of grassroots democratization in Mozambique and Myanmar) and the Federal Reserve Bank’s “Economics of Looking Good” essay contest. Pending for publication in the Concord Review is her paper “Reconstructing the Puzzle: Culture, Collapse and Connection in the Classic Mayan and Anaszi Civilizations.”

Bill Topich, who supervises her work in Model UN, a debating competition on international affairs, says she’s been a poised competitor since she competed in a national conference at Berkeley, Calif., as a ninth-grader. (She confesses she got into model UN in part because she likes to argue.) “Already she was ahead academically of most of the students I teach at UALR,” he said.

Allyson is not totally immersed in deep thought. Travel, canoeing, a church choir, fly fishing and cross-country are just a few of the things that define what college counselor Cheryl Watts describes as “the complex composite of Allyson White.”

She’s a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist and the lowest grade we could find on her transcript, crammed with Advanced Placement courses, was a 95 (still a solid A). The perfect scores include Spanish V, a good base for her future interest in Latin American studies and Spanish.

Allyson wants to be a “lifelong learner and pursue a career in a field that I love. ... Second, I desire to make a significant contribution to my field. Third, I expect to leave a positive legacy in my community and family.” Ambitious, but as far as high school is concerned, you could say mission accomplished.

Translation: She cares

Age: 17
Hometown: Fayetteville
High School: Fayetteville
Parents: Roger Montgomery and Colene Gaston
College plans: Stanford or Washington University

Spanish is Anne Montgomery’s favorite subject, and as she considers following her father into medicine, she is putting her language skills to good use.

About a year ago, she began volunteering each Thursday evening at the Northwest Arkansas Free Health and Dental Clinic, where her father, Roger Montgomery, serves on the board.

Her ability to serve as a translator for patients and doctors has become essential in a region where the Spanish-speaking population is growing rapidly.

She is considering pre-med as her college major, but stipulates that she is “interested in a lot of other things.” That is evident in her breadth of high school courses and activities, in which she excels at everything. A National Merit semi-finalist, Anne maintained a 4.29 gradepoint average, ran varsity cross country and track, was elected vice president of the National Honor Society and participates in numerous community service organizations.

“She is truly one of the finest people I have ever met,” said her counselor, Lesli Zeagler. “Academically speaking, of course, but it goes far beyond that. Her gift is that she is so humble and so giving, very community-minded and community-oriented.”

Zeagler added that Anne’s humility was evident in her surprise that the senior class voted her on to the Homecoming Court. It was a testimony to the respect her fellow students have for her accomplishments.

“You just feel kind of honored that they would choose you to represent them,” Anne confirmed. “It meant a lot because it came from my peers rather than the school or outside organizations.”


Speaking of Arkansas Times Academic All-Stars

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