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The 2009 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team 

An assembly of super achievers.

click to enlarge MAKING NOISE: Tobe Wood is a cannon hobbyist.
  • MAKING NOISE: Tobe Wood is a cannon hobbyist.

The 15th edition of the Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team is much like all those before it.

Valedictorians are commonplace. So are National Merit Scholarship finalists. Advanced placement courses? Our winners have taken most of those available at their schools and made As in the process.

The group illustrates the richness of Arkansas education and its people. The list is studded with newcomers from around the globe as well as home-grown winners from schools dotted all the way from the Delta to Northwest Arkansas. They write, dance, play music and sports, in addition to acing course after course. They also dream — of big careers and big achievements; in fields from journalism to medicine and science.

We selected this team in a two-step process. Applications were invited from all high schools, public and private, and home schoolers. Each school could name one male and one female student. An initial review of the nominees (all are listed in this issue) produced a list of 30, from which judges chose 20 winners — 10 males and 10 females.

The students will be honored this week in a ceremony at UALR, a sponsor of the competition. They'll also be featured in programs on AETN. Each will receive a $200 cash award.

On with the winners:

 

CHELSEA ANDERSON

Age: 18

Hometown: Rogers

High School: Rogers High School

Parents: Keven and Lisa Anderson

College plans: Deciding between St. Louis University and Creighton

 

In the books, on the court

 

Chelsea Anderson doesn't mind a challenge. According to her high school counselor, Carlton Efurd, Chelsea has taken 10 AP classes since she was a sophomore and is currently enrolled in five at once. If that wasn't enough, she also plays basketball and was the captain of her volleyball team.

“She's ranked number one in the class and she's a great student,” Efurd says. “I've never heard a negative comment about her.”

“I've had to practice for at least two hours after school, every day, from August until March,” Chelsea says. “During basketball season I would have to stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning. It's calmed down a little bit now though and it's nice to just be dealing with school.”

But Efurd says Chelsea is more than just a top student or a star athlete.

“She has a goal, she has a plan and she knows what she wants to do,” Efurd says. “That's what's so neat about her. She's not just about her, she's about helping others.”

Chelsea volunteers for the Rogers Little Theater, community clean-up projects, and local political campaigns, but she's probably most proud of her work with the Special Olympics.

“Over the summer they get together and play sports, so a few of my friends from the volleyball team and I will teach them how to play volleyball and just play with them,” Hannah says. “I just like to help people.”

Hannah hopes to help people for a career. She plans to be a doctor.

 

KENSEY BERRY

Age: 18

Hometown: Little Rock       

High School: Pulaski Academy

Parents: Ken and Joanna Berry

College plans: Deciding among New York University, University of St. Andrew's in Scotland, Princeton, Columbia, Barnard, Penn and Brown

 

Invulnerable

 

If there is one thing that Kensey Berry has learned over the past year and a half, it's that she has no Achilles heel, figuratively speaking. Literally, however – well, that's a different story.

Last fall, Kensey tore her Achilles tendon while practicing for competitive springboard diving. After spending months on crutches and even more in a walking boot, she came back to place third in the state.

“She's a fighter,” says Bill Topich, head of the social science department at Pulaski Academy. “She's one of my all-time favorite students.”

After her injury forced her to the sidelines, the long-time diver, cross-country runner, cyclist, basketball player and cheerleader had to find other things to do with her time.

“I was involved in athletics for so long that that was my identity,” she says. “When it was taken away, I did a lot of self-exploration. I found other things that inspired me, like academics and human rights issues. I got really involved with Amnesty International and invested myself in other things that proved to be really rewarding.”

 “She's a real down-to-earth humanitarian, a great kid, and one of the most gifted writers and researchers I've taught,” Topich says.

Kensey hopes to combine her knack for writing and her passion for human rights into a career, perhaps in investigative journalism. So far she has been accepted to New York University and St. Andrew's University in Scotland. She's still waiting to hear from other schools, including Princeton, and will make a decision on where to go sometime this summer.

 

HANNAH BRESHEARS

Age: 17

Hometown: Crossett           

High School: Crossett High School

Parents: Keith and Sherri Breshears

College plans: Deciding among the University of Arkansas Honors College and Ouachita Baptist University

 

Jumping In

 

When Hanna Breshears' school counselor Scott Sasser describes her, the usual words come up: motivated, intelligent, etc. Then he continues, “she's easy-going, laid-back.” Wait. Easy-going? Laid-back? That doesn't fit the usual description of the over-achieving, AP class-taking, stressed-out star student. But with Hannah, it fits.

“I like to be involved and I like to be in the middle of things,” Hannah says. “But sometimes you have to let go and go outside, or play music or take pictures.”

“She is a very conscientious, self-motivated young lady,” Sasser says. “She takes her academics very seriously, but she still enjoys life.”

When she's not in class, playing the French horn with the school's band, taking pictures for the yearbook or working as a part-time photographer, Hannah makes time to volunteer. She's active in her church, tutors younger students at school and helps out at the local library.

“In the summer I work during the week just shelving books and doing busy work, but when they have programs for elementary and junior high kids I read to the kids and help with their art projects,” Hannah says. “I was always at the library a lot and it was just one of those things where you see something fun going on and you just want to jump in and help.”

Hannah is interested in medicine and journalism and wants to work in a field that combines the two.

“I'm thinking of traveling, working as a doctor and reporting on what I see,” she says

 

DAVE GRUNDFEST           

Age: 18

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Pulaski Academy

Parents: Dave and Stacy Grundfest

College plans: Deciding among Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton and Stanford

 

Wrestling with idealism

 

“Dave, you're a pragmatic idealist,” his dad told him one morning over coffee.  It's true.  Dave Grundfest said he's always thought “the private sector is not the problem but the answer.”  But it's not a big-shot corporate future he's interested in, it's social responsibility.

Bill Topich, head of the social sciences department at Pulaski Academy, says Dave is a gifted researcher and writer, but he's also a very compassionate person.  Perhaps that's why his senior thesis is about giving.

“I'm interested in the cost-benefit of corporate social responsibility,” Dave says.  “If we can get a model where it makes sense economically to conduct better business that's better for the environment, better for people, and if consumers see that and are willing to pay a premium for it, then we can have a different system – business that doesn't hurt the environment, but helps the environment by putting a premium on doing the right thing.”

Dave has gained national recognition with other research projects.  His work has been published in the Concord Review, a journal that publishes work by high school students.

Aside from his intellectual pursuits, Dave is a star athlete.  He is an all-state football player and wrestler.  Juggling academics and sports can be difficult, but Dave says his family, friends, teachers and coaches understand there are a lot of demands on his time.

“There's no secret to it.  You just have to get it done, sleep less and stress a lot and it all kind of works out,” he says with a laugh.

 

John lepine

Age: 17

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Little Rock Christian Academy

Parents: Bob and Mary Ann Lepine

College plans: University of Tulsa, history and economics

 

Fun with Latin

 

Many are intimidated by classical Latin; John Lepine has fun with it. He and friends produced a movie for Latin class based on a story from Roman mythology. Seeing that none of the males on the project was the muscular-warrior type of the story's hero, and that one of the female students was quite forceful (though not masculine), the collaborators  rewrote the story, changing the gender of the leading character. The movie, including trips to Hades and other hijinks, was “hilarious,” according to a Latin teacher.

“I entered high school as a piano-playin', Tae Kwon Do-fightin', play-actin' Quiz Bowl captain,” John writes. “I am leaving high school as a djembe-playin', debate-fightin', play-actin' Quiz Bowl Captain. In some ways, I've changed; in others I've stayed the same.”

He's president of the LRCA debate society and has participated in eight plays since 2005, including having the title role in “The Music Man” last month. He's won a maximo cum egregio laude gold medal for a perfect score on the Latin II National Latin Exam, and his school's Top Student Awards for AP European History, Honors Chemistry and Spanish IV. He's a worship leader in Redeemer Community Church and Redeemed of Christ youth group, and a member of the Arkansas Choral Society. As for the djembe … “I decided early on in high school that classical piano was not my forte (pun definitely intended), and instead began pursuing guitar, singing and eventually percussion.”

 

JOHN McDANIEL

Age: 18

Hometown: Jonesboro

High School: Jonesboro High

Parents: Connie Meeks and James McDaniel

College plans: Undecided, biotechnology and business

 

Different drum major

 

As field commander (aka drum major), John McDaniel is out in front of the Jonesboro High Marching Band. Being in front is a familiar place for him. He's been named Best Overall Drum Major at five marching band competitions. Academically, he's first in a class of 318. On the track, he's in front of other runners, having made all-conference as a member of the Jonesboro 4 x 800 relay team. And he's president of the Student Council.

With that kind of success, it's not surprising that he likes school, an affinity he knows is not shared by many of his peers. In fact, he says, it's most often looked down on.  “So I keep my thoughts to myself, but every Monday morning, I'm the happiest guy in the building.” Among the Times' academic all-stars, he can let his hair down.

John spearheaded the formation of a group at JHS called The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The League holds fund-raisers for charity, such as a recent Eurobash that raised $2,000 for Red Cross hurricane relief. He's a member of Mu Alpha Theta, the National Honor Society, the National Spanish Honor Society, the Beta Club and the Rotary Interact Club, and a peer tutor for math and science. He's also Mr. JHS, winner of the University of Mississippi Lott Leadership Institute Scholarship, a Rotary Club Super Senior, and an Outstanding Percussionist.

 

YEQIAN P. XU

Age: 18

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Central High School

Parents: Mei Long and Xiaowei Xu

College plans: Undecided, international relations

 

Approachable genius

 

Yeqian Xu — Henry to his friends — is garrulous and outgoing and interested in everything, from movies to food, especially food. So even if you don't understand his research into yeast genetics, and ergosterol and the aging process, which Central's No. 2 student has done in his spare time at UALR, you'll still find him completely humble and approachable, in a genius kind of way. His articulate and expressive English is all the more remarkable considering he didn't speak the language until he moved here in 2002.

An example of Henry's eloquence from his All-Star essay about his research: “Though I only played with sea shells and Newton's ‘great ocean of truth' lies endlessly ahead, I inch closer to the water with each set of new data.” With his grasp of and already deep immersion in science, you might think he's pondering a career in the laboratory. But no. “If you stay in the lab, that restricts your potential,” he said.

Instead, he's thinking of going into international relations or working perhaps with the World Health Organization — something that would put his scientific knowledge to use for the betterment of the world. Rejecting, as he said, the vita contemplativa for the vita activa. (He really does say things like that.)

This charming teen-ager is also quick to show appreciation for the people in his life: His parents, who he said are “really chill.” The kids in Little Rock's Sturbridge neighborhood, where he first lived, for teaching him to speak English — he was happy to be able to fully express his thanks recently to one of them. Of a friend at Central, who “expanded his horizons” with her Southern cooking. Of his biology teacher, Annice Steadman: “If God were to reinvent the universe and needed help, he could turn to Mrs. Steadman” to help. Henry, with his National Merit, AP, science, German and piano awards could probably give the Almighty a hand as well.

 

ROBERTO RUIZ

Age: 18

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Hall High

Parents: Maria Antonio Tellez and Jose C. Ruiz

College plans: Hendrix, biology

 

Quick study

 

When Roberto Ruiz came to Hall High School from his native Mexico as a freshman, he spoke little English. Two and a half years later, he won an advanced placement award in English. He currently ranks second in his graduating class. Roberto explains his achievement, humbly and simply. “I had lots of help from school. My teachers were patient.”

It's his nature to deflect praise, according to Hall's counselor, Susan Flowers. “He thinks he does what everybody does. He doesn't think he's anything special.” That is, when it comes to academics. Last April, Roberto received his visa and became an American citizen. He calls it the most significant achievement in his life. Particularly considering, as he says, the countless who've died trying to reach our borders, and the more than 12 million of his “brothers and sisters living in darkness” here “following the American dream.”

Roberto advocates for non-English speakers in Hall's Newcomer Program, offering himself as a tutor and translating morning announcements into Spanish. He serves on Hall's student council, is a member of Beta and Key Club and earned the highest-average award in 11 classes. His favorite subject is biology. “It's the study of life,” he says, by way of explanation, as if it were self-evident. He'll attend Hendrix College next fall, where he plans to learn more about life en route to becoming a doctor.

 

JULIA WOOD

Age: 17

Hometown: North Little Rock

High School: North Little Rock High West

Parents: Gary and Gladys Wood

College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, majoring in chemistry for pre-med

 

Dancing around cancer

 

Julia Wood loves to dance and has done so competitively for six years — lyrical, jazz, tap. It helps to be light on your feet when you have so much ground to cover.

Julia will graduate at the top of her class of 543 while taking courses in the challenging International Baccalaureate curriculum. This means her straight As are in courses where the standardized measure applies to IB students worldwide.

You can't slack when there are tough tests to be taken and long essays to be written. Diagnosed with a malignant thyroid last summer, Julia had to undergo a second operation early in the school year. She was told she'd have to miss several weeks of school. “I had surgery after school Friday and then tried to go to school Monday. I was determined not to miss. I didn't make it Monday, but I did make it Tuesday.” And each succeeding day. With that same determination, she salvaged study notes following a house fire at Thanksgiving that still has her family in alternate shelter.

Such setbacks not only didn't deter Julia's classwork, she kept up with her double duty as a mentor with young children.

In one program, she tutors at-risk pre-schoolers twice a week, She goes to another North Little Rock school each week to help Spanish-speaking students learn English. On the side, she teaches the two- and three-year-olds at her dance studio.

Julia hopes to be a pediatrician and have a “semi-big” family herself some day. “I really love little kids. They just bring a lot of joy to my day, no matter how bad a day I have.” And vice versa.

 

HANNAH SHELTON

Age: 18

Parengs: Jim and Lori Shelton

Hometown: Searcy

High school: Harding Academy

College plans: Harding University

 

Bookish

 

Hannah Shelton traces her love of literature to the second grade, when a teacher's love of reading proved contagious. Then, in the fourth grade, she watched a film adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” which led her to the book, which put her on a path to becoming a full-on bibliophile. “I love books,” she says. “They're a place to escape all the high school drama — who's taking who to the dance and so on. Book drama is a lot easier to deal with than teenage drama.”

It's that respite that's inspired Hannah's current career path. “I want to wage war on apathy,” she says. After college, she says she plans on throwing herself amidst “angst-ridden, hormonal teenagers as an English teacher” in hopes of showing them  “the humor of Donne…the purity of Wordsworth” and “the magic of Shakespeare.”

Beyond her passion, she seems to possess the disposition of a good teacher, according to her counselor, Dennis Rine. “She's a very cooperative student. If you give her an assignment, she's going to be very creative with it. And she's a servant. She's always willing to tutor and help out students of less ability.”

“I really like explaining things to people,” says Hannah. “I like seeing the light bulb go off when people get it.”

Her resume certainly points to the sort of acumen we'd like in all of our teachers. She's a National Merit finalist, who scored a point away from a perfect score on the ACT and who will graduate first in her class.

 

ALEX STOKES

Age: 18

Hometown: Bryant

High School: Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts

Parent: Jerrie Stokes

College plans: First choice is Yale University, hopes to go into medicine

 

Yen for research

 

Paula Branch, counselor at Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs, says Alex Stokes is as competitive as the next kid at the state's selective enrollment boarding school. He's a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist, with sky-high SAT and ACT scores and As in senior-year courses that sound like a college lineup — anatomy, genetics, biochemistry, immunology, microbiology, organic chemistry, vector calculus. And there's Spanish IV. He was supposed to be in Spanish III, but had a schedule conflict. He got a tutor and skipped ahead to the tougher class.

For all this achievement, Branch says, “He's not self-interested. He's really interested in trying to come up with things that will make a difference, in science or the community.”

Branch says Alex is a leader of the school community and a dedicated volunteer, particularly at Arkansas Children's Hospital, where his work ranges from patient services to lab tech. He has played drums in the band and piano and competes in Quiz Bowl and the Model UN competition. All this, when he's not in the lab.

Alex spent eight weeks last summer at the University of Missouri in a gene-cloning project to use bacteria to degrade waste paper into hydrogen for fuel use. For science fair this year he has investigated — and demonstrated — a genetic link for dyslexia. It's all just a prelude, he says, to the higher order research he hopes to pursue in college. A career in medicine is his goal, whether in practice or research he's not yet sure. Neuroscience is his current passion.

He chose Math and Science High to see if he could “get a handle” early on learning to live away from home in a college environment. Sounds like he passed the test.

 

APRIL WANG

Age: 18

Hometown: Fayetteville

High School: Fayetteville High

Parents: Jiangzhou Wang and Leiping Xu

College plans: Applied to 22 schools, including Ivy League, Vanderbilt and Rice, hopes to study economics

 

Trading on trilingualism

 

“There's no room for error with April. She's very detailed,” says Fayetteville counselor Dawn Norman.

The record shows it. She's a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist whose roster of high test scores includes perfect 800s in the SAT II Math 2 test and Chinese. April had an advantage in Chinese. Born in California, she moved to Hong Kong at age three and added knowledge of Cantonese to the Mandarin she was learning at home. She was 10 when her father, an electrical engineering professor, took a job at UA, but she remains a triple-language threat. She even does church double duty, with worship, Bible study and translation duties at both a conventional Baptist Church and a Chinese Christian congregation.

April is an AP Scholar with Distinction, with college-creditworthy scores in eight courses covering history, economics, calculus, psychology, composition and history. She's  No. 1 in a class of  534 at Fayetteville High, traditionally home to some of the state's brightest students, thanks to the university community's influence. But she's about more than class and tests.

Deadly serious? Not at all. Spare time finds her on the ice at the Jones Center, figure skating. “I like spinning and jumping. Just for fun.”

She has an interest in economics and hopes her command of three languages might mean a future for her in international business. Her aim, she says, is not just connecting businesses in China and America, but “bringing harmony” to the two countries.

 

DEDRIC JONES

Age: 18

Hometown: Marianna

High School: Lee High School

Parents: Pervis and Geneva Jones

College plans: University of Oklahoma, engineering

 

On his way

 

Down in Marianna, there's a guy named Dedric Jones. He wants to go places outside his small town. To be honest, though, it didn't always look like he'd make it.

A standout on the football field, Dedric wasn't working up to his potential academically by the time he entered Lee High School, says school counselor Michael Rodriguez. Dedric himself admits that he could be argumentative with his teachers and other students — even abrasive. In his early days at Lee High, he was often in trouble because of his attitude.

“There's a thin line between being determined and [being] hardheaded,” Rodriguez said. ”I think as a ninth grader, Dedric tended to stay on the side of hardheaded.”

That year, however, Dedric came to a decision. While on a three-day suspension from school, he decided that if he wanted to achieve something with his life, he had to buckle down, get a better attitude toward his teachers and schoolwork, and work hard to be an academic success.

“That day, I realized that the only person standing in my way was me. I literally had to become a new person,” he said. “Where I'm from, you get out in either two ways: athletics, or having the brains to take yourself away. If I don't excel in athletics or in academics, the chances of me leaving this town are very slim.”

To accomplish that, he set a goal of making a grade of 95 or higher on every assignment. Once the teachers he had sparred with learned of his commitment, they met him halfway. Since then, he has rocketed to a rank of number one academically in his class, all while remaining an all-around standout on the football team, playing six different positions.

Dedric has become a devotee of computer-aided drafting, and plans to study architecture and engineering. He said his parents have been a great inspiration to him. His mother, in particular, has encouraged him to succeed.

“My momma told me to never settle for less, only settle for the best,” he said.

 

ALEX JONES

Age: 17

Hometown: Fayetteville

High School: Fayetteville High School

Parents: William and Robin Jones

College plans: University of Arkansas, biology or chemistry

 

Video star

 

For Alex Jones, fun is found on the small screen. A senior at Fayetteville High School, where he is ranked number one in his class, Alex discovered his love for shooting and editing digital video in the 10th grade, when he took a class on video production on a whim. Soon, he was smitten. Since then, Alex has worked extensively on video projects, and has attended several national conferences on the subject. In addition, he serves as the anchor for a monthly, student-produced news show at Fayetteville High called “Breaking the Leash.”  

“I guess it's just the fact that it's something that I can do that's not just academic,” Alex said. “I can get a little bogged down with all the classes I'm taking, and this allows me something a little bit different during the day. I just find it unique.”

Alex has a 4.26 GPA, and scored a 36 on his ACT exam. He attended Arkansas Governor's School in 2008, and was one of only 40 students in the state nominated to be a Presidential Scholar. Other than his video production class, he said his favorite subject is chemistry. While he doesn't know where he'll attend college at this writing, he said he'll probably go to the University of Arkansas, where he has been offered an Honors College Fellowship.

Though Alex said he isn't sure yet what he wants to do with his life (though he is seriously considering going into orthodontics), he said he could see himself working behind the scenes on a high profile television news show like “60 Minutes” someday. For now, he's looking forward to college, and excited about the possibilities of the video medium.

“I find when I'm watching TV or a movie or something, I start to notice all the elements,” he said. “I think about, oh, wouldn't that be cool if I could incorporate something like that? It's just about trying to find a creative way to do something.”

 

REID KNABE

Age: 17

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Episcopal Collegiate School

Parents: Michael Knabe and Belinda Belvins-Knabe

College plans: Undecided, but hoping for Yale or Princeton

 

Budding newsman

 

Being a reporter these days can be a little depressing. Nearly every week brings word of another newspaper shuttered. Some even say the sun is setting on traditional print journalism as a profession. We have reason to hope, however, after talking with Little Rock's Reid Knabe. If Reid, the editor-in-chief of Episcopal's student newspaper, The Shield and Laurel, turns out to be one of the next generation of news gatherers, we've got nothing to worry about.

In addition to his work on the student paper, Reid is interested in politics as well. In 2008, he volunteered to help get out the vote for then-candidate Barack Obama. Prior to that, he founded a discussion group called Politically Conscious Young Minds. Reid said he started the group to take a broader look at the political process. He has found that the student body at Episcopal is more informed on political topics than most.

“What I've found from talking to other people around the city is that people think they're plugged in, but really they're just saying things they've heard. They haven't actually done any deeper research, so it's more of a surface-level thing.”

A great fan of English and the written word, for the past three years Reid has participated in an online competition known as National Novel Writing Month. Participants write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days – a process he called grueling. When he's not cranking out a novel in a month, he also writes poetry and short stories, and has played classical piano since he was four years old. That hasn't slowed his studies down, however. A National Merit Scholar, his GPA stands at 4.36. He won a prestigious Jefferson Scholarship, worth $175,000, to the University of Virginia.

 

TOBE WOOD

Age: 17

Hometown: Gillett

School: Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts

Parents: Jody and Edward Wood

College plans: Plans to major in computer science

 

Playing with fire

 

Tobe Wood is a serious-minded student who, she says, likes “to play with fire.” What she means is, she enjoys operating the linstock to light the Spanish garrison gun in the colonial re-enactments she takes part in at Arkansas Post, where her father is superintendent.

But it's a far more advanced technology that really drives Tobe, who plans on a career in some area of computer science — perhaps in artificial intelligence. She likes to know how things work; she describes herself as analytical and says, “I take everything apart I can get my hands on.” She's seen something of how the world works too, since as a young child she lived on Guam in the tropical Mariana Islands. Moving to Gillett at age 7 gave her “a real culture shock.” Tobe was eager to go to ASMSA in 11th grade to fill her schedule with advanced science and math courses. “Right now I'm taking AP physics and chemistry, which my home school definitely did not offer,” she says. Coming from a fairly isolated home — she had only one neighbor within five miles — Tobe says ASMSA also provided “one of my first true social experiences.” (Still, she says, she can remember numbers “much better than names and faces.”)

Tobe has won a medal for chess and has an artistic side as well, winning  second place in the Junior Duck Stamp Competition. She assures a reporter that ASMSA isn't a grind. “Some people get the idea we're all work and no play,” Tobe says. “That's definitely not the case.”

 

TEMPLE PRICE

Age: 17

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Hall High

Parents: Beatrice Reed and Troy Price

College plans: Undecided, journalism

 

Winner out loud

 

You wouldn't know it now, but Temple Price once had a speech impediment. She remembers a female voice saying, “She doesn't stutter, she repeats.” She feared that classmates would think her stupid. Speech therapy was prescribed. Though she once considered the therapy punishment for not speaking properly, she eventually stopped repeating herself. As a high school student, she was named the Arkansas State Champion for Poetry Out Loud, a national poetry recitation contest funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Arkansas championship earned her a trip to Washington — “one of the dream cities for an aspiring journalist” — to compete in the national contest.

Temple ranks first in her class academically, and has won numerous awards for academic achievement, including Book Awards from Randolph College and Vassar. She's president of the Key Club and the National Honor Society, and a member of the Beta Club and the Student Council Executive Board. She played soccer. She's been a member of the Mayor's Youth Council, and the Youth Diversity Council for the Little Rock Racial and Cultural Diversity Commission. Teachers say she's an accomplished writer and poet.

Still, being state champion in the Poetry Out Loud contest is the thing she's proudest of — “Because it was the end of the farthest journey.”

 

TABER HUNT

Age: 18

Hometown: Fort Smith

High School: Southside High School

Parents: Gary and Lana Hunt

College plans: University of Tulsa

 

Driven

 

Taber Hunt of Southside High in Fort Smith is what you might call a Renaissance man. The president of the Student Council and a National Merit Scholar Finalist, he also is a three-year letterman in football and track. In his spare time, he volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, and coaches Boys and Girls Club basketball. He's also an accomplished fiction writer, and loves architecture (he's considering majoring in that subject in college). He's got a lot of irons in the fire, but his grades haven't slipped. He currently has a 4.1 GPA, and scored a 34 on his ACT exam.

Though Taber once considered going into politics, he said his experiences at Arkansas Boys State and Boys Nation showed him he isn't cut out for the world of politics. Long term, he wants to go to law school, possibly specializing in business or international law.

Asked why he pushes himself so hard academically when it is easy to just kick back and coast through high school, Taber said his motive comes from deep within. “I think I've just got this drive in me,” he said. “I hate feeling inferior, and I've got a very competitive nature with myself. I try to be good at whatever I do. I feel like I've let myself down if I don't.” 

 

SAMANTHA SCANLON

Age: 18

Hometown: Searcy

High school: Searcy High School

Parents: Steve and Lori Scanlon

College plans: Harding University

 

Family tradition

 

Academic excellence runs in Samantha Scanlon's family. The Searcy High school senior will finish first in her class, a year after her brother graduated as the valedictorian. But to say that scholastic achievement comes naturally to Sarah discounts a resume built, clearly, on hard work — nary a B, from kindergarten through 12th grade, including in every AP class offered at Searcy High (aside from French; she opted for Spanish).

Still, she's also managed to find time to play first chair flute in marching and concert band (for which she's twice earned All Region honors), serve on the Quiz Bowl team and participate in Beta Club, Key Club, Spanish Club and the National Honor Society. 

“She devours information,” says Julia Roddy, her guidance counselor. “She recognizes her abilities are gifts that she has the ability to cultivate.”

This summer, Samantha hopes to cultivate her interest in medicine in the MASH program in a local hospital. Her interest in medicine is twofold, she says. “I love biology and I really like helping people.”

 

YING XU

Age: 17

School: Central High School

Parents: Liqun Xu and Maohua Cao

College plans: Undecided, pre-med

 

Citizen of the world

 

Ying Xu, who goes by Linda, loves studio art. She's had a charcoal phase and now she's into painting. German artist Kathe Kollwitz, who chose the oppressed as her subject matter, is one of her favorites. But Linda has a practical bent of mind: She plans to go into a profession, rather than become “a starving artist.” The top-ranked student checked Central out on the Internet before moving from Montreal to Little Rock. She was amazed at what she saw (“It's huge!”)  and, when she arrived, equally amazed at Little Rock (“It's tiny!”) before the move, prompted by her father's job in electrical engineering.

Depending on the profession she chooses — she's leaning toward medicine — she could work wherever Chinese, French or English is spoken, because of her fluency. She's earned that fluency the hard way — by being “dragged from city to city, province to province” as her father sought work.

She was particularly impressed by the history she found at Central High and the focus on race relations. She's pretty impressed, too, by her enthusiastic government teacher, Chuck West, who she said “will stop you in the hall and ask you about the supply and demand curve.”

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