Lawrence Academic All-Stars

Writer  /  Kathi Moore

Photographer  /  Jon Moore, Dancing Rooster Studio

There is no question that a significant, and some would say, inordinate amount of attention is given to athletics at most high schools. Precious financial resources are directed toward basketball, football and other sports, while gymnasiums and ball fields get expensive makeovers or expansions. But student successes in the classroom are rarely talked about beyond the chalkboards and biology labs. If you want to start a fierce debate, just mention that schools should drop their athletic programs and concentrate more on academics. Meanwhile, the media dedicate column inches and TV time to game highlights and scores with little attention given to students who excel off the field or court.

To be sure, athletics is a golden ticket for some students who might not be interested in staying in school, or students who might not otherwise be able to afford college education costs. But only a tiny percentage of high school jocks go on to become professional athletes—one in 16,000 according to one study.

Lawrence Community Newsletter loves sports, but this month our attention turns to classroom scholarship. Meet the Lawrence Township Academic All-Stars.

We recently had the extreme pleasure of joining a round-table conversation with a group of eleven of the top LC/LN students, coming away with a new appreciation for, and confidence in, the generation that will discover medical advances, negotiate peace treaties and pay for our nursing homes care. “These kids are great people, not just great students,” stressed LN Principal Brett Crousore. “They are very well-rounded other than just academics. They represent our school mission statement: academic achievement, service to others, and leadership outside the classroom.”

The students featured in this article were identified by teachers and counselors at each high school. Each All Star student has a greater than 4.7 GPA on a 4.0 scale. That means they are taking the most challenging classes such as International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement—courses that are weighted more than other classes.

However, the students we talked with said they’re not interested in being defined solely by some grading formula.

“The GPA is just a number,” commented Summer Samuels, LC student. “It doesn’t explain who you are. A grade can even be subjective, depending on the teacher. I’ve seen a teacher give a lesser grade because he felt that person ‘can do better’.”

Still, academic competitiveness between students is alive and well. A township spokesperson said they are aware of how others are doing academically, and engage in a friendly rivalry to secure the top spots at graduation. Several students confessed that they chose not to take classes that they might enjoy because the lesser weighting would lower their GPA. Or, they were forced to give up performing arts classes because of schedule conflicts created by locking in on academically rigorous courses.

The majority of these All Stars said they place a considerable amount of pressure on themselves to succeed, and feel a sense of competition when it comes to grades. They, for the most part, said they are harder on themselves than their parents are on them about academic achievement.

We came away from our conversation with a strong sense that these Academic All Stars are managing to balance their classroom goals with fun, non-academic activities. It’s all about perspective, and we think these standout performers have a healthy outlook, to say nothing about the amazing accomplishments that lie ahead for them.

Here are some observations shared by this remarkable group of teens.

What else sets you apart from a more average, lower GPA student?

May Lin Russell: I’m a perfectionist, and that drives me to do the best I can. I also love community service.

Summer Samuels: Having the goal of being a doctor drives me constantly to do well in school and not slack off. My parents also have pushed me to do better.

Connor Ward: I have challenged myself with the hardest classes and have learned to manage my time well, as I am involved in a lot of activities. I also love learning! But there is a lot of peer pressure and a need to fit in with your own social group, which may affect some others.

Elaina Roach: I chose weighted Advanced Placement classes to push my numbers. We know how to work the system to our benefit. I have never been ashamed of being smart, though. That seems to hold some people back.

Andrew Howser: The classes I take and the activities I’m involved in set me apart. In my old school it was very diverse with multiple languages spoken, but there was a level playing field. Here we seem to separate ourselves into band kids, etc. and not mingle. So, each group sets a different standard.

Sarah Roderbeck: Everyone has their own talents, whether their GPA reflects that or not. I’ve taken advanced classes and am very busy with other activities.

Sophia Muston: I find what I’m passionate about and chase it. Am I going to push myself to the breaking point and sacrifice my mental health? Or, am I going to follow my passions? The single most important thing we should learn is empathy. The life a person leads, the environment someone comes from sometimes keeps them from a higher GPA but they are just as important as people.

Sara Hardman: I believe I am a more dedicated learner because I went to a Montessori school in my childhood.

Anika Nishat: I come from a family that values education above all else; a family that immigrated here in order to partake in the US education system. We have internal measures of success, not external. My education is not about my GPA.

Susannah Pritchett-Montavon: I am not concerned with the grades. It’s about the learning. It’s because of my love for knowledge and learning, not my desire to get a good grade that I succeed so much academically.

Emily Flandermeyer: I have been blessed to have had wonderful teachers who have pushed me and helped me to succeed. Sitting at this table is such a privilege and I feel so lucky to be here. I feel some others also deserve the recognition, but the way the numbers stack up, it makes me uncomfortable.

It’s refreshing to see students embracing learning, but not at the expense of extra-curricular activities, and, just having some fun while still in high school. Perhaps Principal Crousore said it best. “Academics sometimes gets in the way of education,” a truism he credited to a Wabash College professor.

Meet the All-Stars:
May Lin Russell: Lawrence Central 4.728
Indiana University; Neurology
Plans to be a Pediatric Neurologist
Activities: Key Club, National Honor Society, Dance, Academic Super Bowl, LT Student Foundation

Summer Samuels: Lawrence Central 4.833
Indiana University; pre-med
Plans to be a doctor
Activities: Cross country, National Honors Society, Track and Field, Academic Super Bowl, Key Club, LT Student Foundation, LC Leaders, HOSA

Connor Ward: Lawrence Central 4.784
Princeton, Brown, Northwestern or ?
Plans to be an engineer
Activities: Marching Band, Show Choir, Symphony Orchestra, Competitive Piano, National Honor Society, teach piano lessons.

Elaina Roach: Lawrence Central 4.839
Indiana University?; Biochemistry & Neuroscience
Wants to develop pharmaceuticals
Activities: Soccer, marching band, LT Student Foundation, Key Club, Academic Super Bowl, National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society

Andrew Howser: Lawrence Central 4.753
Purdue University; Chemical engineering & Business
Activities: Marching band, National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society, band for Show Choir, IU Honors Program

Sarah Roderbeck: Lawrence Central 4.866
University of Chgo, Purdue, John Hopkins University?; Molecular Biology
Wants to be a patent attorney for prescription medications
Activities: Debate Team, Key Club, National Honor Society, Academic Super Bowl, LT Student Foundation, dance, French Honor Society, International Baccalaureate degree

Sophia Muston: Lawrence North (declined naming GPA)
Indiana University
Intends to be an international journalist or documentary filmmaker.
Activities: Newspaper, Hispanic Honors Society, Study Abroad, Tri-Hi-Y, International Baccalaureate, National Honor Society, LT Student Foundation, Speech

Sara Hardman: Lawrence North
Unsure of college; Biochemistry
Wants to be a physician
Activities: National Honor Society, Tri-Hi-Y, Speech Team, International Baccalaureate, Hispanic Honor Society, study abroad

Anika Nishat: Lawrence North
Purdue University; Engineering
Wants to be in international development.
Activities: Speech and Debate teams, Tri-Hi-Y, National Honor Society, International Baccalaureate, Orchestra, Robotics

Emily Flandermeyer: Lawrence North 4.778
Indiana or Butler University; Neuroscience
Want to be a scientific researcher
Activities: Volleyball team, Principal’s Advisory Council, National Honor Society, orchestra, Tri-Hi-Y, Peer Facilitating, International Baccalaureate, photography

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