Wednesday, September 22, 2010

TOP STORY >> Cabot, Beebe National Merit semifinalists

Leader staff writer

Eleven high school seniors from Cabot and one from Beebe are among the 144 Arkansas seniors recently named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists.

The 11 students from Cabot and one from Beebe are among 16,000 who scored high enough to be named semifinalists. The designation makes the students eligible for about 8,400 National Merit Scholarships worth $36 million.

In Arkansas, only Little Rock with 42 and Fayetteville with 18 had more National Merit semifinalists than Cabot. Conway had 12, but one was a home-schooled student.

The semifinalists from Cabot are Layne M. Bernardo, Alyssa C. Cantrell, Anthony B. Cardillo, William D. Carman, Jeffrey L. Graham, William J. Otter, Carson T. Patterson, Bradley R. Puder, Kevan T. Sharp, Hayden D. Summerhill and Kaitlyn N. Thomas.

The semifinalist from Beebe is Bernard R. Smith.

Dr. Belinda Shook, superintendent of Beebe Schools, said this week that she had been Smith’s elementary principal.

“I always knew Bernard was a smart kid,” Shook said. “We’re proud of him.”

Carla Choate, a counselor at Beebe High School, said she is completing paperwork to help meet eligibility requirements for Smith to become a National Merit scholar.

“This is fairly unusual,” Choate said. “We don’t have one every year.”

Melissa Elliott, director of gifted and AP programs at Cabot, says a rigorous curriculum beginning in middle school combined with opportunities for students to prepare for high-stakes tests is the secret to Cabot’s success.

“The semifinalists are the highest-scoring students for each state, and they represent less than 1 percent of the nation’s high school juniors,” Elliott said.

“We ranked third in the state this year with our 11 semifinalists,” she said. “The insistence on a rigorous curriculum throughout the district is perhaps the most important and direct factor in our success.

“Our district is cognizant of the necessary components needed to achieve higher scores, and we are doing everything possible to ensure that students who desire to improve their scores have every opportunity to do so.

“Though high-stake exams are most often associated with our secondary schools, the foundation starts in our elementary schools and is reinforced at our middle-level buildings by staff that have high expectations for students and instill a work ethic required for them to be successful,” she said.

Last year, about 1.5 million high school juniors became part of the scholarship program by taking the 2009 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.