Four of the top high school seniors in the country are enrolled at the small Grossmont Middle College High School, according the latest results of a National Merit Scholarship competition.
Three students – Devon Decker, Claire Negus and Ryan Zentmyer – have reached “commended” status; one – Finian Lickona – has reached the prestigious level of National Merit Scholarship semifinalist. With only 36 seniors at the school on the Grossmont College campus, that means more than 11 percent of the senior class has reached elite status in the nationwide competition involving some 1.5 million students.
“We have a rigorous program, and I think these scores confirm the excellence we have here at the Middle College High School,” Grossmont Middle College High School counselor Sharon Neumann said.
There is a caveat. Finian took the qualifying exam while attending a charter school in Lakeside. He transferred to Grossmont Middle College High School for his senior year.
“He is so smart he realized he had to come here,” quipped Neumann.
The National Merit Scholarship Program is a competition for recognition and college scholarships administered by the privately funded, nonprofit National Merit Scholarship Corp.
About 1.4 million juniors (who are now seniors) in more than 22,000 high schools entered the 2015 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2013 Preliminary SAT (PSAT)/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, which served as an initial screen of program entrants. Students reaching “commended” status have scored in the 96th percentile, placing them within the top 4 percent in the country. The nationwide pool of semifinalists represents less than 1 percent of students who entered the competition.
Grossmont Middle College High School has never had a semifinalist before. Every other year or so, one student will reach “commended” status.
“To have three commended students in a single year is phenomenal,” Neumann said. “To have a semifinalist on top of that is just amazing.”
Semifinalists have an opportunity to continue in the competition for some 7,600 National Merit Scholarships worth about $33 million that will be awarded next spring. About 90 percent of semifinalists attain finalist status, and more than half of the finalists will win a National Merit Scholarship, earning the Merit Scholar title.
To become a finalist, students who qualified as semifinalists and their high school must submit a detailed scholarship application that includes volunteer activities, academic records, community involvement and leadership skills.
All of the Grossmont Middle College High School scholars plan to attend a four-year university next fall. Devon has the highest GPA in his class.
Students downplayed the recognition.
“Being commended doesn’t get you much, but Finian being a semifinalist is a pretty big deal,” said Ryan, 17.
“I don’t really see it as anything that spectacular,” Finian said. “It’s more like a pat on the back.”
All said their recognition reflects well on Grossmont Middle College High School, where students each semester take four high school classes and two college courses. “They take the traditional six classes in a very non-traditional way,” Neumann said.
“Grossmont Middle College High School underscores the close collaboration between Grossmont College and the Grossmont Union High School District, and it has proven to be a wonderful way for motivated students to earn college credits while still in high school,” Grossmont College President Sunita V. Cooke said.
The school, limited to high school juniors and seniors, has an enrollment of just 78 students. All are required to compile 70 hours of internship hours per semester, and all add to that with volunteer work. Students can remain involved in extracurricular activities through traditional high school campuses. Ryan, for example, plays clarinet with the West Hills High School Marching Band and last year competed on the school’s junior varsity water polo team.
Why do students opt for Grossmont Middle College High School?
“I wanted to have a wider variety of classes to choose from, and I could do that by enrolling in a high school that is on a college campus,” said Ryan, who has a 4.7 GPA, hopes to attend UC Berkeley and plans on a medical career, perhaps as a public health researcher.
plays competitive chess and is part of the Wave House Swim Team in Mission
Beach, opted to attend Grossmont Middle High School because she was being
homeschooled via a charter program that did not offer any Advanced Placement
courses. “My mom suggested I look into the Middle College and I liked what I
found. It’s smaller, there is less drama and it is more focused on academics.”
Her plans include going to UC Berkeley and studying computer science. “I’m really interested right now in software development, but that could change because the computer science field is changing so fast,” she said.
To help her gain experience in the field, Claire interned last year working with databases at the Department of Defense’s National Health Research Center in San Diego. This year, she is working with Fairway Technologies, a local software development company.
Finian has been interning with financial management firms en route to a career in econometrics – the application of mathematics, statistical methods and computer science to economic data. “You’re responsible for managing awesome sums of money, and I’m pretty good with numbers and I’m a pretty good people person, so I think I’ll do pretty well in that field.”
Finian, who volunteered last summer as a day camp counselor for kids at the Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center on University Avenue in San Diego, hopes to enroll next fall at MIT, Princeton or Cornell and eventually manage hedge funds.
“Being around students like these renews your faith in the younger generation,” Neumann said. “Our future is in good hands.”