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Number of Merit finalists sets record

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Two local high schools have a record number of finalists for a national scholarship honor.

Eight students from Center Grove High School and two from Franklin Community High School are finalists in the National Merit Scholarship program. That’s the highest number of finalists each school has had, principals said.

Greenwood Community High School and Greenwood Christian Academy also each had one student qualify as a finalist, meaning all of Johnson County’s semifinalists advanced to the next round as finalists.

About 16,000 students nationwide were announced as National Merit semifinalists in the fall after about 1.5 million juniors from across the country took the PSAT exam. About 15,000 semifinalists were named finalists after submitting personal essays and letters of recommendation so that the National Merit organization could learn more about students vying for the scholarships.


Local students who qualified as National Merit finalists are:

Center Grove: Lydia Furrow, Hunter Haskell, Abigail Long, Katherine Roeder, Catherine Sembroski, Jacob Stallard, Damon Webb and Marcus Wesley

Franklin: Ethan Clendening and Olivia Daily

Greenwood: Anna Tam

Greenwood Christian

Academy: Michael Hodson

How it works

Here’s how the National Merit Scholarship program works:

About 1.5 million juniors from across the country began competing for the program after taking the PSAT exam.

Of those, 16,000 students were named semifinalists based on their scores on the exam.

15,000 of those students were named as finalists based on personal essays and letters of recommendation.

This year about $32 million in scholarship money will be given to 8,300 finalists.

This spring about $32 million in scholarship money will be given to 8,300 finalists.

Most students take the PSAT as juniors, though some take the exam as early as their sophomore year. Both Franklin Principal Doug Harter and Center Grove Principal Matt Shockley said students who qualified as National Merit finalists have typically been preparing since elementary and middle school.

Both principals want their school districts to review the classes and programs they’re offering to ensure the number of finalists rises, because that number reflects on the reputation of the school districts as well as the students themselves.

“It shows throughout the district, starting at the elementary level throughout the middle school and high school, we have a system of rigor set up so that students can be successful,” Harter said.

To ensure Franklin’s number of National Merit finalists grows, Harter said he wants to regularly review the difficulty of the courses at the intermediate and middle schools to be sure they’re properly preparing students for high school, as well as exams such as the PSAT.

The sponsors of the PSAT, as well as the SAT and ACT standardized exams, also issue reports that detail the common characteristics of students who do well on the tests, such as whether most of them took Algebra I or II by the time they reached a certain grade. By reviewing those reports regularly, Franklin can ensure its students are taking courses at the same rate as other top students from around the country, Harter said.

For years, Center Grove parents have viewed the number of students qualifying for National Merit Scholarships as an unofficial indicator of how well the school district was preparing students for college.

The highest number of finalists Center Grove had before this year was five in 2005.

Shockley said he doesn’t know of any specific changes the school district will make to ensure the number of students qualifying for the program continues to improve — last year four Center Grove students qualified as semifinalists.

But he wants to speak with the high school’s eight current finalists to learn about what they feel best prepared them for the PSAT.

“What have you done or what have you experienced overall that you believe has enabled you to achieve this level of success,” Shockley said.

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