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Caddo leads region in National Merit Semi-Finalists

Caddo Parish Public Schools is once again the regional leader in students earning the distinction of National Merit Scholarship Corporation Semifinalists.

Ten Caddo Parish Magnet High School students will now advance into consideration for the opportunity to win one of the most academically competitive scholarships in the country.  These students are among the highest scoring for the state of Louisiana.

The students recognized Wednesday as semi-finalists are:

Mackenzie Brown
Bryan Chen
Matthew Given
Mary North Jones
Ankur Khanna
Daiwei “David” Lu
Antares McCoy-Villaneda
Sandra Shahriar
Nathan Smith
Nathan Speakes

 “These teachers and students embody our motto of Excellence in Education,” said Magnet High Principal Michael Ilgenfritz. “The extra hours of studying and preparation have paid off.”

Magnet High’s success of doubling qualifying students in a single year is due in part to the efforts of English Language Arts Teacher Barbara McGuire and a shift in the focus on the assessment. McGuire along with a team including folklore and poetry teacher Leslye Gilchrist, Algebra I and calculus teacher Kathryn McDowell, Algebra II and pre-calculus teacher Karon Waguespack and geometry teacher Sonya Wilson.

When this class of students entered their sophomore year, the team at Magnet High began working with the students last summer to determine how best to meet their needs in preparing for the PSAT assessment.  A new set of resource curriculum was introduced to align to the new PSAT and familiarize students with the format of the exam and to ensure success.

For the students, the efforts of Magnet’s team made all the difference.

"The teachers have worked with all of the students, and I truly felt that they were going above and beyond what was required of them,” Sandra Shahriar said. “I would not have been able to score as high without the immense efforts of the faculty at Magnet High."

Mary North Jones said, "I am so grateful for all the support we receive from the teachers and administrators.  The teachers at Magnet really want us to excel, and they work with us to make sure we can.  I knew when I sat down to take the PSAT that I was going to succeed."

Antares Villaneda said the combined efforts of students and staff led to doors opening for all of the students earning consideration for National Merit scholarships.

“I am thankful to attend a school that supported me and encouraged us to be prepared,” Villaneda said. “Doing well has given me many opportunities, including automatic acceptance into certain colleges.” 

As a district, Caddo will continue to support schools to increase opportunities for students and provide resources to teachers and staff.

 “We as a district are so proud of our Magnet High students for their success in reaching this milestone and wish them the best of success as they advance through the competition,” said Dr. Lamar Goree, Superintendent of Caddo Schools. “Our teachers and staff have done a wonderful job of working with our students to reinforce lessons and help them achieve their goals. Congratulations to these amazing students and to the team at Magnet High for the hard work.”

Nationwide, about 1.6 million students entered the competition, and 16,000 students reached the semifinalist stage. About 7,500 will eventually win $33 million in scholarships. The National Merit Scholarship Corp. is an academic competition for recognition and scholarships that began in 1955. High school students enter the National Merit Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test —a test which serves as an initial screen of approximately 1.5 million entrants each year—and by meeting published program entry and participation requirements.