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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

Discipline drove top scholars to succeed despite pandemic

Excellence in the classroom means more than being bright; you also need to rise and shine, even in the shadow of a pandemic.

When Rosalie Juviler began her senior year at Lewis and Clark High School last fall, she wasn’t allowed to set foot in the building, much less on the stage of the theater she’d grown to love.

As the year wore on, it was clear that there would be no laughter in the makeup room, no opening-night jitters and no chance to perform in front of a live audience.

Instead, Juviler was forced to perform at home, albeit in front of friendly faces on the other side of a laptop.

“It’s not what we were trained to do,” Juviler said. “It’s been different, but it’s been a cool challenge, to get that energy from within myself.”

Because that’s what top students always do, but especially this year, with its ready-made excuses to turn off the laptop camera to the virtual classroom and go back to bed.

Left to their own devices – especially their cell phones – they put them down and resisted the urge to hang out on Instagram or Snapchat.

Partly because Juviler refused to yield to those temptations, she was honored last week as the top award winner in fine arts by the Spokane Scholars Foundation.

The other top scholars were Jadyn Malone of Lewis and Clark, in English; Jillian Holbrook of Mead High School in science; Rosie Zhou of Ferris High School in world languages; and Central Valley High School classmates Avery Auth in social studies, and Alexander Wirthlin in mathematics.

All had stellar test scores and jaw-dropping achievements in and out of the classroom. They also carried perfect grade-point averages, but mostly they just carried on.

Their teachers also rose to the occasion.

Their reward included a $4,000 college scholarship and the satisfaction of perseverance .

Rosalie Juviler, Lewis and Clark

Even while confined to her room at home, Juviler managed to compete in a regional theater competition.

“It feels weird to be talking into a camera, but you have to put yourself in the character,” said Juviler, who also credited her teachers with finding ways to keep everyone engaged, “to find creative ways to still have a normal feeling.”

Juviler did likewise, finding creative outlets in sewing and other fabric arts and the old-fashioned art of reading.

Her cell phone was an ever-present temptation.

“But when I felt like I was on the phone too much, I would delete the app for a week and dive into a book,” Juviler said.

From that discipline, Juviler posted a perfect 4.0 GPA while taking a heavy load of Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

“A unique blend of talent, intelligence, diligence, kindness and perseverance,” one teacher called Juviler, who is still finalizing her college options.

Jadyn Malone, Lewis and ClarkThe quest for knowledge leads teenagers down many paths, some more fruitful than others.

The exception is Malone, who is still trying to find an area where she doesn’t excel. With perfect AP scores in Spanish, biology and calculus, she’s leaning toward a major in environmental studies at Dartmouth College.

That will mean saying goodbye to the LC theater and her classes in English literature. Both were hit hard by the pandemic, but like Juviler she found a way to thrive on Microsoft Teams.

For that she thanked teacher Cory Davis, who “did a really good job of pulling things out of the text and encouraging everyone to add something to the conversation.”

Those conversations were spiced up by readings of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” – an interesting one for teenagers, Malone said, because while the title character “is technically 30, in some ways he has a teenager’s perspective.”

In some ways, Malone is the opposite: a teenager who already holds a mature world view. She has volunteered for Students Demand Action, which seeks to address gun violence; and the Sunrise Movement, which is attempting to raise awareness about climate change.

Those too were hampered by COVID-19 restrictions.

“That’s definitely been a struggle, to get people to do what they can,” Malone said. “A lot of people are burned out, but you just have to be doing something.”

Rosie Zhou, FerrisShe’s only a teenager, but Zhou gets it.

She’s lucky to have a family that fully supports her scholastics, and fortunate not to have younger siblings to tend.

“I know that’s hard for a lot of them,” Zhou said.

She also had a head start in world languages. Her parents are immigrants from China, and Rosie grew up speaking Mandarin as well as English.

Like everyone else, she was taken by surprise when the pandemic struck. Last spring and all of this year, discipline kept her in front of the laptop.

“I just had to make the best of the situation,” Zhou said. “I really had to stay up to date with class and engage – not just turn the camera off but be actively asking questions.”

Her AP Spanish teacher, Tamara Gower, rose to the occasion by assigning poems and other readings.

“I believe that learning languages not only expands my own worldview, knowledge and cultural awareness, it is also a wonderful way to help others in my community,” said Zhou, who plans to study public policy and pursue a career in government and politics.

Avery Auth, Central ValleyBy the end of last summer, returning to class seemed distant for Avery Auth.

Central Valley High School began the year in distance learning only, leaving Auth to struggle through orchestra and Spanish classes.

“It was definitely different,” said Auth, who held down a restaurant job while doing her best to be especially safe because her mother worked in a hospital.

“I had to be very careful about following the rules,” Auth said. “But I think that above all else, I wanted to just keep going, because this wouldn’t last forever.”

That kind of discipline helped Auth win Spokane Scholars’ top prize in social studies. Included in her nomination was a comment from one of her AP teachers that she “doesn’t need accountability” and “has the internal drive to do what top students do.”

The results included a 4.0 GPA while taking the most challenging curriculum. Auth scored a 1530 on the SAT and perfect 5s in six different AP tests.

“That’s why I worked so hard, so I wouldn’t fall behind when I got back,” said Auth who plans to major in environmental engineering at Montana State University.

Alexander Wirthlin, Central ValleySome students adjusted better than others to distance learning.

The top mathematics achiever in this year’s Spokane Scholars competition, Wirthlin had taken online courses prior to the pandemic – “where we have to motivate and do things or fall behind.”

Wirthlin also confessed to “being a person who doesn’t socialize a lot outside of school.”

Yet the strain grew as distance learning stretched past the New Year and well into winter before Central Valley students finally returned.

“But I’ve been lucky to have teachers who’ve been able to adapt their curriculum, and they’re very passionate,” said Wirthlin, who singled out teachers Rob Rowe and Joseph Pauley.

The feelings were mutual.

“Conversations with this student were like talking with like-minded colleagues, discussing mathematical implications and deep mathematical concepts like he had been studying them most of his life,” a nominating teacher said of Wirthlin.

Wirthlin’s academic record includes a 4.0 GPA, passing scores on five AP tests and a perfect 800 on the Math SAT 2.

He plans to major in computer science at Washington State Unversity.

Jillian Holbrook, MeadApart from the frequent quarantines, life was relatively good at Mead High School; the district’s hybrid system meant that students spent at least two days a week in the classroom.

For Holbrook – the top honoree in science – that meant three days a week away from the science lab, away from her teachers at Mead.

However, Holbrook’s test tube is always half-full. Looking ahead to college, see saw the chance to get a head start on the self-discipline she will need as a neuroscience major at the University of Washington.

“It’s been a great opportunity to be responsible as a learner, and to take charge,” Holbrook said. “But it’s definitely been a unique experience.”

Holbrook understands the challenges teachers face during the pandemic. She tutors AP students online and is the director of a program piloting a free neuroscience course available in 110 countries.

However, Holbrook had her own tests to prepare for – notably AP chemistry. To the rescue came teacher Laura Gray, who helped Holbrook prepare.

“She not only cared about me as a student but valued me as an individual,” said Holbrook, who said she also appreciated the extra efforts of her environmental science teacher, Jesse McCorkle.

“Those two teachers were incredible,” Holbrook said.

Yet for Holbrook and the other top scholars, the drive to succeed must come from within.

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