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News >  K-12 education

Two of the nation’s 161 Presidential Scholars this year are from Eastern Washington

UPDATED: Sat., May 15, 2021

 (Contributed photo)
(Contributed photo)

Two of the top high school seniors in the nation are from small towns in Eastern Washington.

That may be a surprise to some, but not at Newport High School, which has an enrollment of less than 400, yet found a way to provide Tessa Pierce with the tools to become a U.S. Presidential Scholar.

Tessa got the news Thursday morning that she was one of just 161 scholars nationally honored by Miguel Cardona, the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Only three are from Washington. One is from a private school in Bellevue but the other, Molly Williams, is a senior at Clarkston and a Presidential Scholar in career and technical education.

“It was exciting,” said Pierce, who will major in biochemistry at Cal Tech.

Moments after getting the news, Pierce called her mom, Saraya Pierce, a Special Programs Director at the high school.

In that capacity, Saraya knows better than almost anyone that smaller schools are sometimes underrated in their ability to deliver first-class opportunities in college prep and CTE.

“For all of our students, we try to make sure that we have some of those pathways – strong math and science skills but also that CTE track – just really striving to find avenues for them.”

Those paths have been bumpier because of COVID-19.

“But I really tried hard to discipline myself, because I know that in college it’s a lot more self-directed,” said Tessa, who earlier this spring was honored as one of the top winners by the Spokane Scholars Foundation.

Tessa also took first place in Biomedical Laboratory Science in a statewide competition and found time to compete in cross country.

She also credited her teachers – especially Rhonda Burnham, Mike Frederick, Marie Hughes and Todd Matthews – for making the path a little smoother.

“And my mom has helped with a lot of those guidance pieces,” Tessa said.

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects honorees based on their academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.

Of the 3.6 million students expected to graduate from high school this year, more than 6,000 candidates qualified for the 2021 awards determined by outstanding performance on the College Board SAT or ACT exams, or through nominations.

The scholars include one boy and one girl from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and U.S. families living abroad, plus 15 chosen at-large, 20 Scholars in the arts and 20 Scholars in career and technical education.

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