Paly, Gunn seniors win National Merit honors

High number reflects 'rarefied intellectual world' of Palo Alto students, superintendent says

Nearly a quarter of the senior classes at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools have been named either 2012 National Merit Semifinalists or Commended Students, the Palo Alto school district announced.

"This is a reminder of what a rarefied world our students live in intellectually," said school Superintendent Kevin Skelly, noting that year's combined total of Palo Alto semifinalists and commended students is believed to be the highest ever.

The combined total of 67 semifinalists from Gunn and Paly join some 16,000 semifinalists from across the country in the top 1 percent of scorers on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test taken in the junior year. About 1.5 million juniors in 22,000 high schools took the test.

Semifinalists are qualified to advance in the competition for more than $34 million in scholarships offered through the National Merit Scholarship Corp.

The combined total of 176 "commended students" from Gunn and Paly, along with about 34,000 other seniors across the country, received letters of commendation in recognition of "outstanding academic promise" from the National Merit Scholarship Corp.

From Gunn, the National Merit Semifinalists are: Zachary Ameri, Chloe Blanchard, Don-Sung Chang, Jennifer Chang, Angela Chen, Peter Chen, Chrystal Chern, Brian Chu, Claire Collins, Melia Dunbar, Lizhi Fan, Qianying Fan, Kieran Gallagher, Eeway Hsu, Alexander Irpan, Soumya Kannan, Hannah Katznelson, Devon Koch, Oren Kreps, Matthew Leong, Philip Liang, Cassandra Lincoln, Harrison Mamin, David Oyer, Anastasia Petrova, Jason Qui, Alena Rott, Sruti Sarathy, Franklin Shieh, Joseph Suh, Maya Trifunovic, Anastasia Vavilina, Jean Wang, Wendy Wu, Sian Ye and Eddie Zhou.

From Paly, the semifinalists are: Anjali Ahuja, Elise Bruguera, Alex Carter, Jodie Chen, Nassim Fedel, Benjamin Hashemi-Briskin, Karine Hsu, Steven Hu, Rina Hung, Jessica Jin, Madeline Kau, Amy Ke, Emilia Kellison-Linn, Tremaine Kirkman, Justin Krasner-Karpen, Kevin Lee, Crystal Liu, Zeyu Liu, Zezhou Liu, Yiyao Lu, Christopher Ma, Mark Nishimura, Maxwell Siegelman, Renee Singh, Justin Wang, Apoorva Ram, Daniel Shan, Zarek Siegel, Sophie Wang, Allen Wu and Charles Zhang.

From Gunn, the National Merit Commended Students are: Rachael Acker, Grayson Adams, Natasha Allen, Oz Amram, Dale Anderson, Xavier Artache, Joseph Atlas, Jesse Benza, Noah Brennan-Greenbaum, Monica Cai, Brendan Caporaletti, Andrew Chen, Jason Cheng, Seung-Woo Choi, Gabriel Crane, Audrey Davis, Margaret Deng, Kelly Doong, Madeline Dray, Rachel Freeman, Shana Gallagher, Omree Gal-Oz, Malik Gill, David Goldgof, Avni Gupta, Thomas Halstead, Ethan Hausser, Ava Hawkinson, Hayley Hirsh, Eric Hu, Bryant Im, Asako Inagawa, Michael Ishimoto, Rebecca Kah, Saleem Maramali, Thomas Kidder, Jun-Yeup Kim, Candace Kuen, Christine Kyauk, Cara Lai, Cindy Lam, Sierra Leder, Evan Lewis, Julia Li, Yilin Liang, Allen Liu, Sharon Lo, Sarah Mallory, Emma Marriott, Comfrey McCarthy, Margaret McKenna, Jeremy Neff, Ashley Ngu, Robin Oyung, Juan-Diego Palomino, Jin Pan, Naomi Pederson, Christine Prior, Olivia Ray, Michael Rundell, Jacob Schmidt, Ashka Shah, Nitsan Shai, Kathryn Shuey, Katie-Rose Skelly, Yiwen Song, Nikolaj Sorensen, Jeffrey Sun, Alexander Sutherland, Edward Swernofsky, Isha Thapa, Soham Tikekar, Robert Tseng, Rachel Tsukamoto, Daniel Wallace, Stephanie Wang, Robert Watson, Adam Wells, Alex Wells, Jaxon Welsh, Monisha White, Natalie Wilson, Daniel Wolfert, Jonathan Wong, Wing Fei Wong, Lisa Wu, Shang Yip, Yue Yu, Daniel Zhang, Lydia Zhang, Megan Zhang, Brian Zhu and Amanda Zunino.

From Paly, the commended students are: Hannah Abbott, Michael Abrams, Suzanna Ackroyd, Emily Ahn, Tomer Arnon, Grace Barry, Elias Berezin, Madeline Berger, Christopher Bisbee, Alexander Brooks, Lucas Brooks, Clay Carey, Clara Chang, Benson Chen, Molly Chen, Emily Chiu, Jessica Cox, Laura Cui, John Dickerson, Skylar Dorosin, Emily Dorward, Gregory Dunn, Caroline Ebinger, Naomi Epstein, Emily Fu, Katherine Garland, Heather Gaya, Andre Gouyet, Zoe Greene, Samuel Hain, George Han, Grant Harmon, Alex Heritier-Kerby, Anne Hildebrand, Kristoffer Hoglund, Charlie Kelsey, Hannah Kim, Peter Kotik, Peter Lai, Matthew Lee, Toby Lee, Alexander Lenail, Sosi Lepejian, Solomon Leung, Linda Li, Jason Liang, Grace Liao, William Lichtenger, Benjamin Lin, Jennifer Lin, Kyle Lie, Jeffrey Lu, Xavier Mignot, Jackson Miley, Matthew Miller, Sarah Miller, Nicholas Mori, Christopher Myau, Maximilian Najork, Tin Nguyen, Ryan Oshima, Neena Pai, Keegan Papakipos, Nishant Pol, Corso Rosati, Kyle Samos, Byron Sanborn, Jasmaer Sandhu, Zorawar Singh, Benjamin Sneider, Catherine Stevens, Katya Stukalova, Emily Swanson, Jared Swezey-Gleason, Hanne Totte, Victoria Tse, Kai Vandivier, Arun Varma, Kevin Wang, Lauren Wong, Christopher Xu, Bryan Young and Amitai Zand.

Chris Kenrick

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Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 3, 2011 at 11:13 am

Congratulations to all of these young folks. Your hard work rewarded.

Like this comment
Posted by pagunn
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Editor -- is there really only about a total of 150 seniors at Gunn and Paly for a total of 300 seniors in our high schools? I thought the senior class was much larger than that at each high school.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 3, 2011 at 1:15 pm

There are 473 kids in this year's Paly graduating class. I think the 67 refers to semi-finalists, not commended.

Like this comment
Posted by Tom
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Pagunn - As I read it, there were 67 semifinalists + 176 commended students = 243 students, and this equals about 1/4 of the seniors in both schools, so a combined senior class of just under 1000.

Like this comment
Posted by pagunn
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Tom you are right. My bad. I read only up to the "67". Next question, what were the percentage of students in the past? It does sound like an amazing number. Kudos to these students.

Like this comment
Posted by Data Guy
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 3, 2011 at 4:03 pm

@pagunn, the results look similar to previous years. There were 36 semi-finalists @ Gunn this year, compared with 30-42 Gunn semi-finalists the past 3 years. Here's the data:
Web Link

The National Merit Semi-finalist awards are given out to the top 1% PSAT scorers, so these kids probably also rocked the SAT's, as well (probably 2250+).

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 3, 2011 at 9:27 pm

If memory serves me, about 10% of my Paly '87 class were finalists or commended, which was ~40 students.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 4, 2011 at 10:10 am

There is attention paid to this in advance nowadays. Many parents have their kids take the PSAT a year early to prep for taking it for real as juniors. Nobody did this in the past. This is how savvy parents manage this nowadays (aiming for highest possible scores/awards) and scores can certainly be raised with this kind of dedication. (You hear if you are a semi-finalist, etc. when you are a senior, though PSAT is taken in junior year.)My only worry is for the naive who are out of the loop on this practice since it is to their detriment.

Like this comment
Posted by Stay-at-home Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 4, 2011 at 11:41 am

@Anonymous: Agree. It's "You snooze, you lose". The more involved parents are more knowlegeable due to networking with other parents, thus their children are at an advantage and it's unfair to those with uninvolved or immigrant parents. Life isn't fair.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 4, 2011 at 11:53 am

FYI: Paly does not allow it's sophomores to take the test early. Most of these kids if not all have not taken the test prior to their Junior year. Let's try not to take away from their hard work and success, but enjoy it on their behalf.

Like this comment
Posted by Another stay-at-home mom
a resident of University South
on Oct 4, 2011 at 12:23 pm

My child is one of the commended students, and we couldn't be more proud of her. She took the test with no preparation except a good night's sleep and a history of working hard in school. She also was dealing with an as of then undiagnosed and untreated learning disorder and this honor has boosted her self esteem a great deal. Shame on you disgruntled parents for trying to minimize this achievement. Can't you be happy for these students even if your own child was not one of them?

Like this comment
Posted by Class of '89
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 4, 2011 at 2:33 pm

"Many parents have their kids take the PSAT a year early to prep for taking it for real as juniors. Nobody did this in the past."

Not true. Back in the late '80s, most sophomores took the PSAT as a "practice". I certainly did.

Like this comment
Posted by Nat'l merit finalist
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 4, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Hard not to see a correlation between the rising statistics noted here and the statistics that have been analyzed on this thread: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by PAdad
a resident of Ohlone School
on Oct 4, 2011 at 3:34 pm

To rank in the top 1% is a wonderful accomplishment and should be celebrated.

What "hard work" are people referring to?
Are many kids studying hard for the PSAT these days?
Studying hard for the SAT's I understand, but PSAT?

I was a National Merit finalist when I was in high school in the 80's.
Like everyone else, I took the PSAT's my sophomore year and the preparation consisted of doing a 1 hr. practice test booklet beforehand. It wasn't hard work, just a good score on an aptitude test.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 4, 2011 at 3:56 pm

PAdad - Kids actually take PSAT courses. Really. I don't know how many study hard for the PSAT, but this is Palo Alto!

I think the Paly class of 2010 had 54 or so National Merit Schools. So more than 10% of the class was in the top 1% of the country. I'm not sure if that is more wonderful or scary (for those regular kids)

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 4, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Congratulations to all students who qualify NMSF! No need to be bitter if your kid is not one of them. Or, if your kid is still young, make them study a little harder, I mean a little harder but not stressful. Study is the main "job" for a student, as this English word says, period!

There is no PSAT test for 10th grade anymore at Gunn. All students take their first PSAT at 11th grade. Of course, you can prepare it early, so what is wrong if a student choose to prepare a test? So as for any sport, you practice before the competition, right?

Like this comment
Posted by RussianMom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 5, 2011 at 7:26 am

Congratulations to all our kids!!! The ones who got the award, and the ones who didn't. It's a hard place to earn your grades but after all your knowledge will be carried through life. Great job, students! Very proud of every one of you!

Like this comment
Posted by PSAT, Plan and Explore tests
a resident of another community
on Oct 5, 2011 at 10:10 am

Both Paly and Gunn offer a pre-ACT test to all freshmen called the "Explore" test and offer a harder pre-ACT test when they are sophomores called "Plan."

The PSAT is the same thing, except it has a scholarship attached to it for exceptionally few test takers with the highest scorers who are finalists (a subset of the semi-finalists just announced) who submit applications, have high grades, etc. I'm not sure how many scholarship winners Palo Alto has had, if any.

Despite suspicions otherwise mentioned above, these early tests are not just for a few who game the system.

Colleges do not see PSAT scores so unless you know you are in scholarship contention, there is no edge kids gain by prepping for the PSAT other than practice which any student can do – for free -- any time.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 25, 2011 at 10:12 am

1987 Paly stats:
Total class size: 424 students
National Merit Commended: 54 (12.7%)
National Merit Semifinalists: 38 (9.0%)
Commended + Semifinalists: 92 (21.7%)

2011 Paly class:
Size: 473
National Merit Commended: 83 (17.5%)
National Merit Semifinalists: 31 (6.6%)
Commended + Semifinalists: 92 (24.1%)

Note that - if this '87 vs '11 comparison is representative of the overall trend - there are now higher overall % of Paly students achieving [Commended + Semifinalist] level, but *significantly* lower % of Semifinalists (6.6% vs 9.0%). Knowing the '87 Semifinalists somewhat, I'd say they were much more lovers of knowledge & free thinkers than today's crop, who IMHO have been moreso taught the importance of test scores.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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