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Top students ask that class rank titles be restored

Journal photo by Jenni Vincent Berkeley County Superintendent of Schools Manny Arvon, left, recently heard from some top-rated local students, including, from left, Tyler Jenkins, Casey Johnson, Adam Dodson, Leah Smith, Hana Ulman and Susan Margevich.
Journal photo by Jenni Vincent
Berkeley County Superintendent of Schools Manny Arvon, left, recently heard from some top-rated local students, including, from left, Tyler Jenkins, Casey Johnson, Adam Dodson, Leah Smith, Hana Ulman and Susan Margevich.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Some of the top students at Berkeley County’s four high schools are urging superintendent Manny Arvon and board of education members to consider reinstating a program that identified a valedictorian for each graduating class.

Arvon said he was impressed that the students not only approached him, but also came with ideas about some alternative programs and how the different options could be used locally. He said these ideas will be taken under advisement with regard to the students’ request to reinstate at least a version of this system.

Martinsburg High representative Tyler Jenkins said he understands some of the problems associated with the former system that allowed a valedictorian and salutatorian to be named.

For example, this selection can be more difficult depending on how various advanced or honor courses are weighted, and in some cases there were multiple individuals at the top of the class.

However alternative options for making this selection could include being named by a committee of teachers, who would consider various factors including strength of classes, grade point average and overall schedule strength, Jenkins said.

It might also be possible to devise a valedictorian scoring system or even allow multiple valedictorians from a school, he said.

Jenkins said students are currently being punished by not having these honors, because it is a title that many larger, more exclusive colleges and universities are specifically interested in – and ask about class rank in applications.

Fellow Martinsburg High student Casey Johnson, a junior who is now ranked 12th in his class, said this more formal recognition also benefits underclassmen.

“Coming into high school, very few rising freshmen see a need to sign up for difficult classes, as the increase in workload is met with little reward. But the reinstatement of valedictorian would serve to motivate many of these students to push themselves from their first year in high school,” he said.

Musselman High student Taylor Lord, who is currently ranked No. 1 in her senior class, said this type of ranking information is not a secret.

“If students can vote on and pick who is the most intelligent and hardest working scholar in their year, why can’t we know who truly is by means of grade point average? Class ranking isn’t secret, so let’s formally honor those that have excelled,” she said.

Spring Mills High senior Susan Margevich, who is currently ranked second in her class, emphasized her own personal experience and why this academic designation matters.

“Applying to multiple colleges has shown me that class rank does not go unknown in the application process – of the three I applied to, two of them asked for my class rank. My college of choice, Rochester Institute of Technology, bases admission into both the college itself and into the Honor’s College partially on class rank,” she said.

Margevich said West Virginia University and other colleges across the country have “high scholarships” specifically for valedictorians.

“Here in Berkeley County, we are being stunted in the race against the country due to the fact that we cannot officially claim ourselves as valedictorians and salutatorians. Reinstating the title of valedictorian would allow colleges to see our strength and perseverance throughout all four of our years in high school, and we would be level with students across the country who can proudly claim this title,” she said.

Leah Smith, the top-rated senior at Spring Mills High, said it is time for academics to receive the same validation usually given to athletics.

“For years, children are taught to be good at something, anything really. It could be the arts, athletics or school. But then, when it really matters, far too little attention is directed towards academics and the arts,” she said.

“Academics, particularly to top students, require years of tireless hard work and the recognition for a year-long season feels severely lacking. If top-named athletes can be recognized and praised, top scholars should be as well,” Smith said.

Hedgesville high senior Hana Ulman, who is currently ranked second in her class, agreed that academic achievement should be recognized and honored.

“It is abhorrent that the students who pour their heart and soul into their academic success do not receive the recognition that they so rightfully deserve. Reinstalling the recognition of this prestigious title, kindles the spark for ambition and drive that today’s youth so desperately need,” she said.

“We need an incentive. We need to be pushed in order to strive for success. Various other extra-curricular activities hand out multifarious awards and recognitions to their top performers, why should academics be any different?” Ulman said.

“By reinstating the title of valedictorian we are supporting an initiative to reach the highest bar, and soar to levels thought unfathomable,” she said.

– Staff writer Jenni Vincent can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 131.

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