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Lenoir County Public Schools: Schools High Schools

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Gaona picked for prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship

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Awaiting a decision that would decide his future short-term, Angel Gaona received a text message he wouldn’t let himself believe.

Its first word was “Congratulations” and it came from an insider in the selection process for the coveted Morehead-Cain Scholarship to the University of North Carolina. But it wasn’t official and it was early.

“I was thinking, there’s no way he’s talking about me getting the scholarship,” the North Lenoir High School senior said. “It wasn’t even 5 o’clock yet.”

It was Angel Gaona’s time, though. As the official notification confirmed later that Friday, Gaona is one of about 70 graduating seniors – about 3 percent of all candidates – selected for the nation’s oldest merit scholarship and one of the most prestigious.angel_mug

The winnowing process began late last year. Eighty percent of nominees were eliminated by December and that field of semi-finalists was narrowed to 126 finalists in February. Gaona and the other finalists spent the first weekend in March at UNC, where they were interviewed again, sat in on classes and participated in campus activities.

“They really made you feel at home,” Gaona said of Final Selection Weekend. “We spoke to (Morehead-Cain) scholars who were doing amazing things. I almost felt out of place. I’m thinking to myself, there’s no way I’m going to be as good as these people, no way I’m going to do what these people are doing. But I was hopeful and something worked out.”

Valued at about $80,000 for in-state students, the Morehead-Cain Scholarship covers all expenses for four years of undergraduate study. Scholars also participate in summer enrichment programs.

Just days after he graduates from North Lenoir, Gaona will embark on the first of these summer opportunities, a leadership program at a location he can pick from a menu of about 50. “I’m thinking about Alaska,” said Gaona, the son of Paula and Gregorio Gaona of La Grange.

It will be a summer quite different from those spent picking peaches or working in tobacco, an aspect of the student’s life that particularly interested Morehead-Cain interviewers, perhaps for what they said about his work ethic.

North Lenoir High principal Gil Respess shares their respect. “Angel’s being awarded the Morehead-Cain scholarship is an excellent example of what can happen when one sets academic goals and works hard in obtaining them,” he said. “He is a young man of great integrity and is well respected by his peers and educators.”

Ranked No. 1 academically in his class, a spot he shares with a classmate, Gaona played soccer for North Lenoir, has volunteered at the Neuseway Park planetarium and works an after-school job. He spent last summer at North Carolina Governor’s School studying math. He came to North Lenoir through La Grange Elementary School and E.B. Frink Middle School.

"Angel's being selected as a Morehead-Cain Scholar is an extraordinary accomplishment, not only for Angel, but also for North Lenoir High School and Lenoir County Public Schools," school counselor Jennifer Hollingsworth said. "He is a highly motivated, intensely determined student who accepts nothing less than the best from himself as a student and as a person. He is a very deserving recipient of this scholarship. We are all so very proud of him!"

Gaona plans to study pre-med at UNC, go to medical school after college and become a cardiologist.

Last Updated on Friday, 17 March 2017 13:26

Summer at Governor's School awaits pair from North Lenoir

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Sydney Swindell and Mary George King have an interesting summer ahead of them. The two juniors at North Lenoir High School will spend nearly six weeks of it at North Carolina Governor’s School.

“I hope to meet new people and expand my knowledge about the world around me and how society works,” said King, who will study social science at Salem College in Winston-Salem, the west campus of Governor’s School. “I want to bring back my experiences and be able to tell students who want to apply next year about it.”nl_gov_school

Swindell will study math on the east campus, at Meredith College in Raleigh. “I’m really want it to be something where I can learn more about math,” she said. “I love math and I’m hoping I can further that and understand the subject more, as well as have the experiences, meet the people, do all the stuff you expect to do with a summer-long program.”

Governor’s School is a summer residential program for academically or intellectually gifted high school students that offers instruction in one of 11 areas of academic or artistic emphasis, as well as a broader curriculum that integrates these areas. It is the oldest program of its kind in the nation. Each campus accepts 325 students, mostly rising seniors, from the more than 1,800 nominations received. This year, Governor’s School begins June 18 and runs through July 26.

Students win admission after being nominated by their schools and compiling an application package that includes grades and test scores, teacher recommendations and essays that shed some light on their personal and academic interests.

Both King and Swindell are typical of the high-achieving students selected for the program – at the top of their class academically, involved in sports and extracurricular activities at school and active in the community.

Swindell (on right in photo) plays tennis for North Lenoir, is a member of the Quiz Bowl team and Math Club, volunteers as a reading tutor at Banks Elementary School, volunteers with her church and works two after-school jobs.

King is an all-conference soccer player and a cheerleader; is a member of the SGA, Math Club and HOSA, a health occupation group, at North Lenoir; and volunteers with the county’s recreation department and at Southeast Elementary School.

Both are members of the Honor Society.

With King and Swindell, North Lenoir has sent 10 students to Governor’s School since 2014.

“We owe our thanks to the teachers at North Lenoir and to our parents,” King said. “They helped us get in. They pushed us.”

Swindell is the daughter of Rebecca and Frank Swindell of Kinston. King is the daughter of Lesley and Keith King of La Grange.

Woodington team claims two top awards at science fair

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To "nerve-wracking" and "exciting" -- their words for what it felt like to compete in a regional science fair -- Mary Lynn Dawson and Lyndsay Williams can add "confidence building."

Not only did the two Woodington Middle School seventh graders take first prize in the biotechnical category of the junior division (grades 6-8), but their project -- "Which Liquid Is Best for the Growth and ph level of an Aralia" -- was also chosen as the best biotechnical project at the fair, which included high school and elementary division entries.

Winning the  Sartorius Stedim Biotechnology Award for the Excellent Biotechnology Research Project carried with it a cash prize. "We split $180," Mary Lynn said.lyndsay_marylynn2

Quite a haul for a team with no experience in science fairs. Their project had won first-place in the middle school division of the Lenoir County Science Fair in January, but traveling to UNC-Pembroke in Lumberton for the Sandhills Regional Science and Engineering Fair felt like another matter altogether.

"I knew there would be more competition," Lyndsay said. "There were a lot more people, and I was a little worried theirs would be better."

Not to worry. "They did a wonderful job with their project," Yvonne Hardy, their science teacher, said. "They are oustanding students in my classroom and in our school."

The project grew out of the girls' interest in gardening. "We like to grow plants, we both have gardens, but we don't have the greenest thumb," Mary Lynn said. "So we decided we should try some different liquids on a plant and see which one made it healthy."

For six weeks they watered aralia plants with six different liquids -- water, tea (unsweetened), soda, sports drink, energy drink and vitamin water -- and tracked the plants' growth and changes in their ph levels.

"We thought that water would do the best because that's what we knew would work," Mary Lynn said. "We were wrong. Water and tea both did the best."

The energy drink finished dead last. "It hopped the plant up and all that sugar from the energy drink wilted the plant," Lindsay said.

The results matter less than the process, according to Hardy. "The good thing about a science fair project is that students get to use a lot of skills and it gives them a chance to experience the scientific method from hypotheses to conclusion."

Mary Lynn and Lyndsay will join Frink Middle School sixth grader Tyler Sears as LCPS's representatives at the state science fair March 25 at Meredith College in Raleigh. Tyler won a first-place medal for his earth/environmental science project Feb. 11 at the Southeast Regional Science and Engineering Fair, the region in which LCPS students typically compete. Because of a conflict with ACT testing, however, Mary Lynn and Lyndsay were allowed to compete in the Sandhills Regional, held Feb. 18.

Woodington qualified nine students for competition at the regional level, the most of any school in the district. "Our entire school participated in science fair this year," Hardy said. "One of the things we try to do is let the students know the expectations, give them examples and encourage them to do challenging projects."







Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 March 2017 00:02

North Lenoir senior a Morehead-Cain finalist

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What once seemed impossible for Angel Gaona from a distance looks achievable now that he’s closing in on it.

“I wasn’t expecting all this,” the North Lenoir High School senior said. “I wasn’t expecting so many opportunities. Now that I realize they’re there, I actually have hope for doing what I once thought was a dream.”

It’s a dream shared by many of the state’s top high school students – winning a coveted Morehead-Cain Scholarship to the University of North Carolina. Gaona, 18, of La Grange, was recently named one of 126 finalists for the merit-based scholarship, worth about $80,000 for in-state students.

His final hurdle in an application process that began months ago will come March 4-7, when he and other finalists gather at UNC for a series of interviews and activities on campus. The scholarships will be offered by March 10.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Gaona said of Final Selection Weekend. “I’ll just go in there, not overconfident, and hope something works out.”

He’s already made an impression. Among the 20 percent of initial hopefuls chosen to become semi-finalists, based on his academic record and a written application, he advanced to the final rung after an interview of regional candidates in Greenville in January.

“I think what they found to be most interesting is my background, that at a very young age I was a field worker,” Gaona recalled.

Working summers from age 12, first picking peaches, then working in tobacco, provided “life lessons,” he said. “It makes you value school more. It makes you value your education a whole lot more and from there go on to bigger things.”

His after-school job at a Goldsboro western wear store has benefits, too, he said. “It’s helped me improve my communications skills. It’s made it a lot easier to talk to random people.”

Asked by the Greenville interviewers how he found time to take a break, Gaona said he had to answer, “What free time? There’s always school or work; that’s pretty much how it is.”

He is a member of North Lenoir’s soccer team, has volunteered at the planetarium at Neuseway Park and spent last summer at N.C. Governor’s School as a math scholar.

The top student academically in his class, he plans to go to medical school after college and become a cardiologist.

"I've had the privilege of serving as Angel's principal throughout his four years of high school," North Lenoir principal Gil Respess said. "He is the real deal -- an impressive young man. He is intelligent, well liked by his peers and respectful to all. I am certain that he will be successful in whatever he does and that he will continue to make both his family and the Hawk family proud."

Gaona is the son of Paula and Gregorio Gaona.


Last Updated on Saturday, 11 February 2017 15:25

South Lenoir claims repeat with Adult Spelling Bee win

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South Lenoir High School, a frequent winner of the Lenoir County Education Foundation’s Adult Spelling Bee in years past, carried its dominance into 2017 with its second set of back-to-back wins on Tuesday.

South Lenoir outlasted 30 teams from LCPS schools and local businesses in a duel that went down to the wire with the team from Pink Hill Elementary School.

Both teams missed the 20th word called – squamulose, which means “furnished or covered with scales” – but South Lenoir won on the strength of fewer misses in a contest that allows teams to buy their way out of a spelling error with a $20 contribution to the Education Foundation.

Spelling for South Lenoir were Jodi Maxey, Courtney Lee, Mary Vickory and Ryan Gardner. The team took home $300 for its school. Only Gardner was a member of the South Lenoir team that won the last Adult Spelling Bee. South Lenoir also repeated as winners in the 2010 and 2011 contests.

The second-place Pink Hill team consisted of Kelly Bluhm, Myra Aycock, Jean Turner and Kim Holley and won $200 for its school.

Third place went to the team of Laura Jackson, Christian Smith, Andrew Duppstadt and Lee Albritton, representing Self-Help Credit Union. The team donated its $100 prize to Southeast Elementary School.

The Spirit Award went to the Queen Bees of Rochelle Middle School – Rebecca Zarrow, Hannah Jiminex, Cordelia Breiner and Camille Bridges.

The event raised about $7,200 for the Education Foundation’s mini-grant program, which awards grants of up to $500 each to teachers in Lenoir County.

This year’s event nearly doubled the number of teams from 2015, the last year an Adult Spelling Bee was held. The 2016 Bee was scheduled for early last November but was postponed because of flooding from Hurricane Matthew.

Held at the Woodmen Community Center, the Adult Spelling Bee was sponsored by Woodmen of the World, Sale Auto Mall, Chick-fil-A and Alsoco.


Last Updated on Thursday, 09 February 2017 22:32

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