Seniors Virginia “Dewey” Gray, Ian Lent and Nathanael “Nate” Knorr have been named semi-finalists for the National Merit Scholarship Award. Photos by Sara Anastasi

Hard work and dedication have borne fruit for three students at Joel Barlow High School after being named semi-finalists for the National Merit Scholarship Award. Barlow has a population of only 813 students, so producing three semi-finalists in one year is a remarkable achievement. However, after speaking to seniors Virginia “Dewey” Gray, Nathan “Nate” Knorr and Ian Lent, it is easy to see their accolades are well earned.

Ian Lent. Photo by Sara Anastasi

“It feels nice after so many years of persevering through the classroom, the ups and downs, to be recognized,” said Ian. “I feel like Joel Barlow always does a great job recognizing and pushing students to achieve academic excellence, but it does feel great to be recognized on a national stage.”

The National Merit Scholarship is an annual award given to students who score highly on the Preliminary SAT exam and have displayed high academic achievement throughout their high school career. 

The goals of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which gives out the awards, are to promote a wider and deeper respect for learning and exceptionally talented individuals, and to shine a spotlight on brilliant students and encourage the pursuit of academic excellence at all levels of education.

According to the Princeton Review, approximately 1.6 million high school juniors take the PSAT every year, and among those students, the top 50,000 scorers are eligible to apply for the National Merit Scholarship.

“What I want for them to take away from this experience is that their hard work and determination pays off,” said Barlow Principal Dr. Mario Almeida. “To come so far now, they’re competing with the brightest of the bright across the country.”

Nathan “Nate” Knorr. Photo by Sara Anastasi

Nate has always been an exceptional math student ever since he moved to Connecticut from Nebraska. He believes the school district fostering this ability in math is a major contributor to his academic success. As a middle-schooler he spent two months in his sixth-grade math class before his teachers realized he needed to be challenged at a higher level. 

“The entire ER9 school system has been really great about helping me figure out how I can participate in the next grade’s math class”, said Nate. “I assume a lot of work went into making sure that was possible, and that was really nice and has helped me a ton.”

Nate also credits Barlow with helping him improve his ability to read and write analytically, which was formerly a weakness, he said.

With his math skills, it is no surprise Nate describes himself as a “STEM kid,” and he wants to pursue biology and medical research in college and beyond. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.

Virginia “Dewey” Gray. Photo by Sara Anastasi

Extracurricular activities are an important part of a well-balanced academic life, and Nate is both on the robotics team and the stage crew, a position he shares with Dewey.

Dewey is an arts student who is adept at clothing modification and makeup, in addition to participating on the debate team. She is also a member of the Gender Sexuality Alliance at Barlow.

“I try really hard in all my classes to not just get good grades but to try and fundamentally learn and understand the material because I find it interesting,” said Dewey. “I feel really proud of how my studying has paid off.”

Dewey has been a major supporter of the Latin program at Barlow. She went and spoke to the school board and the superintendent on behalf of the program. Almeida said she is one of the key reasons why the program is still active at the high school.

Dewey hopes her achievements at Barlow will help her get into her first-choice school, which is Brown University.

Ian is taking a less particular approach to the college application process. Like Nate, he excels in mathematics and wants to pursue it in college. He would be ecstatic to get into a prestigious technical school such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he said. But he thinks he would also do very well at a more liberal arts-focused school.

Ian has an easy confidence that comes across when he speaks. It’s no surprise that he is a captain of the Barlow ski team and lacrosse team. Sports have always been a big part of his life. He also joined the football team in his sophomore year before taking a break as a junior. He hoped to get back to football for his senior year but a knee injury prevented that from happening.

“It’s a great feeling, my family is very proud of me,” Ian said of being named a semi-finalist. “I feel like it’s a great opportunity to be a role model for both my younger siblings and younger kids in the school who may look up to me as a captain of the sports teams.”

The combination of impressive academic resumes and diverse extracurricular interests makes the trio stand out among their peers both inside and outside of the classroom, but Dr. Almeida also points to their strength of character as an important reason for their academic success.

“It couldn’t have happened to three nicer kids,” said Almeida. “All different, but academically exceptional, intelligent, collaborative and humble. As a principal I couldn’t say more about how impressive their maturity, their positivity and their determination to be successful is. You have literally the three nicest kids you’ve ever met.”

Almeida feels extremely proud of the three students as well as the teachers at Barlow. The teacher’s willingness and ability to challenge students and push them to greater heights is what makes the school a special place, Almeida said.

Finalists for the award will be announced in February. In March 7,140 winners will receive a $2,500 National Merit Scholarship, as well as corporate-sponsored and college-sponsored awards.

For more information about the National Merit Scholarship visit the website.

Dr. Mario Almeida with Joel Barlow High School’s National Merit Scholarship Award semi-finalists. Photo by Sara Anastasi
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