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Student Qualifies As Semifinalist In 2020 National Merit Scholarship Program

By Staff | Sep 18, 2019

Assistant Superintendent Darren Cook awards Josh Rice with a certificate for qualifying as a Semifinalist in the 2020 National Merit Scholarship Program.

Magnolia High School was full of excitement on Thursday, September 11, as they announced that one of their students had claimed the title of Semifinalist in the 2020 National Merit Scholarship Program, a feat which hadn’t been made in 16 years.

Over 1.5 million juniors in about 21,000 high schools entered the 2020 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2018 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), which served as an initial screen of program entrants. The nationwide pool of Semifinalists, representing less than one percent of U.S. high school seniors, includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state.

However, despite this low percentage, one local student managed to snag this achievement. Joshua Rice, a Magnolia senior, was one of approximately 16,000 Semifinalists. Principal of MHS, Kathi Schmalz, told students and faculty that out of all those qualifying as Semifinalist from Parkersburg to Hancock County on both sides of the river, there are only two schools with National Merit Semifinalists. One such school is Wheeling private school The Linsly School, as well as Magnolia High School. This makes MHS the only public school in the entire area with a National Merit Semifinalist.

“That make us proud.” Schmalz said.

In an effort to encourage students to make similar academic achievements, Schmalz told Rice’s journey to becoming a Semifinalist.

National Merit Scholarship Program Semifinalist Josh Rice speaks to his fellow classmates about overcoming weaknesses.

When Rice first took the test in tenth grade, he scored 1300. While this is considered a good score, it was reportedly not a qualifying score. However, the educators at Magnolia saw great promise in him, believing that he had what was required to get him to National Merit level.

As such, they began to work with him on raising these scores. Rice reportedly spent his summer preparing himself for the test, focusing his efforts on English, which was said to be his weakness. Schmalz conveyed that Rice was committed, and it was because of this as well as acknowledging his weaknesses and attacking them with a vengeance that he was able to “up his ante.”

When Rice took the NMSQT at end of his junior year, he had managed to raise his score 180 points.

“You don’t do that by just going and taking the test. You do it by commitment.” Schmalz told students.

During the announcement ceremony, various teachers proudly boasted of Rice’s talents and determination in completing his goals and achieving academic excellence. Rice’s math teacher told all present about her time teaching him math, although she said he was mostly self-taught.

Rice's math teacher proudly claims that he is her brightest student in her 32 years teaching at Magnolia High School.

She informed the crowd her career at Magnolia High School has spanned 32 years, and in her time there Rice has been the brightest student she has ever had. It was her belief that one reason for this is because he looks towards tomorrow – the future. She advised his fellow students to do the same. Instead of being preoccupied with current situations, it was her recommendation that students ask themselves what they’d like to accomplish in five years and work towards it.

Also appearing to speak were three of Rice’s English teachers, who collectively agreed that while math was Rice’s strong-suit, he remained talented and dedicated in English as well.

Rice also addressed his fellow students, encouraging them to admit and focus on their weaknesses in an effort to improve them.

Following this, Wetzel County Assistant Superintendent Darren Cook presented Rice with a certificate of achievement for this amazing feat.

Rice as well as the other 16,000 academically talented high school seniors have an opportunity to continue in the competition for some 7,600 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $31 million which will be offered next spring.

To be considered for a Merit Scholarship award, Semifinalists must fulfill several requirements to advance to the Finalist level of the competition. Over 90 percent of the Semifinalists are expected to attain Finalist standing, and about half of the Finalists will win a National Merit Scholarship, earning the Merit Scholar title.

To become a Finalist, the Semifinalists and a high school official must submit a detailed scholarship application, in which they provide information about the Semifinalist’s academic record, participation in school and community activities, demonstrated leadership abilities, employment, and honors and awards received. A Semifinalist must have an outstanding academic record through-out high school, be endorsed and recommended by a high school official, write an essay, and earn SAT or ACT scores that confirm the student’s earlier performance on the qualifying test.

From the approximately 16,000 Semifinalists, about 15,000 are expected to advance to the Finalist level, and in February they will be notified of this designation. All National Merit Scholarship winners will be selected from this group of Finalists. Merit Scholar designees are selected on the basis of their skills, accomplishments, and potential for success in rigorous college studies, without regard to gender, race, ethnic origin, or religious preference.

Three types of National Merit Scholarships will be offered in the spring of 2020. Every Finalist will compete for one of 2,500 National Merit $2500 Scholarships that will be awarded on a state-representational basis. About 1,000 corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards will be provided by approximately 220 corporations and business organizations for Finalists who meet their specified criteria, such as children of the grantor’s employees or residents of communities where sponsor plants or offices are located. In addition, about 180 colleges and universities are expected to finance some 4,100 college-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards for Finalists who will attend the sponsor institution.

In regards to this, Schmalz told students this was not an unatainable goal. “This is possible…anybody can do anything. The sky is the limit if you commit to it.” She also advised them to own their learning as Rice has.

“Josh is the exemplar,” Schmalz proudly said. “It’s what we want to see every student be – committed to their learning. Josh is dedicated to beating his challenges – whatever it takes to get there – and working on areas of weakness. He can identify them – he owns it. That’s what we want to instill in our students. Nothing is too big. The sky is the limit, and there’s many, many opportunities out there for them to take advantage of. If you put your mind to it, if you’ve got that GRIT (guts, resilience, initiative, and tenacity) you can do anything you want to do. That’s Josh.”

National Merit Scholarship winners of 2020 will be announced in four nationwide news releases beginning in April and concluding in July. These scholarship recipients will join more than 345,000 other distinguished young people who have earned the Merit Scholar title.

In the meantime, Schmalz conveyed to Rice that Magnolia High School “could not be prouder.”