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Great minds: 13 local seniors receive scholarships

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

NORCROSS -- A team of educational researchers is visiting Gwinnett County Public Schools this week to gather information for the 2010 Broad Prize for Urban Education.

For the second year in a row, Georgia's largest school system is a finalist for the prestigious national award. The Broad Prize honors large urban school systems that have demonstrated the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement in the nation while reducing achievement gaps among income and ethnic groups.

On Wednesday, site committees went to Norcross High School and Berkmar Middle School, visiting classrooms and talking to students about what they were learning. Members of the site committee are also speaking to teachers, principals, district leaders, school board members and parents during their visit, said Karen Denne, a spokeswoman for the Broad Foundation, which funds the $2 million annual prize.

Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said he's "profoundly proud" the school system has been selected as a finalist for the award for two consecutive years. As a finalist, the school system will receive $250,000 in scholarships for students graduating in 2011. The winner of the prize wins $1 million in scholarships for its students.

"I hope Gwinnett County Public Schools wins," Wilbanks said. "However, we feel like winners already, primarily because of what it brings to the school system and the children."

Unlike many traditional scholarships that are awarded only to top-tier students, Broad Prize scholarships are awarded to graduating seniors who have a demonstrated record of improving their grades over the course of their high school career and have a financial need, Denne said.

Thirteen graduating seniors will receive the scholarship this year. The recipients -- who will all receive $20,000 over four years because they plan to attend four-year schools -- were honored Wednesday during the committee's visit to Norcross High School.

"It's like hitting the lottery," said Richard Sperling, the father of scholarship recipient Sarah Sperling, who is graduating from North Gwinnett.

Sarah Sperling plans to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

"We were trying to figure out how to do this ... because it's not within our means," said her mother, Chrissi MacGregor. "We figured it would mean a lot of loans and a lot of working. ... We were about $10,000 short a semester."

The scholarship will bring the family closer to helping Sarah Sperling achieve her academic dream.

Meadowcreek student Muhammad Iqbal said the scholarship will help him focus on his studies at the University of Georgia instead of spending a lot of time working to pay for school.

When he began high school, Iqbal said he was a "straight C student."

"I was more into sports and my social life," he said.

But after his sophomore year, Iqbal decided to get serious about raising his grade point average. He said he realized how much his father sacrificed to help him get a good education, and he wanted to take advantage of that.

Iqbal said he planned to call his mother and other family members who live in Pakistan to share the good news about the award.

The other scholarship winners are Berkmar students Gifty Affadzi, Jazmine Brite, Catherine Johnson and Ju Seng Kim, Collins Hill students Caitlin Mullaney and Lauren Stephansen, North Gwinnett students Christine Rodriguez and Sauleja Satkute, Parkview student Oluwayemisi Ali, Peachtree Ridge student Lydia Brambila and South Gwinnett student Karick Johnson.

"These students are to be commended for working hard in high school and we are proud to award them with the Broad Prize scholarships as they pursue college and careers," said Eli Broad, founder of the Broad Foundation. "They represent the success of Gwinnett County Public Schools because they have demonstrated not only academic achievement but more importantly academic improvement."

The 2010 Broad Prize will be announced Oct. 19 in New York City. This year's other finalists are Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, and Socorro Independent School District and Ysleta Independent School District, both in Texas.