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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 19 2012

Shanley boasts cluster of National Merit scholars

FARGO – Shanley High School usually has one of the smaller graduating class among the metro area’s schools, but this year’s class can brag about having big-time brainpower.

There are about 70 students in the Deacons Class of 2012, but five of them are National Merit Scholarship finalists, and a sixth is a National Achievement Scholarship winner.

That’s the most National Merit finalists by far in one school in North Dakota this year.

“That’s a great group of kids. A lot of personality and a lot of talent there,” said Sean Safransky, principal of Shanley and Sullivan Middle School.

The National Merit Scholarship finalists are Sara Nistler, David Beauclair, Grant Christianson, Matthew Donahue and Jon Lipp.

Sarah Greene is the school’s National Achievement Scholarship winner. That program was established to specifically honor talented young black Americans.

Safransky said another student was listed as being at Shanley but transferred to another school after taking the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

Together, the Shanley crew is quick to laugh, and downplay their academic prowess.

“It’s not a big deal to me. I just test really well,” said Nistler, who plans to attend the College of St. Benedict near St. Joseph, Minn.

“I just got really lucky and filled in all the right bubbles,” jokes Christianson. The secret was “making a smiley face” with the answers, he said.

“There are still kids with higher GPAs (grade-point averages),” Beauclair added.

Their schedules are also loaded.

Beauclair plays football and is track team captain.

Christianson is either playing music or working with computers. And he’s in a band.

Nistler is in “a lot of miscellaneous stuff,” including choir, piano and Teens for Life.

Greene works at a frozen yogurt parlor, edits the school newspaper and works on the stage crew for plays and musicals.

Donahue is also involved in music, is a captain on the speech team and does Student Congress. “It’s all about time management,” he said.

They credit the involvement of their teachers, who are also coaches, for making it possible to do a bit of everything.

“It’s the nice thing about a small school – a lot more communication,” Nistler said.

High School students qualify for the National Merit Program by taking the PSAT/NMSQT, usually in their junior year.

This year, more than 1.5 million students took the test. Of that group, 50,000 qualify for the program, the National Merit Scholarship Corp. says.

About 16,000 students are named semifinalists. Of those, 15,000 are named finalists and eligible for scholarship awards, including National Merit Scholarships, and corporate- and college-sponsored Merit Scholarships.

Shanley is part of the Blessed John Paul II Catholic Schools.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583


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