A Nikiski Middle-High School student has been recognized as one of the nation’s top scholars and will be honored with a medallion for her accomplishments in Washington, D.C, in June.
Annaleah Ernst is one of141 high school seniors from across thecountry to be named a 2013 U.S. Presidential Scholar.
Ernst, this year’s valedictorian, has made the most of her educational experience. In the past four years, she participated in National Honor Society and was named to the honor roll numerous times. She was a school representative in 2011 for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education, a cross country runner and most recently she spent a month last summer as a foreign exchange student in China.
According to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, this year’s 49th class of U.S. Presidential Scholars has demonstrated the accomplishments that can be made when students challenge themselves, set the highest standards and commit themselves to excellence.
“I am honored to celebrate their creativity, hard work and community service, and I encourage them — and all students — to continue to showcase the capacity for greatness on our nations young people,” he said in a press release.
The 2013 U.S Presidential Scholars are comprised of one young man and one young woman from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and from U.S. families living abroad, as well as 15 chosen at large and 20 U.S Presidential Scholars in the Arts. Alaska’s male recipient attends high school in Unalaska.
Ernst, who has always pushed herself and excelled through education, said she credits her achievements to her parents who, from an early age, instilled a zest for knowledge.
“My parents did a really good job instilling the love of learning,” she said. “I always wanted my parents to be proud of me.”
While Ernst’s educational career began in a private setting, she blossomed in the third grade when she was enrolled in public school at the former Nikiski Elementary.
“It was just a different atmosphere,” she explained, “I ended up loving public school.”
Another change came soon after when the Nikiski Elementary School combined into Nikiski North Star Elementary. She said the initial change of a different playground and gym was overwhelming at first, but soon she flourished when she was placed in the schools Quest program and excelled quickly, working on pre-algebra and other advanced studies by her sixth-grade year.
“Elementary school was definitely a really good basis,” she said, adding that it gave her steady foundation for her middle and high school years.
Ernst’s passion for learning went beyond the classroom. The summer before her freshman year she traveled with a group of students and her NHS science teacher through Education Field Trips to Costa Rica. Ernst recalls the trip as an eye-opening experience.
While the group was on a science-focused trip, they encountered a group of impoverished school kids who had recently had their only computer and stove stolen.
In a third-world country with overwhelming poverty, Ernst and her classmates became aware they could make a difference and helping people.
“I felt almost over-privileged,” she said, adding that the group offered the group the limited funds they had on hand.
Another passion high school introduced to Ernst was the arts. Combined with her love of choir, she has performed and been involved in six high school musicals, as well as two performances with the Kenai Performers.
Although she had many bruises from the flying rigging, including wires and harnesses used during her role as Peter Pan in 2011, Ernst said it was a memorable event.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” she said.
Growing up in Nikiski and living at the end of the road has also given Ernst a stable beginning and a lot of memories.
“(Nikiski) is a great place to grow up,” she said, adding that attending NHS has been a great experience, both with the students and staff.
Ernst named Nikiski Language Arts teacher Laura Neimczyk as her most influential teacher for her honor as a U.S Presidential Scholar.
Neimczyk said she has worked closely with Ernst through National Honor Society and student council and she was Ernst’s go-to teacher when it came to filling out college applications and editing scholarship essays.
“She blows me away,” Neimczyk said. “She always gives 110 percent and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Shortly after she travels to Washington D.C. in June to be honored as one of the 141 U.S Presidential Scholars in, Ernst will be headed to Harvard University in Massachusetts to begin her college career and the next chapter in her life.
While she is not sure what her major may be, she is looking to participate in the Harvard’s extra-curricular programs.
“I am so excited for college choir,” she said with a smile.
Sara J. Hardan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.