Local Schools Youth & young adult

Perfect Times Three

Aquinas students get perfect scores on ACT, SAT exams

by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — Very few high schools ever have a single student with a perfect score on a college entrance exam.

This year, St. Thomas Aquinas in Overland Park can proudly claim its first perfect scoring student.

And its second.

And its third.

Senior David Gier, from Church of the Ascension Parish in Overland Park, and junior Jeffery Kraus, from Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, each scored a 36 on the ACT — putting them among only one-tenth of one percent of the 1.6 million high school students who take the test.

And senior Molly Porter from Church of the Nativity Parish in Leawood, scored a 2400 on her SAT — a one-in-5,000 chance.

“Very, very few students score perfectly,” said president Bill Ford. “These are driven, bright students.”

Driven indeed. And fortunate enough to land in a school system that nurtures such a mindset.

“The grace of God put him in this area with the schools he went to,” said Jeffery’s mother, Mary Kraus. “And he had some incredible teachers along the way.”

Ford agreed.

“You don’t get that far without the work of the faculty,” he said. “They’re the ones that have them every day in the classroom and work with them and provide the knowledge and the skill set that allows them to do this.”

When Jeffrey took the ACT the first time, he knew it wasn’t perfect, because he hadn’t completed every problem. He scored a 34, but was already signed up to try again.

“Coming out of the 34 one, I knew I could do better,” he said.

In the month before his second test, Jeffrey spent two hours each weekend studying an ACT prep book and taking practice tests on his own.

On his second try, he finished everything.

“I wasn’t exactly surprised at the 36 as much as just really happy the effort paid off,” he said.

His mother wasn’t surprised either.

“He was pretty determined he would get a 36,” she said. “And that’s kind of the way Jeff is. If he’s determined to do something, he’s going to do it.”

David was determined as well. He had taken the ACT twice, scoring a 35 each time. He hoped the third time would be a charm.

“I knew I did really well on the reading and English sections,” he recalled. “But I wasn’t sure about the math, and I had no idea about the science.”

David was on the road to a tennis tournament when his score came in the mail. He asked his mother, Cindy Gier, to open it, and she gave him the good news.

“He was texting and calling,” she said. “We were really excited!”

Molly wasn’t even thinking of a perfect score when she took the SAT. She was just verifying her PSAT score for National Merit.

“That’s the only reason I took it,” she explained. “To become a National Merit finalist, you have to have a certain score on the SAT.”

Molly prepared by looking over a PSAT prep book she already had.

“It was June, so I had some time to study for it,” she said. “Afterwards, I was like, ‘I think I did pretty well.’”

“Pretty well” is an understatement, but it’s no surprise Molly would couch her achievement in those words. Like David and Jeffery, she is unaffected by the success, shy about the praise and quick to give credit to her parents, teachers and school.

“All my teachers and my parents have been so great in encouraging me to learn,” she said.

“These are well-rounded individuals who have a lot of things going besides being very, very bright,” said Ford. “And really, they’re all very nice kids. They’re just good people.”

All three students enjoy academics, love to read and have full schedules of extracurricular activities.

David and Molly just returned from Washington, D.C., where they represented their school in We the People program; both compete in Scholars’ Bowl.

But they also both play varsity tennis, David runs cross-country, and Molly participates in the St. Thomas Aquinas musicals and choirs. Jeffrey plays football and lacrosse for Aquinas, CYO basketball and is in a summer baseball league.

Ford is proud of the students and pleased to see recognition for the Catholic school system and its efforts to provide the best education.

“We have to be academically excellent because parents expect that from us,” he said.

“The Catholic schools have been an excellent education in all aspects, including the development of behavior, morality and ethics,” said David’s mother.

Molly’s mother, Mary Ann Porter, is a teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District. The decision to send her children to Catholic schools wasn’t easy.

“I think we have a great public school system,” she said. “But I just felt like the Catholic school system could help me raise my child to be a better Catholic and a better person.”

She doesn’t regret the decision, and neither does her daughter.

“It’s a very encouraging environment, a very cohesive learning environment,” said Molly.

Ford is glad to hear the praise and said many factors figure into being a top-notch Catholic high school.

“I think, ultimately, our goal is to help them build a relationship with Christ,” he said. “And hopefully, through that, they’ll have a love for the church.

“Secondly, we want to have them skilled enough to make a difference in society. They’re not experts at anything yet, but they will be up the line, and hopefully we’ve laid a foundation to build on academically.”

As they look forward to the future, these bright students have some big plans.

David is headed to the University of Kansas in the fall.

“Right now, I’m down as a physics and engineering physics double major,” he said. “But I may change one of those to psychology or philosophy.”

Molly will be attending the University of Notre Dame, but is having a hard time deciding on a field of study, because she loves so many subjects.

“I’m thinking of being a college professor in math or literature,” she said. “Hopefully, I’ll find myself in college. I also love music, and I’m thinking of being a music major.”

With another year left in high school, Jeffery is still looking at colleges, but knows he has an interest in computer engineering.

Like his fellow perfect scorers, he is grateful for his Catholic education and the lessons it’s taught him beyond academics.

“I’m thankful I’ve always had a chance to go to Catholic schools,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s helped me become a better academic student, but I’m sure it’s helped me become a better person, a more rounded student.

“And that can be more important than the grades.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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