Durham and Raleigh students named Middle and High School Students of the Year

vbridges@newsobserver.comMay 25, 2014 

Miranda Straubel is a key part of the story behind Lucas Middle School’s first trophy.

Since Lucas opened in 2012, teachers at the school in north Durham have been trying to build the school’s participation in academic competitions.

Kids come to middle school ready to play soccer or football, but they are not necessarily “super hyped up” about participating in academic competitions, said Amber Longee, a language arts teacher and facilitator of the school’s gifted program. “So it is very challenging for us to build teams to start off with, and then to make competitive teams.”

However, Miranda, 13, was always willing to give anything a try, said Longee and math teacher Beth Hensley. Teachers asked Miranda to participate in quiz, math, writing and spelling competitions.

“Sure, why not?” Miranda would respond.

That pattern led to Miranda winning a statewide writing contest and ultimately being named of Middle School Student of the Year by the N.C. Association for Scholastic Activities.

Each year the group, which supports scholastic competitions across the state, takes nominations from students, parents, teachers and administrators for Middle School and High School Students of the Year. The association’s three-member board received about 10 nominations for high school students and 15 nominations for middle schoolers, said Leon Pfeiffer, executive director. The board considered performance in the classroom, community service and scholastic activities.

Earlier this month, the association recognized Miranda along with the High School Student of the Year Anjali Nagulpally. Anjali, 18, is a senior at Millbrook High School in Raleigh.

Miranda, a seventh-grader at Lucas, plays second base on the school’s softball team in addition to participating in various academic competitions and teams. She has maintained straight As in classes that include ninth-grade level math.

Miranda won her school’s spelling bee and participated in Quiz Bowl, a competition in which school teams compete against each other using a buzzer system to answer questions read by a moderator. Miranda also participated in math competition MATHCOUNTS.

In The Quill, a writing competition, Miranda and her teammates Hanna Fogel and Mary Margaret Johnson led their school to its first statewide victory. Miranda received individual recognition for argumentative writing and Fogel for creative writing. The trophy that followed was the first to be placed in the school’s trophy case.

“I knew it was big,” Miranda said. “I worked hard and deserved it.”

Anjali’s recognition centered on her leadership on Millbrook’s Quiz Bowl team. Anjali was a driving force behind the school’s team for the past two years, according to Christy Blankenship, a Quiz Bowl club sponsor and social studies teacher.

The Quiz Bowl’s regional win in 2013 qualified it to compete at the national level. The team almost didn’t travel to the national competition in Atlanta that year because it was so late in the school season, Blankenship said, but Anjali did research and pushed the coaches to go.

“That competition changed the way that we practice and compete, making us a much more competitive team,” wrote Blankenship in Anjaili’s nomination letter for Student of the Year. “It was a real game changer for us.”

Anjali, the club’s president, led this year’s team to a third-place finish in the state competition. It will compete in a national high championship in Chicago later this month. Anjali also helped increase club membership from 10 to 20 and has been instrumental in starting a team at feeder middle school West Millbrook.

Anjali she joined the Quiz Bowl team after growing up watching “Jeopardy.”

“It just seemed like a fun thing to do,” she said.

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