Practice makes perfect for Shenandoah County students

Brady Baker
Thomas Bellerose
Ben Miller
Bethany Neri
Kinsey Wilk

Central High School senior Bethany Neri was surprised to learn her guidance counselor Shanna McComb-Beverage had compared her to fictional brainiacs Hermione Granger of the “Harry Potter” series and Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz of the CBS TV show “The Big Bang Theory.”

“That was hilarious,” Bethany said, laughing about the description McComb-Beverage stated for a school news release. “She never told me that before. I think she wanted to surprise me with those words.”

But Bethany can see herself as a Hermione-type — “a very active student, I guess you could say.”

Also familiar with Bernadette — a microbiologist, who at almost 5 feet tall, more than measures up to the show’s slew of other scientists — Bethany said she can relate.

“I think especially going into the medical track, it’s so different for a girl than a guy,” she said. When it comes to balancing a family with a career, she said, girls can feel limited at what they might achieve professionally, and that’s unfortunate.

“Nevertheless, it’s important for girls to know that they can absolutely excel in the science field, I mean in any field,” she said.

“Make sure, no matter what, that you’re doing what’s best for you,” Bethany said.

Recently joining three other Central High School students in earning perfect scores on sections of their standardized tests, Bethany said she feels confident about her academic future.

Bethany scored a perfect 36 on her ACT English test, joining senior Brady Baker, who scored a 36 on his science ACT, and junior Kinsey Wilk, who scored an 800 on her math SAT.

Strasburg High School’s Ben Miller and Stonewall Jackson High School’s Thomas Bellerose also earned top scores on recent tests. Miller scored a perfect 800 on his U.S. history SAT, and Ballerose a 36 on his ACT science test.

The students are in a small percentage of test takers that earn a perfect score on any standardized subject test. Last year, the county’s only two students earning perfect scores were from Strasburg High School, said Susan Smith, public relations and textbook coordinator for schools. Chance Stickley, who had a perfect SAT writing test, and Eric Steiner, a perfect SAT reading test, both graduated last spring.

Three students achieving perfect test scores in a year’s time is an unusual feat, said Strasburg guidance counselor, Amy Zimmerman, “But knowing these three particular boys, it doesn’t surprise me at all.”

Recently accepted to Princeton University, 18-year-old Miller brushed off his impressive SAT score, not even telling his parents, who found out when the district called them for inclusion in a news release.

“This is Ben and has always been Ben,” Zimmerman wrote in the news release, calling him “a humble guy.”

“I have no doubt that Ben will reach mighty heights for the sake of reaching them, but he will always be the unassuming genius that Strasburg students and staff know and love.”

Earning the highest possible score in U.S. history places Miller in the top 3 percent of students taking the test in 2014. He scored a 790 on his world history subject test.

Dual enrolled at Lord Fairfax Community College, he’s president of the Debate Club and Pulsar Club and team captain of the Academic Team. He’s historian of the National Honor Society and does public relations for the Interact Club. He also interns in the school’s guidance office.

Planning to major in economics or something history-related, Miller stated in the release that he wants to be an ambassador, possibly to Tanzania.

“That would be my dream assignment,” he stated. “How cool would it be to live in Zanzibar?”

Bellerose, 18, was particularly surprised about his science score because he said he forgot to study for the ACT. He also took the SAT but said the ACT was easier for him. He scored a composite 33 out of 36.

Dual enrolled at the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School, he’s a member of the Stonewall Jackson Academic Club and National Honor Society and an officer in the Spanish National Honor Society. He considers science a passion and plans to study mechanical engineering.

“I’ve taken most every single science class that the school has offered,” he said. “I’m running out of them.”

For Bethany, it was exciting scoring so well on her second attempt at the ACT. “I think I was definitely looking to improve on the last time that I took it.”

Her composite score was a 33 out of 36, which she said translates to an A grade.

“It think statistically it’s pretty good,” she said.

Brady, who plans on double majoring in sports management and statistics, earned a composite score of 32.

“In a dream world, I want to become a baseball general manager,” he said. But more realistically, he wants a job on the business side of a professional or minor-league baseball team.

A member of the varsity baseball and basketball teams, he said he’s always been interested in math and that one of his favorite classes is an online statistics course he’s taking at Central.

“I think the way the sports field is increasing, everything is becoming more statistically based,” he said. “It’s right up my alley.”

Kinsey said she thinks she scored so well on her SAT because she’s taken so many standardized tests in recent years.

“I think I’m going to try to take the SAT one more time my senior year,” she said. “I’d like to get my reading up to an 800 too.”

Planning a career in air and space engineering, she said she’ll apply to Stanford, Cornell, University of California at Berkeley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology and hopes for a NASA internship this summer.

Though Kinsey and Bethany attribute classes through the governor’s school to helping them in their studies, Brady takes all his classes through Central.

“It came as a really big surprise for me,” he said of his score. “It’s hard to study for the standardized test like that, because you don’t really know the curriculum that’s on it.”

“I tried to help myself by getting some strategy in,” he said. On difficult questions, he whittles down possible answers to two before taking a chance and guessing.

Kinsey plays ukulele and trombone and is vice president of the junior class. Brady is student council treasurer and secretary of the National Honor Society, and Bethany is student council president and president of the National Honor Society.

Surprised at how well she scored on her English ACT, Bethany thanked her teachers.

“It’s not my best subject,” she said. “I’m more of a math and science person.”

“In high school, [there were] a lot of teachers that pushed me to read books and write papers that I didn’t think I could do as a high school student,” she said. “I can definitely draw a distinct line to my success on that test because of English teachers that I’ve had.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or

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