• Baylor School: Ashley Augustine, Sophia Conwell, Jesse Fowler, Austin Ngo, Meghan Ray, Darby Schumacher
• Chattanooga Christian School: Bryan Lynch, John Roden
• Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts: Theodore Monk
• Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences: Matthew Aslinger, Tyler Dunston
• East Hamilton Middle-High: Matthew Hilling, Nayoung Lee
• Girls Preparatory School: Anna Carroll, Rebecca Jenkins, Megan Rohn, Lucille Whitfield
• Grace Baptist Academy: Olivia Rowell
• Homeschool: Nathan Sarli
• McCallie School: Roger Lee, Peter Lugthart, Matthew McCall, John Miller and Philip Zeiser
• Signal Mountain: Kennedy Brock, Taylor Lapinski, Shehan McFadden, John F. Strength, Kylila Tucker
• Athens, McMinn County High School: Joseph Lasure
• Decatur, Meigs County High School: Lucas Penrod
• McMinnville, Warren County High School: Parton L. John
• Sewanee, St. Andrew's-Sewanee School: Eliza McNair, Rebekah Swallow
• Tellico Plains, Tellico Plains High School: Joseph Bivens
• Tullahoma, Tullahoma High School: Mallika Gupta
• Winchester, Franklin County High School: Sarah Coulson
• Rome, Darlington School: Connor Hallett, Indra Sofian
• Trion, Trion High School: Austin Richardson
Source: National Merit Scholarship Corp.
Tellico Plains High School senior Joseph Bivens is making school history today.
Bivens is one of 40 area National Merit Semifinalists announced today by the National Merit Scholarship Corp., and Tellico Plains Principal Russell Harris believes the student is the first from the school to achieve the academic honor.
Students began the 59th annual National Merit Scholarship process by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test during their junior year.
According to the National Merit Scholarship Corp., 1.5 million juniors in more than 22,000 high schools across the country took the 2012 test.
Of those, 16,000 students scored high enough to qualify as semifinalists -- less than 1 percent of all U.S. high school seniors, according to program officials. All semifinalists are now eligible to compete for 8,000 National Merit Scholarships valued at $35 million.
Locally, Baylor School led the way with six semifinalists, closely followed by McCallie School and Signal Mountain Middle-High School, each with five.
"It is a privilege to work with students who are literally among the best in the nation; and, in turn, they have learned at the feet of an extraordinary faculty. I am so proud of them and truly look forward to following their college careers and their lives in the coming years," said Baylor School Headmaster Scott Wilson.
The Signal Mountain contingent is the largest group of semifinalists from a Hamilton County public school in more than five years, Times Free Press archive records show.
"We are so excited to have five students be recognized as National Merit Semifinalists," Signal Mountain principal Robin Copp said Tuesday. "They are a testament to the strength of educational opportunities in Hamilton County and Signal Mountain schools."
Theodore Monk, a 17-year-old senior at Center for Creative Arts, is the first semifinalist from his school in more than a decade, said Principal Deborah Smith. Monk, a percussion player at CCA, has applied to Yale and the University of the South. He plans to become a veterinarian.
When not playing drums, the student volunteers at the Humane Educational Society twice a month, takes martial arts, kick-boxing and fencing classes, is a member of the CCA National Honor Society and Destination Imagination competition group.
The senior is the son of Collin and Grace Monk. He credits his mother, a teacher at Tyner Academy, with developing his love for reading -- sometimes as many as 15 books in one month, he says -- and believes those reading skills helped him on the PSAT.
"My mother really likes literature. She made sure I have a good grasp of reading comprehension. I think that helped me get through the test, understanding the questions quickly," says Monk.
Monk and Bivens say they each took the PSAT practice test they picked up from their guidance counselors.
"It helped me get used to the time constraints and the specific material to be tested," says Bivens, who is on track to be valedictorian of his class. The son of Darrell and Lisa Bivens is also senior class treasurer, charter member of the school's Scholars Bowl team, and a member of Student Government Association.
Monk says the practice got him "mentally prepared" to take the test.
"Take the practice test so you don't tense up, at first glance, upon seeing how long the test is or the type questions you are asked," he advises juniors taking the PSAT this fall.
"Practice the test and take it seriously," adds Bivens, who plans to attend Vanderbilt. "I think it can really open doors for your future."
Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.