Three Poudre School District students joined an elite academic group after receiving a perfect score of 36 on the American College Testing exam.
Nathaniel Gerthe, a senior at Fort Collins High School, and Kasey Markel, a senior at Fossil Ridge High School both received perfect composite scores when they took the standardized exam last spring as juniors. Galen Sundragon, who graduated from FRHS last May at the end of his junior year, also received a perfect 36.
All high school juniors in Colorado take the ACT test in the spring. The ACT is a college admission exam that includes more than 200 questions about science, math, reading and English. In PSD, 1,858 students took the standardized exam last spring and earned an average composite score of 22.1. The average score statewide was 20.6 and the national average was 21.1.
Nathaniel Gerthe prepared for the ACT exam by taking practice exams in an ACT prep book, focusing on the academic areas that weren’t his strengths. Otherwise, he ate a good breakfast on test day and took the exam like other high school juniors across the state. He was surprised when he learned of his perfect score.
“I was very happy,” said Gerthe. “Standardized tests are generally pretty hard so it was surprising.”
Gerthe said his favorite classes at FCHS have been math and science courses. “It’s something I’m geared for and I’ve had good math and science teachers,” he said, adding that math teacher Craig Luckasen is one of his favorite teachers. “He made calculus a lot more approachable and helped make difficult concepts much clearer.”
Although he hasn’t decided on a college yet, Gerthe plans to study mechanical engineering, which he believes will be a good fit for him. “I think it could be an interesting field since I like math and science,” he said.
Gerthe’s other interests and activities include Orchestra, tennis team, Science Olympiad team, National Honor Society, Tri-M (music national honor society), and Student Think Tank. He also has a black belt in the martial arts.
Gerthe credits his parents John and Elsie Gerthe for always supporting his interests and thanks God for his blessings. He encourages all students to make the most of their time in high school.
“Find your passion and pursue it to the best of your abilities,” he said. “Enjoy your time in high school because it goes by quickly.”
Kasey Markel says he woke up with a confident feeling on test day. While driving to the exam, he listened to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture.
“It gets me pumped up. It’s a really beautiful piece. It could have been that extra little boost that I needed,” he said, with a laugh. “I finished the test feeling pretty solid about it.”
At Fossil, Markel feels he benefited from taking advanced placement (AP) classes, especially his AP Biology class with science teacher Donna Widhalm. “There’s a lot of really focused one-on-one time with the teacher because the classes are smaller,” he said. “Smaller classes really improve education.”
After graduation, Markel, who is considering becoming an orthopedic surgeon or genetic engineer, hopes to continue his education studying biology. He is considering attending universities like Harvey Mudd, Ponoma College, Pepperdine University, Colorado State University and Qwest University located in Canada.
“I’m still looking through the mail every day and looking into the different schools,” he said.
Markel is an accomplished musician, playing the Marimba in the Marching Band and Wind Ensemble at Fossil. He was also a member of the Debate team for a couple of years. In addition, he earned a black belt in International Kenpa Ju Juitsu.
Markel, the son of Curtis and Karen Markel, advises students to take advantage of the learning opportunities in high school. “Enjoy every class, but even if you don’t enjoy the class, learn the material because you’re going to need to know it later,” he said. “It’s worth it.”
To prepare for the ACT, Galen Sundragon picked up a practice test booklet in the school counselor’s office a year before, but never finished it.
“I really didn’t prepare a lot… I wasn’t expecting to get a 36,” he said. “Things just came together for it. I just didn't mess up!”
Sundragon, who graduated from high school at the end of his junior year in May 2012 (one year early), is considering continuing his education later. In the meantime, he is enjoying a break from school while exploring other interests like photography, cooking and his passion for learning. Sundragon admits he is an insatiable reader and enjoys researching a variety of topics. "There’s too much to know and not enough time to learn it!” he explained.
Currently he is focusing on developing a unique 3-D printer.
“It’s not going to be easy. I’m probably going to have to work some things out,” he said.
In high school, Sundragon was a member of Fossil’s Knowledge Bowl team. He was selected as the team’s most valuable player after they won the state Knowledge Bowl championship last spring.
Sundragon, the son of John and Jemma Sundragon, thinks students should consider approaching school in a non-traditional way if it benefits them and helps them be successful.
“I would have liked to have taken charge of my education a little more. I think you should be ready to stand up for yourself and be willing to do something an unusual way,” Sundragon said. “Not everyone learns the same way or at the same pace.”