Record number of Horry County Schools students named National Merit semifinalists; joined by others from the area


CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) — A record number of Horry County Schools students, 21, were named National Merit Scholarship Program semifinalists for 2022.

Semifinalists qualified with standardized test scores that showed they were at the top of their respective classes.

Scholars Academy Principal Norman McQueen said the record number is even more impressive because students worked through the challenges of the pandemic.

“They were out of school for part of their sophomore year and then hybrid for most of their junior year,” McQueen said. “They had to want this.”

Anika Paudel is one of the semifinalists. Paudel said the motivation to do schoolwork while at home was a big problem students like herself had to overcome.

“When you’re home 5 days a week, it’s like school doesn’t even exist,” Paudel said. “So when I’m not in the building where everyone else is working, it’s so hard to focus.”

Evan Barker is another HCS semifinalist. Barker said the district helped him get to this point.

“At Scholars Academy, I know lots of PSAT and SAT prep is incorporated into our classes, and we learn some of the skills that are important for that every day,” Barker said.

The 21 students are eligible for 7,500 scholarships and more than $30 million in scholarships. Semifinalist Hunter Kuperman said he’s honored to be part of an “exceptional” and record-breaking class.

“It’s not really about the money,” Kuperman said. “It’s one of the most prestigious merit scholarships in the nation — if not the world.”

McQueen said the number of HCS students receiving top honors shows the district’s investments in more advanced classes, more test prep, and tutoring sessions are paying off.

“Even in the process of a pandemic, we’re doing everything we can possibly think of to keep students moving forward,” McQueen said. Just the recognition from National Merit is a great way to say we’re headed in the right direction.”

HCS National Merit Semifinalists are:

Isabella Aparicio-Morello, Alexander Benz, Reagan McQueen, and Anika Paudel, Scholars Academy and Myrtle Beach High School; John Barnett and Guoren Zhong, Scholars Academy and St. James High School; Evan Barker and Ryan Freudiger, Scholars Academy and Socastee High School; Mia Bailey, Cody King, Hunter Kuperman, Jonathan Mallon, Michael Pikula, Kyla Thomas, Nicole Ward, Derrick Wargo, and Brooke Zavistaski, Scholars Academy and Carolina Forest High School; Luke Bleyer, Academy for the Arts, Science & Technology (AAST) and North Myrtle Beach High School; Tyler Seegars, Academy for the Arts, Science & Technology (AAST) and Conway High School; Garrison H. Gasque, Aynor High School; and Adrian Anderson, St. James High School.

Additional National Merit Semifinalists from our part of South Carolina are:

  • Martin Castellanos-Cubides, Ben Charest, Will Walker, SC Governor’s School for Science + Mathematics; Olivia Johnson, Waccamaw High School.

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