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With its first senior class, Gallatin High School is recognizing its first group of National Merit Scholarship semifinalists as Bozeman High has another strong group recognized.

Two Gallatin High seniors and eight Bozeman High seniors have been named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists this year.

A couple students from Gallatin High have also been recognized as a National Hispanic Scholar and a National Indigenous Scholar, which are part of the College Board National Recognition Programs.

Both National Merit and College Board national recognition are based on scores on last year’s Preliminary SAT college-entrance tests.

The teens are among 16,000 semifinalists announced in September and considered the top 1% of the 1.5 million juniors who took the test nationwide last year. The semifinalists will compete for 7,600 National Merit Scholarships worth over $30 million offered next spring.

Many of the students said they were surprised when they found out they were semifinalists about a week before the official announcement.

“It was a big surprise because I didn’t expect myself to qualify for something like this,” said Tyler Gilman, who is also a member of Gallatin High’s track and field team.

Between the two schools, it was a mix of students who said they studied and a lot and others who said they didn’t do much studying ahead of the test.

Brooke Bothner, a Bozeman High semifinalist, said she’s glad she decided to study because she previously hadn’t been doing the math problems fast enough.

“It really did feel rewarding and it does feel rewarding now to recognize that working for that and studying actually did pay off,” Bothner said.

Bozeman High semifinalist Joseph Johns advised future test takers that “even if you’re not super academic or don’t see yourself as super academic, you should still try really hard and do all of the practice tests because it’s not a typical academic thing. It’s just a single sit-down test.”

In addition to practice tests, some of the students said the classes they’ve chosen to take in high school also helped them prepare.

Miles Fastnow, Bozeman High semifinalist, said the social studies combo classes, where it’s a world or American history class combined with an English class, have been helpful preparation.

“Those do a really good job of helping you understand how English can fit into real world events or how to use actual applications of English, which really helped for the PSAT and standardized tests,” Fastnow said.

Most of the students are also involved in sports, clubs and other extracurricular activities.

“It’s difficult to balance all of it, especially because with extracurricular activities like HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) you have to prepare things that don’t have specific deadlines or requirements like grades like the school does, so it’s definitely difficult to prioritize and get things in in a timely manner,” said Bella Childre, who is both Gallatin High’s HOSA president and the state president.

Childre also runs cross country for Gallatin High and even had a meet the day of the PSAT test.

All of the students said they were glad to be back to five days of in-person school, saying they did miss the Wednesday of remote learning the high schools had last year.

“I liked online school, but its fun to see people again and it’s a fun year… Senior year is a cool experience,” said Bozeman High semi-finalist Katherine Callow.

Kim Monforton, a National Hispanic Scholar from Gallatin High, said she was looking forward to “all the traditional senior stuff, all the high school traditions we haven’t been able to do because of COVID, like homecoming and prom.”

Monforton recently completed a summer internship with NASA and is involved with research in a Montana State University lab.

Gilman said he was looking forward to his senior track season, and hopefully having an indoor season this winter, which he hasn’t had since his sophomore year. He’s hoping to be recruited by MSU’s team.

While taking the senior year classes, being involved in extracurricular activities and holding jobs, the students have also needed to focus on college applications.

Bozeman High semifinalist Stella Vance said senior year has been “a really big push,” with in-person classes being an adjustment, too. Applying for college and completing applications has become like a whole other class

“I’m just trying to remember that I’ll be OK where I end up and this is just the next phase in life and this won’t decide my whole future,” said Bozeman High semifinalist Jessica Kalinowski.

Florence Doyle, a National Indigenous Scholar at Gallatin High, said she is hoping to go to University of Montana and study linguistics. Doyle, who is also president of Gallatin High’s Native American Club, said she’s interested in language revitalization and would love to do research in Australia and New Zealand.

Bozeman High semifinalist Breck Johnson said she’d like to get a law degree and has had a lightened load of classes this year to enjoy senior year.

As semifinalists, the students will also be eligible for additional scholarships from colleges they might be applying to, said Lauren Covington, Gallatin High counselor.

Throughout the National Merit process, the students also have the perspective that this is just one more aspect of their senior year and not a defining moment.

“Remembering that this is not the end all be all of life. It’s just another test,” said Bozeman High semifinalist Kaitlyn Landers.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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