Working hard for a better life is a common theme in author Horatio Alger’s stories. Similar narrative arcs are found among high school students, who dodge adversity and then receive scholarships from the Horatio Alger Association.
By TRACI ANGEL
Special to The Star
Two students from the Kansas City area are among this year’s national scholars, chosen for persevering through obstacles during their academic careers. They are Edna McCrary of Cristo Rey Kansas City high school and Katie Bartels of William Chrisman High in Independence.
For eligibility, students must pursue a bachelor’s degree at an accredited U.S. institution and have a “critical financial need.” They must show integrity, have at least 2.0 GPA and demonstrate handling adversity in their past. The students receive a $20,000 scholarship.
Katie Bartels dropped the phone in shock when she learned she was an Alger recipient.
“I just didn’t think I was going to get it,” the William Chrisman senior said.
Another student there, Zac Zumwalt received the scholarship last year.
Her selection was no surprise to counselor Dee Hurt, who watched Bartels grow up.
“Katie has faced several challenges during her school years and most of them have come outside of school,” Hurt said. “As an unaccompanied homeless youth, Katie has had to find emotional, financial, and mental support in non-traditional ways.
“While she has struggled to overcome many unfortunate circumstances, she has been blessed to have some very caring adults stand by her side.”
Hurt described Bartels as one of the hardest-working students she has encountered.
“Despite everything that’s happened in her personal life from an early age, she knew academics was her opportunity to change (her circumstances). She is driven and she is first in her class for academic achievement.”
Bartels founded the school’s environmental club and took courses in the Project Lead the Way program, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. She participates in robotics and plans to study environmental engineering in college.
The environmental club planted a rain garden and promoted recycling under Bartels’ direction.
Hurt knew Bartels deserved the honor, but she had to convince her student that she was Alger scholarship material.
“(She) really didn’t know what she’s overcome and what she’s accomplished,” Hurt said. “Whatever your life is, it is your normal and you don’t always recognize what you are accomplishing. It takes people from the outside to say, ‘Wow.’ ”
The award reminds Bartels that others have made it through with perseverance.
“It makes me feel validated,” she said. “Everything I tried to do and set my mind to, and all those nights that I didn’t party with friends … the hard work has paid off.”
At Cristo Rey, other students learned about McCrary’s honor during one of the school’s daily assemblies. They called her name from a microphone and asked her to stand.
McCrary’s mom, with help from a stepfather, has raised her. She moved from Las Vegas to Kansas City in elementary school. Shy and quiet, she found that making friends was one of her first challenges.
“I got settled in eventually and started talking to people,” she said. “My family helped.”
She wants to be a nurse and has worked toward that since the beginning of high school. A trip to the University of Missouri gave her hands-on health care training where she learned how to secure IVs and go over vital signs. That experience reinforced McCrary’s decision to go into health care.
Her work-study program at Cristo Rey, where she earns a salary to offset costs at the private Catholic school, took her to the University of Kansas Hospital where she worked in various departments, including organ transplants. Now she knows she wants to be a nurse.
“I feel like I’m ready for any job now,” she said. “I got a taste of everything.”
Adviser Catherine Sparks has known McCrary for three years and watched her blossom.
“When I first met her she lacked self-confidence and then she was able to see that she has a lot of support and people cheering for her at Cristo Rey,” Sparks said.
One of McCrary’s personal goals was to become more involved with school — and meet her fear of speaking out.
“I wanted to change, so I sat with my adviser and she recommended that I become the girls’ volleyball manager. It helped me become involved and stay busy.”
She learned she was part of the volleyball family and others were depending on her.
“That helped her blossom,” said Sparks, who is also co-director of the corporate work-study program.
McCrary’s school activities include National Honor Society, student ambassador, Senior Christian Leader and other service projects. She also takes college-prep classes.
“What makes her stand out is that she’s not afraid to be herself,” Sparks said. “She knows who she is and what she wants to do. She’s still shy, but once comfortable, she lets everyone see her personality.”