published Thursday, May 5th, 2011

2 local students’ efforts pay off

Two local high school students won a highly competitive, national college scholarship this week that could amount to more than $250,000.

School officials welcomed the good news in the wake of ongoing storm recovery.

“In life, sometimes terrible things happen, but other times wonderful things happen, and we should stop and celebrate,” said Public Education Foundation President Dan Challener, who announced one winner at Red Bank High School on Wednesday.

Alexandria Oviatt, a junior at Red Bank, and Matthew Heinichen, a junior at Signal Mountain High School, were among just five in the nation chosen to receive the Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship.

“I couldn’t have done it without my friends and family,” Oviatt told the crowd Wednesday that gathered at Red Bank High School to celebrate the announcement. “You kept me sane through all those [Advance Placement] courses.”

Last year, another Red Bank student, Brooke Reed, was awarded the scholarship, making Red Bank the only school in the country with two Annenberg recipients ever, said officials with the Public Education Foundation. Reed plans to attend Clemson University in South Carolina.

Heinichen could not be reached for comment.

The scholarship, which is awarded to financially needy students who show “uncommon intelligence, empathy and drive to overcome challenging circumstances,” is intended to help students who could be admitted to a highly selective college but can’t afford to attend.

It fully funds four years of tuition and housing at any school of the student’s choice and provides a monthly stipend for living expenses.

It also pays for summer travel to search out the right college and provides a laptop for studies.

Teachers, principals and counselors at the two schools said Oviatt and Heinichen, who didn’t know they were nominated until the scholarship’s interview process, are unforgettable students who have gone above and beyond for their families and their academic success.

“[Matthew] is an innately intelligent risk-taker who has the potential to accomplish great humanitarian feats,” said Leslie Sharp, a counselor at Signal Mountain High.

Both students work after school to help support their families. Oviatt’s mother suffers from a chronic medical condition, and Heinichen, who is the oldest of five, has a younger brother with Down syndrome and a heart condition.

“I have lain awake at night and worried about Alexandria getting the opportunity to go to college,” said Jennifer Mitts, Oviatt’s AP English teacher at Red Bank.

Oviatt hopes to attend Harvard University.

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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