All but one top 2014 TPS grads are femaleWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
Girl power will be on full display at Toledo Public Schools (TPS) graduation ceremonies this spring as every valedictorian and salutatorian except one are female, said TPS Communications Director Patty Mazur.
It’s the first time girls have earned the top two spots at Toledo Technology Academy (TTA), at which 70 percent of the student population are boys, said Director Gary Thompson.
Rachel Ahrendt is TTA’s valedictorian with a 4.3 GPA and Lauren Holder is salutatorian with a 4.26 GPA.
“By the time my girls are seniors they can run with anybody,” Thompson said. “I’m very proud of them.”
Other TPS valedictorians for the Class of 2014 are Tierney McClure at Bowsher High School, Samantha McVey at Rogers High School, Shikera Tall at Scott High School, Leah Thompson at Start High School, Hala Abou-Dahech at Toledo Early College High School, Madeline Bengela at Waite High School and Ivy Watkins at Woodward High School. Salutatorians are Allison Mitchell at Bowsher, Angela Giovannucci at Rogers, Alexus Woodley at Scott, Taylor Hart at Start, Arielle White at Toledo Early College, Elijah Vasquez at Waite and Brittaney Walker at Woodward.
Ahrendt and Holder, both 17, have been friends since childhood, as both their families attend the same church. Both were homeschooled through eighth grade before enrolling at TTA. There are 36 members in the graduating class with a 3:1 ratio of guys to girls, Thompson said.
Ahrendt said she wasn’t sure what gave her the edge to make it to the top of her class, but said she’s driven.
“I’m definitely an overachiever,” Ahrendt said. “I won’t stop. I think that’s part of the reason I got it. I’m excited. It means a lot to me. I’m glad I was able to do that.”
She isn’t sure if any of her male classmates resent being bested by girls.
“I’m sure everybody would have liked to [be top of the class],” Ahrendt said. “[But] they’ve kind of known we were overachievers since the beginning so I think they kind of saw it coming.”
Holder said she’s always felt comfortable at TTA, but sometimes people are surprised to learn she goes there.
“They just sort of just say like, ‘Wow, you go to TTA and you’re a girl? What’s that like?’” Holder said. “I never really took that into consideration. I just went to this school and that’s where I am. I didn’t really think of it any differently.
“TTA is a lot of you get what you put into it,” Holder said. “A lot of it is independent-based where there are teachers there to help you but it’s about what you want to put into it. It definitely prepares you for the real world because people won’t be there to hold your hand.
“It just shows that the effort you put in is going to give you a good outcome,” Holder said. “It’s nice to be able to see that hard work pay off.”
TTA emphasizes math and science and more than half of graduates enroll in engineering colleges, Thompson said.
“We have a very, very rigorous curriculum. They have no choice what they take. Their grades here really depend on them knowing the material. The bar is set high,” he said. “We work really aggressively at recruiting young ladies because it’s a great field for them to be in, especially if they are going into engineering. They are very well-prepared here.”
Ahrendt said her favorite class at TTA was machining, which involved building air motors and robotic arms. Holder’s favorite was industrial automation, which involved operating and wiring machines.
Each spring, seniors swap school for a month-long internship with a local company. Ahrendt is interning with the University of Toledo Medical Center’s nursing department and Holder is interning with the General Motors Toledo Transmission’s human resources and accounting departments.
“It’s not job shadowing; it’s real work,” Thompson said. “We’re starting to have companies who have projects that are requesting them as early as October.”
Holder said she chose TTA because of its smaller class sizes and her interest in math and science. She originally wanted to be an engineer but has changed her focus to business. She plans to attend UT in the fall. Holder said her background in technology has helped her at GM.
“I think it would be harder to be a manager of the people in that area if you didn’t know what they were doing,” Holder said. “Being able to know a little bit about that is definitely helpful.”
As the third of 11 children, Ahrendt said she has grown up helping care for her younger siblings and has always wanted to be a nurse. She also plans to attend UT this fall. Her older brother attended TTA so her parents enrolled her there as well.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect at TTA since I knew I wanted to go into nursing,” Ahrendt said. “I thought, ‘What am I doing at a tech school?’ But technology is involved a lot in medicine and in the long run there are a lot of things that will help me in nursing.”
TTA, located in the former DeVilbiss High School building, started as a two-year program in 1997, expanded to a four-year program in 1998 and became its own high school in 2002.
There have been at least four other female valedictorians at TTA — three of them sisters. Christine Bilby was top of her class in 2001, followed by Melissa Bilby in 2006 and Ericka Bilby in 2008. Erin Orzechowski was valedictorian in 2011 — narrowly beating the male salutatorian, Johnson recalled.
“It was a competition they’d had for years,” he said.
Both Ahrendt and Holder said they’d heard the majority of TPS’ valedictorians and salutatorians were girls, but hadn’t really thought about the significance.
“Honestly I haven’t really thought about the fact that we’re all girls, but I guess it’s pretty cool,” Holder said.
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