New Albany High School has one National Merit Scholarship semifinalist this year and three commended scholars.

New Albany High School has one National Merit Scholarship semifinalist this year and three commended scholars.

Rafael Thomas, the National Merit semifinalist, is a 17-year-old hoping to attend a smaller college next year to study biology or chemistry.

Thomas attended a Christian academy until third grade, when he moved to New Albany-Plain Local Schools.

He has been part of the New Albany High School band program and will participate in In The Know this year.

Thomas said he visited Gettysburg, Ball State, Northwestern and Earlham during his junior year. He favored the smallest of those, Earlham. This year, he has been researching some schools similar in size to Earlham Juniata and Kalamazoo along with Earlham. Thomas said he also is considering Miami University in Oxford, which is a larger school than the others.

His piece of advice to underclassmen is to "pace themselves" when it comes to scheduling classes. He said some of his friends loaded up with classes their freshman and sophomore years and are now trying to increase their grade point averages.

The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition for recognition and scholarships that began in 1955. High school students enter the National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test a test that serves as an initial screening of approximately 1.5-million entrants each year and by meeting published program entry/participation requirements.

Semifinalists are the highest-scoring entrants in each state. The National Merit Scholarship Corp. provides scholarship application materials to semifinalists through their high schools.

To be considered for a National Merit scholarship, semifinalists must advance to finalist standing by meeting high academic standards and all other requirements explained in the information provided to each semifinalist. Winners will be announced in April of 2011.

Ric Stranges, New Albany High School principal, said one of the school's goals is to increase student achievement. He said having National Merit semifinalists is one way to achieve recognition of student achievement.

"Obviously, our goal will be to increase the numbers of National Merit semifinalists in the next few years," Stranges said.

New Albany High School also had three students recognized as commended scholars: Nate Peck, Ellen Waddell and Lindy Newman. These students were recognized for their "outstanding academic promise" and can be eligible for some of the special scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses, according to the National Merit Scholarship Program website.

Peck, 17, expects to letter in cross country, track and wrestling this year, his fourth participating in the three sports. He was inducted into the National Honor Society last year and said he has enjoyed the service part of that organization, which includes volunteering for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.

He is interested in attending a small college to study environmental science, a class he's taken last two years at New Albany High School, and continuing his participation in sports.

"I'm looking to go probably to a smaller school and run cross country and track," he said.

Waddell, 17, was born in San Francisco and spent her early childhood in Montreal before moving to New Albany in third grade. She is president of the National Honor Society and tutors elementary students in reading and writing. She said she is interested in studying English at Northwestern University or Brown University.

"I want to work in something related to English and writing," she said. "I'm interested in the publishing industry and creative writing. I'd love to write a novel."

Newman, now 16, is from Maryland and has spent the last four years at New Albany High School. She has participated in a service project through the leadership and civic virtue class, collecting items to send to service people in Afghanistan. She said her group in the class came up with the idea to send soldiers items such as lip balm, playing cards and entertainment items.

"It's things the military doesn't issue, but they are still pretty basic necessities," she said.

Newman also works with New Albany Middle School students in the Adventure Club.

She has applied to the Air Force Academy and hopes to earn scholarship money to attend Miami University and study psychology.