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Six Southland students earn highest possible score on ACTs

Eric Connelly junior scored 36 his ACT test is pictured Providence Catholic High School New Lenox Illinois Wednesday May 29

Eric Connelly, a junior, scored a 36 on his ACT test is pictured at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, Illinois, Wednesday, May 29, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 8, 2013 6:03AM



It’s a feat achieved by only 781 of 1.66 million high school students.

Do the math — if you can — to realize what a small percentage of students this is.

Or ask one of the handful of area students who — like the 781 in the class of 2012 — earned a 36 — the highest composite score possible — on this year’s ACT college entrance exam. For those high achieving students the score of 36 brought surprise, relief and hopefully a ticket to the college of their choice.

For Eric Connelly, a Tinley Park junior at Providence Catholic High School, it brought the added recognition of being the first student in the school’s history to ever attain a 36.

“I would expect some students would have gotten a 36 before,” Connelly said. “Hopefully No. 2 and No. 3 will soon follow.”

“Personally, it’s a big achievement. I did not really expect to get this. No one does. I am proud of my score, definitely. But it’s just one aspect that colleges look at,” he said modestly.

Joining Connelly in this achievement this year were juniors Mike Peretz, of Shepard High School, and Adam Gleisner and Paige Kordas, of Sandburg High School. According to ACT, one student at Lincoln-Way Central High School in New Lenox and one at Lincoln-Way East in Frankfort also earned a score of 36.

On average, less than one-tenth of one percent of those who take the exam earn the top score, according to ACT. That figure of 781 was out of 1.66 million who took the test in the class of 2012.

“It used to be that a student with a 36 could write his own ticket to college. But colleges are more competitive now,” Providence’s college counselor Diane Campbell said.

Connelly is hoping this will increase his chances of getting accepted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he would like to study engineering. He also is considering the University of Illinois.

Even though 36 is the highest score possible, it is not a perfect score, Connelly said. In fact he knew he had one wrong — a question of fewer than or less than when figuring the speed of a ship.

“It was one of those little things that bothered me. I ended up overthinking it,” he said.

He also requested the test questions and answers for an additional fee, which some students will do and use it as a study guide to retake the test, Campbell said.

Beyond taking a practice test, Connelly said he did not prepare a lot for the exam.

“I’m used to taking standardized tests. With classes I had at Providence I was well prepared for it,” he said.

His mother, who tutors students at Huntington for ACT and other tests, advised him to pace himself, narrow down the choices and go back and check his work to avoid silly mistakes, he said.

But he would advise others: “Achieve what you want. Do not measure yourself by others. It’s a personal thing — it’s how you feel about what you have accomplished.”

The ACT is only one of Connelly’s many high school accomplishments. He was a regional winner for the Math Team his freshman and sophomore years and placed 7th in state this year as an individual. His Math Team was the first team from Providence to qualify for state as a team. He also is a drum major in the marching band, performs in the concert, jazz and pep bands, and is a member of the Theater Club.

“Eric is a young man who commits himself to living up to his full potential every waking second of the day,” Providence Principal Don Sebestyen said.

Shepard’s Mike Peretz has always been up for a challenge. At 16 years of age, he will be a young senior next year, having combined first and second grade in a single academic year.

Next year he is planning to participate in the Siemens “We Can Change the World Challenge.” He and fellow student Kim Kosman will build a biodiesel converter that runs on solar and possibly wind power. It will turn oil into diesel fuel and reduce emissions by 80 percent, Peretz said.

“It seemed like it would be fun to do something that could have a wider impact,” he said.

There also is a chance to win a college scholarship and Peretz has his sites on Carnegie Mellon University, or Princeton or Stanford, but will “go wherever I get accepted.” His goal is to be a software developer for Google. “I want to make it more user friendly,” he said.

Peretz said he wants to get involved with the board of education, believing that if the board has input from students and teachers it could help direct education away from statistics and test scores and more toward learning.

“I am very proud of Mike,” Shepard Principal Josh Barron said. “He’s very eager to try different things and experiment.”

Even though he admitted he crammed for the ACT — buying practices tests off Amazon the week before –—Peretz said the last 10 years of classes and test-taking prepared him for it, too. So also did his efforts on Shepard’s speech team — where he placed sixth this year in a state tournament, giving an impromptu speech.

“I was really hoping for a 35. When I looked up the score on my iPad and saw the 36, I jumped a little bit, then ran and told my parents. My hand was shaking,” he said.

Adam Gleisner scored a 35 the first time he took the ACT, and got the 36 on his second try.

“Even though it is only one more point, it feels like a whole lot more,” the Sandburg junior said. “Seeing it (36) was so weird.”

“It was a relief,” said his classmate Paige Kordas, who achieved her 36 on the first attempt. She didn’t want to deal with the pressure of “almost” making it.

The two high school cross country runners have MIT on their lists of college possibilities. Gleisner also is considering Northwestern to study engineering or computer science. Kordas’ list also includes Washington University, Duke, Purdue and the University of Illinois for engineering or a biomedical field. Both see themselves as professors in their futures.

“I always liked research and explaining things and finding out about new things,” Gleisner said.

“I really like explaining things to people, and helping other people who are learning,” Kordas echoed.

The two also enjoy taking tests, and both have participated in Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering — WYSE — sponsored by the University of Illinois. This is an academic challenge that consists of a series of tests, in which they have 40 minutes to answer 30 to 100 questions.

Compared with that, the ACT was easy.

“There’s no sense stressing about it,” Gleisner said about taking the ACT or any other test. “I just try to stay calm, get some sleep and do well.”



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