National AP Scholar heads to West Point

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Jul. 9—For David Garcia, achieving national AP Scholar status was the product of applying the same inexhaustible work ethic he's dedicated to every arena of his life.

"My nature is to be the hardest worker in the room and compete over everything," said Garcia, a member of Dalton High School's class of 2021 who is heading to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. "As a freshman, I wanted to take the hardest classes you could get," and that continued throughout his time in high school.

To be a national AP (Advanced Placement) Scholar, a student has to score a 4 or higher on at least eight different AP exams in one year, which is "incredible," said Stephanie Hungerpiller, Dalton High's principal. This is "a big deal, (and) we're so proud of (Garcia)."

As rare as that feat is, it's perhaps more impressive in Garcia's case, since he achieved it before his senior year.

"I'm so grateful," Garcia said. "To God be the glory, always."

He's especially thankful for all the teachers in those classes who were willing to assist him in his studies.

"I ask a lot of questions in class, and teachers do want to help you," he said. "They prepare us well, and I honestly think anyone can do this if they just grind."

He urges other students to take advantage of end-of-year review sessions in classes.

"I always took review extremely seriously, because teachers give you a lot of review opportunities and practice tests, (which are) good gauges of the real tests," he said. "Take that practice AP exam and find out why your wrong answers were wrong; I'm a good test taker because when you know all the subject matter, you know which (potential answers to questions) are wrong immediately."

Garcia took his first AP class (environmental science) as a freshman, and because the school was in the middle of making some alterations to the schedule, the course included only seniors and freshmen, which Garcia appreciated, because it accelerated his maturation process, he said. At the end of the class, only Garcia and a senior scored a 5 on the AP exam, which boosted his confidence.

He took three more AP classes as a sophomore and four as a junior before adding AP British Literature and AP Calculus to his schedule senior year, he said.

"There weren't any more (AP classes) for me to take, or I would have taken them."

He most enjoyed AP U.S. History and AP English, while AP Chemistry was Garcia's toughest course.

That class "is almost infamous at our school," he said with a wry smile. Teacher Alecia Hagberg "is wonderful, but the exam is really, really difficult because it's (all encompassing): you need to really understand every single process you learned in the class."

Garcia "is a fantastic student, (and) what makes (him) special is his ability to synthesize information and apply knowledge to new and different situations," Hagberg said. "Higher-order thinking is necessary to be successful in courses such as AP Chemistry, and David excels at thinking critically about content."

He "is also willing to take risks in his thinking; in class, he is willing to answer questions even if his answer might be wrong, something that happens rarely" with students, Hagberg said. Garcia "asks many questions in class and fully participates."

Garcia is indebted to school counselor/academic adviser Julie Gallman because she supported his ambitions beginning freshman year and made sure he got into all the classes he wanted.

"She's really wonderful, and she cares for all the students," said Garcia. "It feels like you have a mom in school."

Gallman first took notice of Garcia's maturity when he was in ninth grade, because he started seeking assistance with career goals, and that sort of long-term thinking and ambition is atypical for a freshman, she said.

"Within the first few months of school, he scheduled an appointment with me, and we started talking about careers and choosing academic courses that would help him prepare for the future."

"Our student/counselor relationship has continued throughout his high school career, and I am always impressed how prepared and intentional David is when making choices that both challenge and help enhance his life options," Gallman said. "He is extremely motivated and intellectually gifted."

Garcia's parents always emphasized the value of education with him, and his father, a doctor, was able to come to the United States from Colombia because he worked so hard academically that he earned a scholarship to Ivy League institution Cornell University, Garcia said.

"I knew from a young age that academics matter."

Rather than coast to the finish line as a senior, Garcia was fixated on bursting through the tape at the end of his high school career.

"What's important to me is hard work, who you are as a whole person, and your legacy," he said. "People remember what you did last, and a legacy is not made by taking it easy at the end."

Though Hagberg only taught Garcia in high school, she's known him since elementary school, since he was in the same grade as her daughter, and they participated in many of the same activities and school functions at Westwood School, she said. She wasn't "surprised at all he added national AP Scholar to his impressive academic accomplishments, (because) he is an exceptional young man."

Though Garcia is unsure where his life and career will go after West Point, he knows he wants to return to this community to serve in a manner he's seen from others over the years.

"I want to give back some of what Dalton has given me," he said. "Dalton is a place where people come together from all countries and anyone can become the person (he or she) wants to be."

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