Verrado High School's First Graduates Set Bar High

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The inaugural class graduating at Verrado High School on Thursday, sets a high standard for the next generation of seniors.

Of 264 students, 255 are going to college this fall, Principal Tom Huffman says.

“I am so proud of these seniors because they were blazing the trail as they leave,” he said. “The bar is now set really high for the Class of 2011 and beyond.”

Senior Natali Olveda, 18, noted that her class acted as if they were “seniors” from the time the Buckeye school opened in 2006 with about 300 students. Being part of the first class forced students to become leaders at a young age, molding new school traditions every year, she said.

Geared toward teacher collaboration, Verrado was built around the concept of smaller learning communities.

Each of the four classroom wings has an office for a guidance counselor and small media centers. There are only three walls per classroom.

“When I came in for registration (as a freshman), I didn’t know about the school concept, but I was open to the idea,” said Sarah Cronk, 18, who is in the top 1 percent of her class. “We were the guinea pigs every year.”

In total, about 75 students received more than $4.2 million in college scholarships. Huffman said that’s an extraordinary figure for a school with 27 percent of students on free and reduced lunch.

Gayatri Malhotra, 17, received $56,000 in scholarships to Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. The varsity tennis player was recruited to the Division III school, but she said her first priority is studying for a pre-medical degree.

“Now that I look back on it, I really do like Verrado. It was a really good experience,” she said. “The teachers really inspired me to work hard. The school gave me a lot of opportunities to succeed and I really got to stand out.”

Thursday’s graduation ceremony starts at 8 p.m. in Verrado’s stadium, 20050 W. Indian School Road.

“Four years ago, we had a bunch of 13- or 14-year-old students here excited and scared,” Huffman said. “Now those same students are graduating with confidence and have a list of accomplishments behind them. They are all feeling more than college-ready.”

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