Spirit of Excellence Awards honor high-achieving students

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Spirit of Excellence Awards honor high-achieving students

High-achieving African American Parkway students are celebrated at the Spirit of Excellence awards.

High-achieving African American Parkway students are celebrated at the Spirit of Excellence awards.

Pierremont Elementary

High-achieving African American Parkway students are celebrated at the Spirit of Excellence awards.

Pierremont Elementary

Pierremont Elementary

High-achieving African American Parkway students are celebrated at the Spirit of Excellence awards.

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Four hundred African American Parkway students, grades three through 12, will be honored at the annual Spirit of Excellence ceremony, March 10 at UMSL’s Touhill Performing Arts Center.

“[The Spirit of Excellence awards are] really to show that in the African American community that excellence can happen and it celebrates that excellence,” honoree Danielle Emanuel, junior, said.

Lisa Thompson, former Voluntary Student Transfer (VST) program coordinator feels that the Spirit of Excellence awards help to bridge the gap between black and white communities in Parkway.

“The award ceremony is an opportunity for both communities to celebrate together. Many VST students feel disconnected because they’re going from one culture to another, and it’s difficult to have one foot in each place,” Thompson said. “At the awards ceremony, though, there’s a lot of pride, from both students and parents.”

Thompson has helped to shape the award’s current requirements of a 3.5 or higher GPA for high and middle schoolers, and all A’s and B’s for elementary schoolers.

“When Spirit of Excellence was handed off to me, it was only for high school and middle school students, and they only needed a 3.0 GPA or higher to get it. The ceremony was in the basement of a restaurant, but I moved it to Adam’s Mark Hotel, and raised the criteria so that students had to get a 3.5 GPA or higher. I also extended the awards to elementary school kids with all A’s and B’s,” Thompson said.

Senior Aaron Tesfai, seven time recipient of the Spirit of Excellence award and first-generation American from Africa, believes that the Spirit of Excellence awards are somewhat discriminatory.

“There’s no point in having an award just for African Americans–it just singles us out, which we shouldn’t do, because we’re the same as everyone else. So why not put us in a pool with Asians and white people and other races?” Tesfai said.

Thompson has a different opinion on the prominence of race in these awards.

“People don’t realize that African American students for a long time in Parkway weren’t thought of as a part of it all. African American students weren’t selected or recognized for anything. Things are better now, but there’s still not a high number of African American students getting recognized for academics. High achievers feel like the exception, not the rule, but when they go to Spirit of Excellence and see hundreds of other students like them, it helps normalize the achievement and shows them that they’re not an anomaly,” Thompson said.

As for Emanuel and Tesfai, both will be using their awarded work ethic in future scientific careers.

“I’m planning on going to college and starting a career in some sort of science,” Emanuel said. Tesfai plans on majoring in human biology.

Thompson emphasizes the importance of the continual support of African American students in and out of Parkway.

“Spirit of Excellence is important because it dispels stereotypes. There’s a lot of internalized oppression in the African American community that isn’t exposed to other achievers. Other kids will say ‘Why are you acting white?’ when other kids are being smart and working hard. There’s a huge internal impact when African American kids are doing things to dispel stereotypes around other African American kids,” Thompson said.

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