It’s no secret that Lake Norman is home to great schools and exceptional students. For the back to school issue, we decided to highlight five stand-out students at various high schools. From Miss Vietnam of the Carolinas to the Kicks for Kids founder, read ahead and get to know some of the area’s top students.
Rebecca Nguyen sits on the couch just inside the door of Bally Nails in Huntersville. She follows the World Cup match on TV while she takes a break. The 17-year-old works fulltime in the summer here at her mom’s nail salon.
“I don’t mind working,” she says. “My parents have always owned their own businesses just to take care of me, my brother, and my sister. I like to help them back.”
Before Nguyen begins her senior year at Hopewell High School this fall, she’ll travel to Vietnam with her family. Her grandparents and parents are Vietnam natives. Although she barely remembers her most recent trip to Vietnam as a first-grader, Nguyen actively honors her Vietnamese heritage. She helps organize festivals and participates in volunteer opportunities with the Vietnamese Association of Charlotte. A few months ago, she won the title of Miss Vietnam of the Carolinas.
“I really do embrace it,” Nguyen says of her multicultural background. “I know some people try to forget about it, but I really don’t want to forget.”
At Hopewell, Nguyen enjoys art and math classes. She plans to combine those skills with her entrepreneurial upbringing for a career on the business side of the fashion industry.
“I want to be someone like my dad,” she says, “who’s worked toward being a leader.”
Sam Kastel is fast. His lean frame and digital watch offer a couple of clues to his pastime of choice. This summer, he attended a distance-running camp in Brevard. The rising freshman will be a member of Davidson Day School’s varsity cross-country team again this year. In January, he’ll travel to Orlando, Florida, to run the Walt Disney World 10K.
When Kastel learned about his friend Logan Brady’s cousin who died from neuroblastoma at 8 years old, he didn’t waste time coming up with a way to help. Kastel, 14, created The Harrison Nichols Run to raise money for the Harrison Nichols Foundation. The organization provides financial assistance to neuroblastoma sufferers and their families.
This past March, the third-annual 5K event raised about $2,000. Kastel credits teachers, parents, and other students with helping make the event a success.
“Oh geez,” Kastel says when asked about the most challenging part of the process. “Getting started ahead of time and scheduling for meetings.” Kastel draws inspiration from his dad, who competes in IRONMAN events, and his mom, who ran the Boston Marathon in 2013 and 2014.
“I’m looking forward to moving up,” Kastel says of starting high school. “Looking forward to things actually counting toward college.”
Although it might not show up on a transcript, Kastel has a good start on doing things that count.
This summer, Via Savage was in school. She took three classes a day, participating in challenging classroom discussions and analyzing politics and current events. She lived in a dorm in Winston-Salem. The rising senior at William Amos Hough High School initially agreed to attend the Governor’s School of North Carolina because she knew it would look good on college applications. But once she arrived at Salem College and began her courses and met her peers, she enjoyed it.
“When I came into the Governor’s School setting, I expected to make a few acquaintances,” Savage says. “But I’ve been blown away. People are so intelligent and interesting.”
At 17, Savage isn’t sure about her college major, but she has two requirements for the school. The first is a good music and arts program. Savage plays guitar and piano and began writing songs in sixth grade. She uses music as a creative outlet and a way to push herself.
“I always get a little bit nervous before I go onstage,” she says. “It drives me to do it more. My goal is to become comfortable with it. It helps me with my confidence.”
Her second college requirement is that the school is located out of state. She’s lived in downtown Davidson her whole life and is ready for a change. Her top two choices are the University of Southern California and Columbia University.
“At some point I want to experience a city setting,” Savage says, “But ultimately settling down in a small town is probably the way to go.”
The squeak of a tennis shoe on a hallway floor is an important sound to Ansley Rikard. In 2013, the organization she cofounded raised $8,000 and bought 108 pairs of tennis shoes for underprivileged children.
“We personally put the shoes on the kids’ feet,” Rikard says.
Rikard, a 17-year-old rising senior at Southlake Christian Academy, started Kicks for Kids with her friend Emily Wakeman. The nonprofit organization promotes health and fitness by providing shoes and athletic equipment to students at Brookstone Schools in west Charlotte. The nonprofit Christian school is designed for children from low-income families living in the surrounding urban area. Rikard remembers visiting Brookstone when she was in middle school to sing for the children and make gingerbread houses with them.
“We’re doing something in our backyard,” she says. “It’s so tangible. You can see the effects of what you’re doing.”
This past April, about 100 runners participated in the second Kicks for Kids 5K. The event raised about $3,000, which went toward physical-education equipment at Brookstone Schools.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself,” Rikard says, “but also about the community and the area, [about] being selfless and serving these kids. They deserve it.”
Simone Lindsey thinks ahead. A year ago, she decided to stop dancing competitively. She started dancing when she was 3 and began competing at age 7.
“It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life,” she says. “I feel like it was great while it lasted. I just didn’t want to move on through that and then always wonder what it would have been like if I had stopped.”
With her extra time, Lindsey began working as an intern with Charlotte Seen, which produces several fashion events including Charlotte Fashion Week and Passport For Fashion.
Lindsey, a 17-year-old at North Mecklenburg High School, loves fashion. At 5 feet 7 ½ inches (without her heels), she enjoys modeling, as well as working behind the scenes. On a typical weekday at her internship, she sports electric blue high heels, red lipstick, and a high-waisted skirt. In addition to her International Baccalaureate courses, she also took an elective apparel class last year and is a member of the school’s fashion club.
Although her senior year is just starting, Lindsey applied to the Savannah College of Art and Design this past February.
“The culture is really rich, and it’s really artsy,” she says. “It’s tailored to me and what I want to be and what I want to do.”