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Pandemic can’t keep Distinctive Scholars down

Even in trying times, the 19 high schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore continue their tradition of academic excellence, as evidenced in these four young people who would have been recognized April 23 at the Distinctive Scholars Convocation, an annual event of the Department of Catholic Schools.

Henry Hardart (Courtesy image)

Henry Hardart

Archbishop Spalding, Severn

Hardart spent portions of the last two summers volunteering in a research lab at Johns Hopkins Hospital, studying the benefits of a common chemical on infants suffering from abnormal brain flow. Mid-February found him at a medical conference in the ­Bahamas, where he helped present the Hopkins team’s findings in a paper titled “Oleuropein Protects White Matter After Neonatal Hypoxic Brain Injury and Hypothermia.”

How did he find his way to neuroscience?

“I had a lot of different interests in middle school,” said Hardart, whose family worships at St. Mary and St. John Neumann in Annapolis.

His college decision – Massachusetts Institute of Technology over Yale – was delayed, along with his running career. In 2019 he set school records with times of 4 minutes, 18.08 seconds and 1:55.75 in the 1,600 and 800 meters, respectively.

“We’ve got a pretty strong running community online,” Hardart said. “After New Balance (the indoor prep nationals) was canceled, people lost a week gathering themselves. Then the runner’s mentality kicked in and we said, ‘let’s start training for cross country.’ ”


Diamond Jones (Courtesy image)

Diamond Jones

Cristo Rey Jesuit, Baltimore 

With the pandemic suspending the corporate internship program at Cristo Rey Jesuit, Jones’ final day at Hunt Investment Management was March 10. She also had to cancel the fashion show she was planning to highlight CRJ’s “People of Power and Purpose” Club.

Jones has been vice president of the National Honor Society, a peer minister, math tutor and was manager of the school’s Step Team.

“I tried to get my hands into every single thing I could (at Cristo Rey), to my parents’ (Edward and Paulette) dismay,” said Jones, who chatted up classmates after the May 30 prom was canceled. “Everyone was a little devastated about that. We’re talking. Should we do something over the summer?”

She hopes to enroll at Loyola University Maryland, one of the seven colleges that have sent acceptances, and go into education. Jones’ track record as a middle-school tutor has her more in demand than ever.

“We do FaceTime, and they always have my phone number,” Jones said. “The kids who got study packets aren’t afraid to call me.”


Chandler Pagnotta (Courtesy image)

Chandler Pagnotta

St. Maria Goretti, Hagerstown

It wasn’t the coronavirus that put Pagnotta’s auto racing on hold. A March 14 wreck at Lincoln Speedway in Abbotstown, Pa. – in which the rear of his Legends Series car (5/8-scale replicas of bodies from the 1930s and ’40s) was clipped, sent it airborne and left him with a concussion – was to blame.

“It stinks,” Pagnotta said. “But once we get through this (the pandemic), I’ll be back out there.”

Pagnotta, who raced go-karts around the yard at age 8, caught the bug from his father, Fran, a senior engineer for Volvo. He will study mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. Ironically, Pagnotta took the bus to St. Maria Goretti from his home in Chambersburg, Pa., where he attended Corpus Christi Catholic School and remains active in its Vacation Bible School.

At Goretti, he’s a member of the National Honor Society and Habitat for Humanity.

“We’ll get back out there sometime soon,” he said.


Katie Yurechko (Courtesy image)

Katie Yurechko

John Carroll, Bel Air

Yurechko has eclectic interests, as she is considering majoring in chemistry or philosophy at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., while minoring in poverty studies.

“That’s always relevant, but now more than ever,” Yurechko said.

The captain of John Carroll’s Speech and Debate team can make her case on an array of subjects. That pursuit gained Yurechko berths in spring competitions in Kentucky and New Mexico, the first of which was held online.

Her empathy is grounded in her home and at St. Joan of Arc in Aberdeen. She began her education at its parish school, and continues to serve its Good Samaritan Food Pantry.

At John Carroll, Yurechko founded the “Friends Are Family” Club, which promotes mental health awareness. Her senior capstone project promoted mental health. The pandemic, she said, “is going to draw more attention to coping skills that we hadn’t thought of before.”

Her own include playing the piano, writing award-winning poetry and weightlifting, a pursuit that has seen the petite Yurechko squat 135 pounds.

The 2019-20 Distinctive Scholars

Archbishop Curley High School, Baltimore: Scott Giampa, Hunter Luers, Yazan Sawalhi

Archbishop Spalding High School, Severn: Kyra Farley, Henry Hardart, Brandon Shin

Bishop Walsh School, Cumberland: Cara Bako, Olivia Cooper, Patrick Strite

Calvert Hall College High School, Towson: Cole Johnson, Owen Koster, Casimir Pozecki

The Catholic High School of Baltimore: Julie Asbury, Natalie Field, Olivia Russell

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Baltimore: Estefania Garcia Torres, Diamond Jones, Jaida Wilson

St. Frances Academy, Baltimore: Rajah Golden, Mya McPherson, Kehmanei Todman

Institute of Notre Dame, Baltimore: Tatiana Christopher, Mickella Harris, Molly Kihn

The John Carroll School, Bel Air: Alexis Loder, Helen Lortie, Kathryn Yurechko

St. John’s Catholic Prep, Buckeystown: Katherine Goundry, Bridget Scherer, Chase Shapiro

Loyola Blakefield, Towson: Christopher Doyle, Bryan Rose, Emmanuel Spanos

St. Maria Goretti High School, Hagerstown: Lauren Lindsey, Bridget Nooney, Chandler Pagnotta

St. Mary’s High School, Annapolis: Luke Bonfiglio, Eden Fales, Mia Haschert

Maryvale Preparatory School, Lutherville: Karenna Aparece, Lyssa Kagel, Abigail Miller

Mercy High School, Baltimore: Olivia Goodwin, Elena Schutz, Heather Shanty

Mount de Sales Academy, Catonsville: Julie Claycomb, Julianna Mannarelli, Grace Wallace

Mount St. Joseph High School, Baltimore: James DeMaria, Robin Paranilam, Christian Woo

Notre Dame Preparatory School, Towson: Catherine Kinkopf, Julia Marine, Margaret Sullivan

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Essex: Kami Ciccanti, Taylor Mazan, Rachel Potter