Local high school students recognized for academic achievements


MCPS Juniors Olivia Bittinger (Dunnellon, second from left) and Caleb Lombardo (West Port, second from right) are this year’s MCPS Sunshine State Scholars. School Board members recognized them along with alternate Devi Sharma (Forest, far right) and nominees Rishit Shaquib (Vanguard, far left) and Julian Hollis (Belleview, center

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Posted January 13, 2023 |

Five Marion County 11th graders have been honored as Sunshine State Scholars, recognized among their peers in Florida for their excellence in mathematics and science.

Jullian Hollis (Belleview High School), Olivia Bittinger (Dunnellon High School), Devi Sharma (Forest High School), Rishit Shaquib (Vanguard High School) and Caleb Lombardo (West Port High School) were all honored during the Marion County School Board meeting Tuesday night.

“They were all recommended by their principal and leadership team because they met a special criteria,’’ explained Danielle Livengood, the school district’s director of curriculum, instruction and digital learning. “They all have interest in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. They all have a minimum 3.9 GPA and have all participated in at least 25 hours of community service.

“It’s exciting to recognize those students involved in our advanced studies,’’ she continued. “They have all taken dual-enrollment courses in math or science, advanced placement courses, advanced technology courses and/or AICE or International baccalaureate mathematics and science courses.”

Other criteria points include:

  • Combined score of 1300 or higher on the SAT
  • Composite score of 30 or higher on the ACT
  • Score of 3.0 or higher on one or more Advanced Placement Tests
  • Consistently scored level 4 or 5 on Mathematics and Science End-of-Course assessments
  • Short Essay describing plans to pursue a STEM-related field, academic passion, postsecondary plans and what the student thinks is the greatest challenge America has right now in the areas of STEM.

Bittinger and Lombardo will travel to Orlando in April to take part in the Sunshine State Scholars program, which lasts two days and will honor each scholar. It will also give the students the opportunity to meet with the Senior Chancellor and representatives from Florida’s colleges to talk about education opportunities at those schools, according to the Florida Department of Education website.

According to Livengood, Bittinger and Lombardo went through an interview process with a local STEM business member to earn the chance to go to Orlando in April.

With each student’s principal and parents in attendance, Lombardo said the Pledge of Allegiance before having to leave for a soccer match against Dunnellon in the MCIAC Boys’ soccer tournament at Forest High School.

“It just goes to show how well-rounded they are and they’re still maintaining an incredibly strong schedule,” Livengood said after noting that Bittinger and Shaquib also play a sport.

Board Chair Allison Campbell spoke with excitement and a sense of pride about the students and everyone who is helping them.

“Thank you to these amazing students and all the diligent work you are putting forth as well as their terrific principals, who all came in support of them. We really appreciate all that you do, and you are why we are here. Helping students succeed is our whole purpose and were so grateful for all the work you are putting in,” she said.

Board member Lori Conrad also thanked the students for their hard work.

“I’m excited about our Sunshine State Scholars and what they represent. I’m so happy they were here tonight to share with us,” she said.