JCESC recognizes ACT honorees

Photo Provided Nine local graduating seniors who achieved a score of 30 or higher on their ACT Composite Test were honored during the ACT Recognition Breakfast sponsored by the Jefferson County Educational Service Center on May 2. Pictured are, front from left, Layla Lombardo, Faith Bell, Jackie O’Karma and Carolyn Kuebler. Back: Luke Deptula, Cheyanne Lake, Jaden Morris, Jordan Fritz and Dominik Harding.

STEUBENVILLE — The Jefferson County Educational Service Center honored top scorers during the annual ACT Recognition Breakfast on May 2.

Nine high school students from Jefferson, Harrison and Columbiana counties were joined by family members and school officials as they received commendations from JCESC leaders for achieving a score of 30 or more. Superintendent Chuck Kokiko welcomed the estimated 30 people on hand at Froelich’s Classic Corner in Steubenville and lauded the soon-to-be-grads for their achievement.

“We are gathered here this morning to recognize those who have excelled, specifically on the ACT exam,” Kokiko said and touted those who played a role in the students’ success. “A score of 30 or higher will place you in the top 94th percentile. A 33 will earn you a spot in the top 98 percent of all test takers. What does this mean? You all make up a very select group of students!”

He also cited several ACT facts, including that 1.4 million students took the exam in 2023. Of those, the average score was 19.5 and females achieved an average score of 19.7 while males averaged 19.4.

JCESC Governing Board President Barry Gullen also congratulated the honorees and their families, guardians and schools.

“What an accomplishment you have made so far,” he said. “You should be proud of yourselves because we are proud of you.”

The keynote speaker was Aaron Richardson, a partner with the Blake, Bednar, Blake and Richardson law firm and president of the Edison Local Board of Education. Richardson shared his experiences as a student entering college and how he returned to the Ohio Valley to make a difference.

“It takes a lot to get to where you are and to reach this score on the ACT test.,” Richardson said. “It’s recognition of your potential and tells the outside world that you’ve got what it takes. When I started out, I embraced my Ohio Valley roots. I felt like I had something in common with people.”

He added that he was in a larger pool in college but bonded with roommates who resided in the local community. When he returned home, he befriended others who shared the same goal of doing something positive within the community, and they founded the Festival in the Woods in Richmond. Richardson encouraged the students to take an active role in something they would enjoy.

“If you find something that is a rewarding career, that is a huge benefit,” he added, saying while others move away for opportunities, there are still opportunities right here. “We are taking the best and brightest and transplanting them to another area, and it’s happening in a lot of fields. There are opportunities here. No matter what the opportunity is, you don’t have to leave.”

Gullen and governing board Vice President Toni Dondzila then presented certificates to the nine honorees. This year’s recipients included Faith Bell of Edison, Cheyanne Lake of Harrison Central, Jaden Morris of Southern Local, Luke Deptula, Jordan Fritz, Dominik Harding and Layla Lombardo of Steubenville and Carolyn Kuebler and Jackie O’Karma of Steubenville Catholic Central.

Bell, the daughter of Greg and Julia Bell of Toronto, received a composite score of 30 and holds a 4.0 GPA. She has been active in volleyball, track, choir, concert band, Beta Club, Spanish Club, academic team, leadership council and student council and also works at Austin Lake Park. She plans to attend West Liberty University to major in elementary education.

Lake, the daughter of Heather Hilbert of Cadiz, received a 30 on her ACT exam and has a 4.345 GPA. She has tutored for Harrison Central Elementary students, is a Ruritan Scholar, volunteered at the county fair and worked in food service since age 15. She plans to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology to study biochemistry.

Morris, the son of James and Patience Morris of Salineville, obtained a score of 30 on his composite test and holds a 4.12 GPA. He has been active in the marching band and College Credit Plus courses and has worked since his sophomore year. He has completed full-time college courses at Kent State University and worked nearly full-time. He intends to finish his associate’s degree in applied business at Kent and go on to obtain his bachelor’s degree.

Deptula, the son of David and Kathy Deptula of Steubenville, received a score of 33 and holds a 4.0 GPA. He was involved in track and field while at Catholic Central but transferred to Steubenville, where he was a member of the swim team. He plans to attend Washington and Jefferson University and study biology with a concentration in biomedical science and neuroscience.

Fritz, the son of Tabitha Fritz of Steubenville, earned a 31 on his composite test and holds a 3.92 GPA. He played esports for three years on the Super Smash Bros Ultimate team and the League of Legends team and was on the chess team for two Maymester seasons. Fritz also volunteered for the concession stand and conducted service learning for a year. He plans to study astronomy at The Ohio State University.

Harding, the son of Heather Smith, achieved a score of 31 on his exam and holds a 2.79 GPA. He has been involved in Ohio Valley Robotics Team No. 9653 and the FIRST Robotics Competition. Harding plans to study engineering at Ohio University.

Lombardo, the daughter of Jeffrey and Angela Lombardo of Steubenville, received a 33 on her exam and holds a 4.77 GPA. She has been active in soccer, as a teacher’s aide and babysitter, as a concession stand volunteer and with the Jefferson County Water Monitoring Project, Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership and an American Sign Language internship. She will attend Case Western Reserve University to study cognitive science.

Kuebler, the daughter of Daniel and Nellie Kuebler of Steubenville, scored a 33 on her exam and holds a 4.0 unweighted GPA and 4.6 weighted GPA. She has participated in soccer, track, International Thespian Society, National Honor Society, Royalettes and the adoration band. She plans to attend Franciscan University.

O’Karma, the daughter of John and Michelle O’Karma of Weirton, received a score of 32 and holds a 4.821 GPA. She has served as Leader of House Lisieux, student council secretary, junior class president, Kairos retreat leader, National Honors Society treasurer and Key Club vice president. O’Karma also earned 11 athletic letters in basketball, soccer and track, three academic letters and was awarded the OVAC 1A-3A Soccer Player of the Year honor, was First Team All-District and OVAC All-Conference and earned the Eastern District Track All-Star Team awards, Eastern District Track All-Academic Team and OVAC All-Conference Track team honors. Additionally, she has taken part in music ministry, is pianist for adoration, a member of the Youth Coalition Club and Pep Club, an altar server, piano student and completed 402 hours of community service. She will attend University of Notre Dame to major in biology with a pre-med track and a minor in compassionate care in medicine and Italian.


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