One young man and one young woman from across the State of Florida are recognized every year for their performance on high-school AP exams. This year, Seminole County is home to BOTH!
From world languages to macroeconomics, courses from the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) program give savvy teens the chance to experience college-level coursework while they are still in high school. Dozens of AP courses are available at Seminole County Public Schools, and if students score high enough on the corresponding AP exams at the end of the school year, they might also qualify to earn college credits. The program is so popular, many SCPS graduates start college as sophomores or even juniors.
Based on the total number of AP exams a student takes during high school and the average score of those tests, the College Board identifies one male and one female student as top performers from every state in the union. They’re known as State AP Scholars.
For a school district to lay claim to either one of the State’s AP Scholars is a feather in the county’s cap... But to be home to both? That’s unheard of, and it happened in Seminole County this year.
So let’s meet Dhruv Dadhania, the 2016-17 State AP Scholar from our community who graduated from Lake Mary High School, and Elizabeth Handberg who graduated from Hagerty High in Oviedo.
Dhruv Dadhania – Busy, but Balanced
Lake Mary High’s State AP Scholar conquered no fewer than 25 AP classes. Suffice it to say, current Duke University student Dhruv Dadhania never does anything halfway.
Even when he was still a student at Sanford Middle School, Dhruv created a debate team program and founded a student chapter of Habitat for Humanity. After he moved on to high school, Dhruv returned to Sanford Middle to help conduct debate camps for the younger students and further develop the program.
It’s amazing that he found the time, given that Dhruv also served as president of Lake Mary High’s Mu Alpha Theta math club and the National Forensics League. He was also captain of the debate team and ran for the track and cross-country teams. Dhruv even earned a place in Lockheed Martin’s college internship program while still in high school, thanks to the credits he earned in dual enrollment classes with Seminole State College.
Somewhere in the middle of that packed schedule, Dhruv found time to take this mind-boggling number of classes, and that coursework – along with his resulting high average score on the AP exams – earned him the distinction of State AP Scholar for Florida.
Dhruv, the LMHS Class of 2017 valedictorian, learned of his accomplishment in August, and the Seminole County School Board honored him at a ceremony while he was home from Duke on winter break in December.
Dhruv’s success in his AP classes came from his discipline and work ethic. Though he isn’t fond of the technique, Dhruv says he dedicated himself to memorizing material for his classes and the exams, and when necessary, he used review books to study outside of class to earn his high scores. Remarkably, even with all of this on his plate, Dhruv managed to go to bed at a reasonable hour.
“I need my sleep!” he says. “My schedule was actually pretty chill. I would come home from cross-country practice, spend time with my friends, then do my work. I was always in bed by 10:00.”
Dhruv’s favorite class was AP Research, part of the AP Capstone program offered by LMHS and other Seminole County high schools.
“AP Research let me write a research paper on any subject I wanted to explore,” he says. “It wasn’t a very structured class; it was more self-guided. I didn’t really have that chance in any other class.”
The research project he chose was a statistical analysis of the S&P 500.
“Looking back now, that was an odd choice for me,” Dhruv admits, “because I had never been into economics or interested in statistics back then.”
Now, Dhruv plans to double major in electrical and computer engineering and statistics at Duke, where he is learning that college classes demand a deeper understanding and the ability to extrapolate knowledge in addition to the memorization skills he used in high school.
Dhruv’s advice to younger students is not to feel like they have to take every AP class offered, but instead to focus on the subjects they are passionate about and ones that play to their strengths.
“It really depends on the student,” he says. “I know people who took only three or four AP classes in high school, but they had really great experiences in those classes and got a lot out of them.”
Dhruv also credits his parents, Atul and Smita Patel, with doing something for their only child that he says was critical to his success as a student: staying out of his way.
“They gave me a lot of freedom and let me make my own choices and decisions,” Dhruv says, “even if they didn’t necessarily agree.”
And though he says he didn’t notice it at the time, Dhruv now appreciates how much his parents monitored his mental health in high school.
“Students taking higher-level classes can have a lot of stress on them,” Dhruv says. “My parents were always checking in with me, asking how I was doing. I always knew I wasn’t alone and that I had two people who were cheering me on and were there to help me along the way.”
Elizabeth Handberg – Ahead of the Game
Hagerty High School grad Elizabeth Handberg had no idea she was a State AP Scholar until her mom called her with the news in December.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” Elizabeth says. “I had loaded up on AP courses for a reason – I wanted to get those college credits done. But I didn’t think I had taken so many that I would get an award!”
The University of Florida student took a total of 19 AP courses in high school and earned the top score of 5 on most of them. It was enough to secure her the State AP Scholar title.
Elizabeth, who cofounded Hagerty’s Pre-Med Club when she was a student there, is now planning to double major in biology and psychology at UF with a minor in Spanish. She hopes to become a veterinarian someday.
“I have always loved animals, and I love people too, so it seems like a good fit for me,” she says.
Elizabeth’s goals will require a tough course load, but she says she will be able to accomplish it mostly because of all the AP classes she took in high school.
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