Peninsula School District and the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation annually solicit nominations from PSD staff to identify graduating seniors for excellence in academics and leadership. Selected students are recognized as Students of Distinction.
Twelve students from Peninsula High School received the award, including two from the Key Peninsula: Riley Schuller and Haley Barnesson. Both live in Lakebay and are being recognized in the Science and Technology category. Schuller was also a nominee in the Career and Technical category.
Schuller was nominated for her work in physics and math. She is a National Honor Society member with a 3.942 GPA and her transcript includes AP and honors classes, as well as Tacoma Community College running start courses in precalculus, calculus, engineering graphics and physics. She has been accepted to the honors program at the University of Puget Sound and will major in physics. Her plans include becoming a college professor, unless she can land her dream job as a roller coaster designer.
Schuller credits Jack Newton, PHS science teacher, as a main influence in her chosen career path. “He is the reason I want to get into physics,” because he “showed me how amazing math and science could really be. I want to thank him for pushing me to explore the wonders of our world through physics.”
In his recommendation letter, Newton wrote “Riley was one of the few students who took advantage of optimal enrichment assignments to increase her understanding of physics concepts.”
Erin Rossing, PHS math department chair said, “Riley has an insatiable curiosity and is driven by the pursuit of knowledge. She also exhibits the ability to see connections in the application of math concepts that were far beyond the class instructional level.”
But there is more to Schuller’s interests than math and physics — art and design are her creative outlet.
PHS Fine and Performing Arts Department Chair Christine Buchanan said “Riley displays a creative vision that goes beyond the scope of a typical high school student” and praised her mastery of ceramic sculpture, the potter’s wheel and stained glass. She also cited Schuller’s leadership in PHS art club and her volunteer work with Winterfest and Two Waters Arts Alliance.
Buchanan also commended Schuller for her willingness to defend people who may be subjected to hate speech and bullying.
In her spare time, the scholar athlete has been on the bowling team since her freshman year, was team captain for two years, and was a Student Athlete of the Month in 2020.
“I’m just obsessed with learning. Sit me down and teach me anything, I’ll be interested. I hope to someday teach others the knowledge I have,” she said.
Haley Barnesson has been accepted to five colleges, but is still debating her selection. She will follow a pre-med program and plans on becoming a trauma surgeon.
“I’ve known since the third grade that I wanted to become a doctor, so I have taken every opportunity available to help me achieve that goal,” she said.
Barnesson earned varsity letters in community service and sports medicine while maintaining a 3.938 GPA. Her diligence in five advanced placement and honors courses earned her a college board AP scholar award, and certification in three courses.
Her favorite teacher is Brad Collins, she said, who teaches biomedical science, human body systems and medical terminology. “Haley has always been very good at science and her curiosity and creativity show in her work ethic and her drive to do well,” he said.
Collins also called Barnesson “a consistent leading force” in the PHS Health Occupations Students of America club, where she served as an officer for several years. She is the first PHS student to compete and win in state HOSA events, earning an opportunity to participate in the HOSA International Leadership Conference in June 2020.
Web Sommer, athletic trainer at PHS, supervised Barnesson’s work as a student athletic trainer, where she accumulated over 400 volunteer hours. “Haley’s ability to work not only with student athletes individually but also large groups was evident as I placed her in charge of conducting class-size impact concussion testing,” Sommer said.
“Haley went on to job shadow doctors at St Anthony Hospital, Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, podiatry in Gig Harbor and an RN at Tacoma General Hospital,” Sommer said. “Haley has a lot of compassion for others and is respected by both students and staff at PHS. She is a quiet leader who has a great deal of potential.”
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