LAPEER, Michigan — The sign outside Maria Reitz’s house doesn’t tell the whole story. The Lapeer High School senior is one of the proud recipients of a yard sign proclaiming her as an AP National Scholar — one of five in the history of Lapeer High School.
In truth, however, she’s one of one.
In order to put into context the level of scholarship Maria has achieved in her career at LHS, one must talk about history. She may be the most accomplished scholar in the history of Lapeer Community Schools.
Maria, who has a 4.39 grade point average, has taken a total of 10 AP exams and received a perfect score (5) on all of them. Taking 10 AP classes is pretty remarkable; passing 10 exams is incredible; earning a perfect score on 10 is just unheard of.
And she still has four more in the hopper.
LCS Superintendent Matt Wandrie, who has worked in various capacities in six different school districts, summed up the feat after a meeting with Maria this fall.
“I’ve never even heard of anything like that,” he said.
LHS Principal Doug Lindsay recalls staring at her academic record and wondering aloud how much more could be thrown at her.
The simple answer: probably not enough.
“She’s just an all-around exceptional young lady,” Lindsay said. “She not only excels in the classroom, but she’s also involved in helping others in the school community…LHS is a better place because of students like Maria.”
The love of learning starts early
The great American journalist Charles Kuralt once called good writing a derivative.
“I think good writing comes from good reading,” he argued.
If you’re a parent, ask any teacher for advice on how to best cultivate a love of learning into a child and you’ll typically get one response: Read. Read to your children. Model a lifestyle that includes reading as a something other than a chore.
Maria’s father, Russ Reitz, remembers his daughter, at eight years old, reading a book she found at her grandmother’s house about the birds of Michigan.
Was there nothing on TV? Why on earth would an eight year old be interested in a book about the physical characteristics of robins and warblers?
“Because the book was there and she didn’t know anything about the birds of Michigan,” Russ said. “Ever since she was little, she wanted to learn about everything.”
Russ and his wife, Anhel, were always there to support her curiosity.
“My wife was adamant that bedtime stories were read every night,” he said. “Every night from a very young age my girls would be read a bedtime story or two, or five. There were also weekly trips to the library to get more reading material. Both my wife and I are avid readers, so it was natural for our kids to pick up a book when they were bored.”
Thriving on the challenge
Maria’s parents never put much pressure on her to get good grades. On the contrary, the goal was to learn as much as possible and good grades were sure to follow.
“A class is not just there so you can get a good grade,” Russ said. “We obviously congratulate her on doing well on her tests and classes, but it’s really is about doing your best and learning. And she works extremely hard to be successful. She takes her academics seriously.”
Maria has been involved in the District’s Grow to Glow, OMNI Council as well as assisting English Language Learner (ELL) students, all while taking four AP courses and two college courses in one semester. Maria was also a member of the Future Problem Solvers team that took first place at the state competition in back-to-back years.
Patrick Lothrop, who coaches Maria as part of the Future Problem Solvers, says it is easy to forget she’s still in high school.
“Maria is an adult in a young person’s body,” he said. “Her problem solving skills are top notch; she can see so many other pathways to solving a problem that lead her down, in my opinion, to some of the best solutions and action plans for the future I’ve ever read.”
Maria and her intrepid group of problem solvers take on serious issues every year, from national security to poverty. The ability to use critical thinking skills to take on the problems of the future is right in line with her desire to never stop challenging herself.
Kim Tetmeyer, who teaches the District AP Research, one of the two courses in the AP Capstone program, has been struck by Maria’s enthusiasm for learning in a course that closely mirrors college rigor.
“During her research, she’s shown a passion for her topic and a commitment to the process,” she said.
Her research focus has been, what Tetmeyer calls, “a unique examination of the connection between online fandom and activism.”
For Maria, such a heady topic is right in line with her worldview. If it’s not challenging, it’s not worth doing.
“(Advanced courses) are much more in-depth than traditional classes, making them more satisfying and interesting,” Maria said. “The smaller class sizes mean you get a lot closer with the teacher and other kids in the class, and some of my favorite school memories have come from AP classes after the exams.”
Once she got her first two or three AP classes under her belt, Maria say they just became the norm.
“I never chose my schedule with the thought of getting recognition for my classes,” she said. “I was simply taking classes that looked fun and worthwhile.”
Naturally, fun seekers like Maria head straight to Mr. Schuette’s AP Statistics class in order to compare distributions of a qualitative variable. OK, so that one might be more worthwhile than fun; but, Mr. Schuette recognizes a constant when he sees one.
“Maria is an amazing student,” he said. “She has been a great addition to our class this year. She seems to understand complex ideas very quickly and has a very determined mindset in the classroom. She’s also an outstanding group member, working very well with all students in our class.”
Sommer Schons, who teaches AP Psychology at LHS, agrees. She calls Maria one of the best students she has ever had.
“She has a maturity beyond her years and is incredibly level headed, while also being kind and patient with others,” she said. “She’s just an incredibly impressive kid.”
Maria never fancied herself as a AP National Scholar. She had already taken numerous AP courses before she learned that the distinction was even within reach. It was just another fringe benefit of hard work.
“(The award) didn’t change the course of my studies so much as give me additional motivation do well in my last years of AP classes,” she said.
Mike Hobolth, a former LCS administrator who is now in charge of a pair of AP Summer Institutes, said Maria’s marks are extraordinary.
“This is a really big deal,” Hobolth said. “She’ll probably have sophomore standing (in college) wherever she goes. And she should be able to go anywhere she wants.”
Maria’s academic prowess certainly will afford her many opportunities after high school, and it’s clear the best is still yet to come. Her plan is to study engineering at one of her three top schools: Princeton, University of Michigan or Notre Dame.
Wherever she goes, Maria will represent Lapeer Community Schools with pride. She is leaving a legacy of scholarship that students of the future will strive to reach.