NEWARK, NJ - During the first year of Newark's Academic Challenge for Kids, about 2,000 seniors Newark Public Schools successfully met the requirements by maintaining good academic standing and extracurricular commitments.

Superintendent Roger León launched the initiative at the start of the school year incentivizing students to maintain a 2.5 GPA or higher, score proficiency on standardized state tests, and be involved in activities outside of general school courses. 

According to state enrollment data, there were 2,231 seniors enrolled in the district for the 2018-2019 school year.

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Of the total seniors in the district, 89.6% of students from the class of 2019 met or exceeded the superintendent's academic challenge. 

"We had an absolutely incredible academic year," León said during a June school board meeting. “A lot of people don't know that there is greatness that has happened in our schools for years in our city. This year is no different.”  

The district rewarded seniors who met Newark’s Academic Challenge for Kids with a trip to Forest Lodge in Warren, New Jersey for a day of fun. For freshman students, the challenge is four years and will be judge cumulatively.

Some of the seniors who met the challenge will also be heading to college with scholarships.

There are 1,571 seniors in the class of 2019 were admitted to college and amassed $43 million college scholarships for this year alone.

Many students took college-level courses while in high school, earning college credits paid for by the district. Students and families saved $2.6 million in credits toward higher education.

“We have students all up and down the East Coast celebrating their excellence and finding a college that best meets their respective needs,” said León. 

 Students have received full rides to Ivy League universities like   Yale and Princeton. They are also going to NJIT, Rutgers   University-Newark, and New Brunswick and Spelman College.   Students are attending almost every Historically Black College and University, León added. 

The Newark Board of Education celebrated 359 seniors for having a   3.5 or higher GPA for all four years of high school at the first Academic awards dinner hosted at Central High School last month. It was the district's first academic awards program in the years. Students also received care packages from Project Ready.

East Side High School graduate Gabriel Margaca earned a 4.59, the highest GPA in the district, and will attend Dartmouth University this fall on a full scholarship. 

Board of Education student representative and Science Park High School graduate, Andre Ferreira, is attending Harvard University with a full scholarship this fall.

Bradley Gonmiah, also a graduate of Science Park High School, was recognized for his outstanding academic and civic achievement. Gonmiah regularly contributed ideas at school board meetings and proposed a civics course to the board that was piloted this school year. 

He is also the only 17-year-old appointed to a Newark Commission to Fight Gentrification. Gonmiah is attending Harvey Mudd College, a selective science and engineering college in Claremont, California on a full ride in the fall. 

Students and staff have received local, state, national honors, and recognition. 

Nine students also signed on to college sports teams with full rides, earning $1.3 million in scholarships. 

Twin sisters Samantha and Samara Augustin are two of three Newark students selected as the first Mayor Scholars and will attend NJIT on a full ride scholarship in the fall. They are also New Jersey STEM Scholars. 

Mayor Ras Baraka hosted a separate annual awards dinner at NJIT where he honored the top five highest academic achievers from all high schools located in the city of Newark. 

Students from the comprehensive, magnet, alternative, charter, private, and Essex County vocational high schools were invited to be recognized.

During his speech, Baraka encouraged students as they prepare for the next chapter in their lives by reminding them that their brilliance is determined by themselves, and not tied to a school. 

“We think we’re smart because we go to a smart school. The school only becomes brilliant because the people are brilliant,” Baraka said to the students. “So wherever you go, make the place brilliant.”