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Meet South Side High School's National Merit Scholarship finalists


Two South Side High School students were named National Merit Scholarship finalists last month for their efforts and feats inside and out of the classroom.

Seniors Anthony DeFalco and Alison McWalters were among about 1.6 million students to take the Preliminary SAT in October 2017. By scoring 1510 and 1500 on the exam, respectively, out of a possible 1520, they were picked among 16,000 students in the country — 1 percent of those eligible — as semifinalists last fall. After submitting an application, which included an essay, they were recognized as finalists last month.

“While they’re here and were awarded these accomplishments because of their academic prowess, these students are so much more than their test scores and their transcripts indicate,” South Side Principal John Murphy said at a Board of Education meeting on March 6.

DeFalco’s application essay focused on his sister, Giovanna, 28, who has Down syndrome. “She definitely gives me a sense of duty and a responsibility,” he told the Herald. For three summers, DeFalco has volunteered at Camp ANCHOR in Lido Beach, where children and adults with special needs, including his sister, participate in a range of programs. This winter, he got a job playing music for the campers there.

“The most important thing is you’re increasing the quality of life for people that can’t do that for themselves,” DeFalco said. “You’re just giving people a sense of a family and happiness.”

An advanced drummer who also plays the saxophone, the piano and the electric bass, DeFalco has been in the school’s concert band, wind ensemble and jazz ensemble during his South Side High School career. Primarily playing the bass at Camp ANCHOR, he would help children engage with the music, he said, noting that daily themes ranged from punk to Irish folk music. “That was really great, being able to play and make kids happy,” he said.

DeFalco was accepted to Harvard University in December. He said getting into the prestigious school was a “strange” experience. He had told himself, “If it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. And then it happened.” He hopes to enter the Harvard/Berklee College of Music dual-degree program in the fall, where he plans to focus on drumming.

McWalters also keeps busy in the school community and beyond, helping her earn the National Merit Scholarship recognition. “I was excited to be a semifinalist, but I was shocked to find out that I was a finalist. I really didn’t expect that.”

She has been a camp counselor at the John A. Anderson Recreation Center for two years, and served as a counselor in training for two years before that.

In eighth grade, McWalters began volunteering at Bethany House, a nonprofit agency in Roosevelt that serves homeless families in Nassau County. She continues donating her time there, bringing baked goods to the facility or doing arts and crafts with the children.

She has also been a stage manager for South Side’s student-directed plays, during which senior theater students take on leadership roles for a series of one-act performances. “Basically my job is to make sure nothing goes wrong, but everything always goes wrong,” she chuckled, “so it’s just fixing everyone’s problems throughout the whole process.”

But perhaps McWalters’s biggest passion is art. For four years, she has painted one of the posters for Red and Blue, South Side’s century-old competition that puts hundreds of Rockville Centre girls’ talents and athleticism on display. This year’s poster, a 30- to 40-hour undertaking, McWalters noted, showed a rocker, as featured in the Blue Team’s skit, in a crosswalk — an ode to the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album cover.

This year, she also served as the team’s prop coordinator, painting and decorating the “prop,” a 6-by-8-foot box that opens up and is used in the Red and Blue skit. The project was created in her garage and took six weeks to complete.

“Every year when Red and Blue starts, it’s such a stressful time and everyone’s working so hard,” she said on March 8 after a practice for the competition. “… But then these three days especially, it’s just so much fun.”

McWalters said she plans to minor in art in college, but is unsure what she wants to major in.

Finalists will find out sometime between now and June whether they will receive a National Merit Scholarship award, which range from a $2,500 scholarship to corporate and college-sponsored awards in various other monetary amounts.