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Cayuga County student hits perfect ACT score

Nathan Lesch’s eight months of prepping paid off when he achieved his goal of receiving the highest possible composite score on the ACT test.

Lesch, 17, who lives in Auburn and is a senior at the private Manlius Pebble Hill School in DeWitt, earned a 36 on the national exam, which is used for college admissions and includes tests in English, science, reading and mathematics. Out of the 63,322 students in New York state’s 2017 graduating class, only 203 achieved that composite score of 36, said Tarah DeSousa, media communications specialist with ACT.

Lesch took every ACT test from each year since 2000 to get ready. He spent several months working toward his goal, but the bulk of the work went into the last month-and-a-half prior to the test. Upon facing down the test at Onondaga Community College on a Saturday morning in late October, he cleared his mind and zeroed in on the task at hand.

“When you’re not needlessly pressuring yourself, it makes it easier,” Lesch said.

Though Lesch was happy he earned the score he wanted, he didn’t advertise his achievement to everyone around him. Will Cardamone, Pebble Hill’s director of college counseling, said that after he saw the students’ scores he congratulated Lesch one day in the hallway at school. Instead of drawing attention to himself or his achievement, Lesch merely smiled, Cardamone said.

Cardamone wasn’t surprised Lesch was able to “take the test apart and nail it,”  crediting the student’s ability to push anxiety aside. While Cardamone said another student in Lesch’s class — from Onondaga County — achieved that perfect score, it is rare. About five to 10 students have scored a 36 during his 12 years with the school, Cardamone said. Cardamone, who has been counseling Lesch for four years and knows his family, had a raft of compliments for the student, complementing his maturity and competitive spirit. Cardamone marveled at the student’s care for others, citing the time Lesch helped organize a vacation to Europe with his grandmother and went with her so she could see that part of the world.

Even considering the hyper-selective colleges Lesch applied for, which “reject nine out of 10” students, Cardamone isn’t worried about the student’s prospects.

“What college wouldn’t want more bright, empathetic kids who take their grandmothers on a vacation to Europe?” Cardamone said.

Lesch put his hat in the ring for around 20 institutions, each with requirements such as essays specific to that particular school. Balancing those demands with school work and duties such as being the president for Pebble Hill’s environmental group, The MPH Green Avengers, just required him to structure his time.

“I’m pretty goal-orientated and I enjoy seeing progression in skill or ability in a particular hobby or thing, I guess. That certainly makes things like studying easier for me,” Lesch said.

Though Lesch hasn’t nailed down what career path he will ultimately take, his time in Auburn instilled a passion for the environment in him. Antics at the woods at his family’s property, such as catching frogs in a pond or hitting a trail in the woods with his younger brother, Aaron, took up a chunk of his childhood.

“I just look at those times and they are valuable to me. I see a beauty in having that opportunity and the forest itself, I gained so much enjoyment (from,)” Lesch said.

Teacher Sarah Chhablani, who taught Lesch in her model United Nations class her first year at the school and currently has him in her advanced placement European history course, praised Lesch for his knowledge and care for other people. Chhablani said the United Nations class, which Lesch has taken every year, involves seniors working with underclassmen, and the younger students are drawn to Lesch due to his calm, organized manner of explaining information. Lesch’s measured tone of voice and demeanor signals to students they won’t be greeted with condescension or judgement if they ask him a question, Chhablani said. She said Lesch is “fundamental” in the class, as he has been a model for other students.

“Right away, he just stood out to me as a budding leader,” Chhablani said. “(He is) someone willing to engage with ideas and challenge himself.”

Lesch said he tries to help underclassmen expand upon what they’re learning and “develop the depths of their research.”

Chhablani isn’t sure what she will do once Lesch moves on to higher education.

“I feel like my life is easier and my job is easier when I have a student like Nathan,” Chhablani said.