SHHS Senior Arlen Suarez Takes Advantage of Pasadena ISD Education, Soars to Head of the Class

SHHS Senior Arlen Suarez Takes Advantage of Pasadena ISD Education, Soars to Head of the Class
Posted on 02/12/2015
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Arlen Suarez

Excellence did not come naturally for Arlen Suarez. She had to earn it.

Ordinarily, a student would settle for a perfect 4.0 grade-point average. But Suarez is no ordinary student. The South Houston High School senior registered an off-the-charts grade-point average above 5.0 putting her at the head of the class and in the running to be selected the 2015 valedictorian.

Rising to the top was no easy task. From sun up to sun down, school is her top priority. Suarez kicks off the day with a cup of coffee to shake off any late-night study fatigue then spends the bulk of her day in Advanced Placement classes including Biology, Calculus, Physics and Spanish, in addition to her other advanced courses – Micro Economics, Government and Choir.

Advanced Placement classes, which are on par with college-level courses, are weighted, which means students receive extra points on their GPA. That helped Suarez achieve a score well beyond the traditional 4.0 scale.

“I think anyone has the opportunity to do well in school,” she said. “It just takes determination.”

Aside from AP classes, Suarez spends time after school in tutoring and study sessions brushing up on her lessons.

“We have a wall of stars for students with the highest grades on an exam,” said her AP Biology teacher, Paul Gutierrez, “Her name stays on the wall. I don’t have many students like her who do extremely well on the exams and only miss a few questions. With an AP class that’s very hard to do. But even after the fact, she still comes in just to see why she missed the few she did.”

Arlen Suarez

A Well-Rounded Student

Aside from her academic achievements, Suarez is involved in several extracurricular activities. She is president of the National Hispanic Honor Society, the school choir and vice president of Health Occupations Students of America. She is also a member of the National Honor Society.

Suarez developed a passion for math and science through her studies. That passion turned to action and motivated her to develop organizations for students interested in pursuing science, technology and health-related occupations.

For instance, she is one of the founders of Mu Alpha Theta, the school’s math fraternity. The group participates in competitive math competitions including math UIL and M3.

She also helped establish the NASA Group, an afterschool program that integrates science curriculum with real-life experiments. Comprised of SHHS AP Chemistry students, the group created an experiment last year to investigate the effect of polyurethane foam (often used for home insulation, repairs and construction) on space equipment or structures in microgravity. Under the instruction of their science teacher, Jorge Olivares, students had the unique opportunity to launch their experiment into space where it was tested by astronauts at NASA’s International Space Station.

The NASA group recently received the results of the project and learned the microgravity in space was not dense enough to react properly with the repair kit. But their mission has not ended yet.

“We have to conduct some more tests,” said Suarez. “I really want to understand why it didn’t work. After that we can share the new test results with NASA.”

This thirst for knowledge helped her make the grade in school, but her personality is what makes her a model student, said Paula Ballew, SHHS assistant principal.

“Ever since I met Arlen, she has impressed me with her positive attitude and sunny disposition,” Ballew said. “Her interests are so varied and yet she has been able to excel even with a challenging and demanding schedule. She is definitely a role model for our students.”

What is the ultimate key to her success?

“I’ve learned that you have to find balance in your life,” Suarez said.

For her, that balance involves academics and choir.

“I guess you could say that singing is my passion,” she said with a smirk.

Suarez began singing in the choir at Queens Intermediate and stuck with it ever since. She has held leadership roles in advanced choir at SHHS since freshman year, including librarian, vice president and now president. Last year, she starred in Fiddler on the Roof. She recently headlined the school’s production of Fame, the musical. Suarez has received silver medals each year in the Texas State Solo Ensemble. She was recently chosen to sing in the prestigious National Honor Latin Choir out of 3,300 applicants and will join her choir instructor, Brenda Varvoutis, on a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah the last week in February for the performance.

“She leaves no stone unturned,” Varvoutis said. “You tell her to do one thing and she not only follows through but she exceeds your expectations every time.”

Varvoutis encouraged Suarez to join the choir while she was a student at Queens.

“It’s been quite a joy to watch her grow from a little sixth grade girl to a rather confident young woman,” she said. “I don’t know how I was so lucky to have that happen. I look forward to seeing what she accomplishes after graduation.”

Arlen Suarez

The Apple Did Not Fall Far From the Tree

Daughter to a physician and engineer, Suarez attributes her success to her parents. Her mother and father moved from her hometown of Havana, Cuba to the U.S. when she was a young child. It was a fresh start that came with many challenges. Her parents had to get new professional licenses to practice in the States. This required her mother and father to take on the extra task of learning Engl