KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When's the last time you really pushed yourself -- really stretched to learn new things and take on a big challenge to improve yourself and the lives of others? This week's Fox 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achievers sure have. And they have gold to show for it.
With its strong emphasis on fostering mind, body and character and producing citizens of the world, Barstow School in south Kansas City turns out an awful lot of super students. And three seniors really have reached the pinnacle.
"These young men are amazing and unique," says Barstow teacher Susan Harper who has known Brandon Bachar, Taylor Schwartz and Jeremy Terman since they were in her English class in 8th grade.
Brandon, Taylor and Jeremy are recipients of the Gold Congressional Award. It's the highest honor that Congress bestows on teenagers and young adults for excellence in community service and personal improvement. Only about 200 to 250 young people get it each year. And Barstow is the only school in the Midwest to have three in 2011. Harper got the Congressional Award program going at Barstow and she found eager participants in Brandon, Taylor and Jeremy and mentored them through the process.
"It really is an integration of self and reaching out to others," says Harper.
Harper and others who know these three remarkable young men the best talk about how different they are -- how they each took a different, distinct path toward the same goal.
"We all really have a drive to do what we love," says Taylor. "And we really wanted to say, 'Here's where I want to be at the end of two years.' And we pushed ourselves through it."
Here's what the guys had to do over a period of no less than two years. Two hundred hours of physical fitness. Two hundred hours of personal development, especially in activities they hadn't done before. And four consecutive overnights in an expedition or exploration. And the biggest commitment of all -- 400 hours of community service. Taylor got a campaign underway to support clean water projects for poor people in developing countries. Jeremy has spearheaded several large food and clothing drives for charity. And Brandon dove in as a hospital volunteer working directly with patients and the medical staff. Doing it all was a journey of self-discovery.
"I really found my true passion there and being able to interact with all the patients," says Brandon. "It's made me really want to pursue a career in medicine. And I just want to be able to help the community in that way."
"I discovered I'm a leader," says Jeremy. "I like bringing up new ideas and taking them on and then having others come and do it with me. I really like working with people."
"I don't know if they even realize how much their lives have been changed by this," says Harper in admiration.
Now the boys are major role models for younger students at Barstow. As part of an upper-class student panel at a recent forum for Barstow 8th graders on successfully managing their high school years and selecting activities, they encouraged them to go for the gold.
"Definitely if you have a lot of things you like to do, go for it," says Taylor. "If you really have that drive and if you really have that motivation to do it, you can accomplish it.
It's probably one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever done."
You might expect that students of their caliber would be headed for big things -- and you'd be right. Jeremy is going to the University of Missouri to get into the acclaimed business school there. Taylor and Brandon both have their sights set on medicine and Brandon wants to start that out at Stanford and Taylor at Brown University.
FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.