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HAMMOND — Adriana Lopez, an eighth-grader at the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, was honored last week by the Indianapolis-based Institute for Quality Education for her video submission to its statewide contest, "My School Choice Story." 

Lopez was one of more than 100 students who entered the statewide contest, submitting a video that has been posted to Youtube. In her video, Lopez talks openly about challenges and growth she's experienced through HAST's science, technology, engineering and math-based programs.

She concludes her video by saying, "I just wish all kids could feel the way I do about my school choice."

There are a variety of school choice options in Indiana including traditional public schools, public charter schools — which HAST is — public magnet schools, private schools, parochial schools, online academies and homeschooling.

Charter schools are public schools that operate with fewer restrictions. There are 16 charter schools in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. Of those, 13 are located in Lake County. 

Students in charter schools also are required to take state-mandated exams. The school has a B grade for 2017 from the Indiana Department of Education. The school has 536 students in grades six through 12.

NWI students attract national attention

Lopez joins the ranks of talented young people in Northwest Indiana like Annie Ostojic, a Munster High School student who recently was recognized by Forbes Magazine in its 2018 edition of "30 under 30" for advancements she has made in the areas of microwave and battery technology.

Carina Bolanos, a Hanover Central High School student, earned a Gold with Distinction honor at the Indiana State School Music Association State Solo and Ensemble contest.

At La Lumiere School, a private school in LaPorte, senior Qingyuan (Season) Wu, from Beijing, China, and junior Zhuohao (Chris) Li, from Guangzhou, China, received six and three regional awards, respectively, from the Scholastic Art Awards program for their works of art on display at the South Bend Museum of Art.

Lopez has been enrolled in a charter school since kindergarten, beginning her school career at East Chicago Urban Enterprise Academy. She transferred to HAST in sixth grade, a year and a half ago, when her parents transferred her older brother, who is now a freshman.

Lopez said she just wanted to express her feelings about her charter school.

"I wanted to highlight and show off the learning environment at my school," she said.

"The classes have many hands-on activities. I get to work with my classmates on project-based assignments and show my creativity. The staff here is amazing, and they helped me to transition into a school that I wasn't familiar with."

Kevin Gray, director of communication and outreach at the Institute of Quality Education, said there were more than 100 students from across the state who submitted their stories to the contest. He said two students were from Steel City Academy in Gary, one from Andrean High School in Merrillville and the remainder were from the Indianapolis area.

"This is the first time we've ever done a contest like this, and we intend to do more contests," he said. "We gave her a $100 gift certificate to Best Buy. I believe she's saving up for a computer."

HAST Principal Sean Egan said HAST is proud of every student, he said, particularly Lopez for producing an excellent video that highlights her reasons for choosing HAST.

Egan said parents, students and staff choose the Hammond academy for several reasons including the small class sizes, the family like atmosphere and the safe learning environment.

Lopez's eighth-grade global studies teacher Brad Daniels said she is a hard worker and always helps her fellow classmates.

"If she doesn't understand something, she's quick to ask for help and she's very meticulous in her work. She's one of the most hard-working eighth-graders we have and her grades reflect that," he said.

Family support strong

Lopez's family was on hand to cheer her on.

Her father, Guadalupe Lopez, said he heard about the video contest from a family friend and told his daughter about it, knowing "she would be all over it."

He said he thinks his daughter wanted to win so the family would be proud of her. He said she and her brother are good students.

Her mother Angelita Lopez said she's happy for her daughter, who always has been "very adventurous and the kind of kid who always takes the lead."

But it was probably her grandmother, Maria De Los Angeles Garcia, who had the biggest grin on her face.

"I feel so proud of my baby," she said. "I've got seven grandchildren. When they were little I used to take them to the library. I'd be the one taking them to different preschools. They got their first library card at the East Chicago Library with me. As soon as they could write their names, in big letters, they got that card."

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Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.