Gov. Janet Napolitano honored 34 Payson High School senior honor students at the inaugural "Scholars Day at the Capitol." The teens were among 150 from around the state.
The event, which included the visit with the governor, a luncheon, speeches and a Diamondbacks baseball game, was held May 4 in Phoenix.
The students honored represented the first class of Arizona high school seniors to graduate with the distinction of being Arizona Academic Scholars.
The program encourages students to enroll in rigorous, advanced placement classes.
All students honored had taken advanced placement courses in high school.
The Academic Scholar program, launched earlier this year by the Arizona Business and Education Coalition, is being piloted in just four Arizona school districts -- Peoria, Snowflake, Tucson Flowing Wells and Payson.
PUSD was included in the pilot program partly because outgoing superintendent Herb Weissenfels was a member of the ABEC partnership.
According to ABEC spokesperson Anna Osborn, the success of the scholars program relies on local businesses working with teachers.
"The program uses trained business volunteers who meet with students before they select their high school courses," Osborn said.
The Payson-area volunteers met last month with the Rim Country Middle School eighth-graders and challenged them to include four years of English, three years of science, two years of social studies and a foreign language in their high school curricula.
Although the program is relatively new, Payson High School counselor Don Heizer contends it has great potential.
Osborn agreed and said research has shown that rigorous course work is the best predictor of college and work place success.
"Students who complete Algebra II rather than stopping at geometry are nearly 40 percent more likely to complete two- and four-year college degrees," said Osborn.
In helping found the program in the Rim country, Weissenfels said last fall that the goal was to better prepare Payson High School graduates for the challenges they will face after high school.
The program also targets students entering technical schools, the military or the workforce.