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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, July 10, 2008

BKW’s top scholars
Kusler, McCormick seek new adventures

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — One wants to be a crew chief for NASCAR.  The other wants to journey into the wilderness and study spotted wildcats. 

The top two students of Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s class of 2008 have different aspirations, but they do have something in common.  Both are excited about the next step. 

Anna Kusler, the class valedictorian, lives in Berne and has been the class president for four years.  Her parents are both biologists, and she’s been to many countries and traveled extensively throughout the United States.

Heather McCormick, the salutatorian, also lives in Berne.  She is the president of the National Honor Society and the class treasurer.  At BKW, she played softball, volleyball, and basketball. 

McCormick enjoys working on cars with her father.  Since she was 6 years old, she’s followed NASCAR.  This fall, she will attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy and major in mechanical engineering.

Her father is kind of obsessed with Mustangs, McCormick said.  Their top project has been to rebuild a royal metallic blue 1969 Ford Mustang Fastback.  

She and her father stripped out the car and built it from the ground up.  They also rebuilt her Jeep.

“The ’69 was the big project,” she said.  “It’s not complete yet.  We’re getting there.” 

Kusler, who has been a standout athlete in track, soccer, and basketball, will attend Cornell University in Ithaca in the fall. 

“I’m going to try out for the club rugby team.  I’m probably going to break my nose but it’ll be fun,” she said.

She hopes to later attend graduate school at Duke University in Durham, N.C. and study spotted cats — cheetahs, ocelots, leopards, and jaguars. 

She said she has always known what she wanted to be.

One of her first days of kindergarten, her teacher, Judy Tambasco, asked her students what they wanted to be when they grew up. 

“And people drew pictures of astronauts or fire truck drivers,” Kusler said.  “I drew a picture of myself in a safari outfit looking at cheetahs through binoculars.”

Kusler is the president of Students Serving Society and the vice president of the National Honor Society and Students Against Destructive Decisions.  She was also a member of Key Club, Master Minds, and the orienteering club. 

This summer, she will spend two weeks at the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica as part of a conservation project, studying sea turtles.  At night, she said, she’ll tag and measure adults, and collect eggs and put them in a hatchery where people and other animals can’t harm them. 

“My big thing is bats.  People know me as the batgirl,” she said.  She was once the Athlete of the Week and, when she was interviewed by a television station, she was asked about her interest in bats. 

Kusler does telemetry studies and glues radio transmitters to bats to figure out where they are going.  She dissects bats and counts bats in clusters on slides on her computer.  She also gets to play around, she said, in caves looking for clusters. 

Her favorite thing, she said, is working with mist nets — large nets bats cannot detect so they fly into them.  Once she has captured the bats, she identifies them. 

Were courses offered at BKW or through the school for the top scholars to pursue their interests?

“There’s a VoTech program for it, but I didn’t opt for that one,” said McCormick.

For three days in April, she said, she attended a racing school in Connecticut. 

“In the morning sessions, we sat in the classroom and got instructed on different techniques and stuff.  And then, [in] the afternoons, we went out and raced the cars,” McCormick said. 

Kusler said, “Unfortunately, not really.”

Almost everything she’s done, she said, has been through her family and Girl Scouts. 

She said that, because her mother is the director of fish and wildlife at the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, she’s had a big opportunity to do a lot of work, Kusler said. 

And their thoughts on graduating?

“I’m just taking it in stride,” said McCormick.  “I’m really excited to go to college and expand what I know.  I really, really like working on cars and racing so I’m excited to be able to get into that.”

“RPI has a Formula 1 racing team.  I already have talked to a majority of their members so I’m going to join that team as soon as I can,” she said. 

Kusler said, “It doesn’t feel real.  I don’t feel like this is it.” 

It’s become a pattern for her to attend BKW year after year; she lives a mile down the road from the school, she said, and the town of Berne is like her backyard and the school has always been a part of it. 

“It’s just very hard for me to actually, in my mind, think that I’m not coming back next year.  I’m excited about next year.  I’m a little sad because the community is so close-knit,” Kusler said. 

“Everyone is so close and everybody’s such good friends and you build relationships with these people that you’ve known since you were 3 or 4 years old and you build relationships with teachers that you’re never going to get in college,” she said.   

Kusler said, “It’s a good, close connection.  You feel like you can really trust these people and not only are they teachers and mentors, but they’re also friends.

“They treat you more as an equal — as a friend,” she said.  “Yeah, you might be younger, but they’re not going to treat you like you’re inferior.  And I feel like I’m really going to miss that.” 

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