Amelia Barker on the golf course for Marist.
Amelia Barker on the golf course for Marist.
EUGENE — Each year, the dairy farmers of Oregon track the grade-point averages of students on high school sports teams and activity groups. The cooperative, famous for its "Got Milk?" slogan, gives sweatshirts and certificates to squads with the highest cumulative grades.

The awards, given regardless of size classification, often are spread out among schools. This spring, Marist dominated, winning four of the 12 categories. The Marist band came in with a 3.81 GPA. Softball posted a 3.82. Speech and debate won with a 3.87 and girls golf carried a perfect 4.0.

Students at Marist say achievement ispart of the culture at their 525-student school.
"Here at Marist they really motivate you to do well," says Ben Fish, referring to peers and teachers. "It's what I call a Marist phenomenon."

Fish, a senior, is a musician and band member who will attend Kent State University in the fall and major in music technology. Fish has faced the breakup of his parents and his mother's cancer during his high school years and credits Marist and faith for helping him through.

"I was able to talk to people here," says Fish. "I believe things happen for a benefit."
"It's just normal in our environment here," says senior Jasmine White, who plays infield for the softball team. "The teachers know everyone here. It's such a personal environment that the teachers push you. They let you know you can do it." White will attend Seattle Pacific University in the fall.   

"It's the Marist community and the expectations we have from our teachers to get our work done before an activity," says Jacob Kiefer, a sophomore member of the speech and debate team and the soccer squad. "Peers and teachers communicate high standards."
Kiefer explains that students compete with each other for high grades. "You don't want to be below your friends," he says.

Nine of 10 Marist students take part in extracurricular activities. Though it's somewhat counterintuitive, students who are busy tend to do better. Studies show that high schoolers in two sports perform even better in the classroom than students in one sport. That's true to Amelia Barker's experience.

"Talk to any of the kids at Marist; they have a schedule because they are so busy," says Barker, a senior and a member of the golf team.

Barker also serves on student council, Christian leadership team. She explains that Marist has achieved a rare balance of emphasizing academics and extracurriculars in proper proportion. She has often heard the golf coach, for example, say that academics must come first. Barker has even skipped practice to re-take a math test and faced no repercussions. She will attend the University of Portland in the fall.   

"If kids have too much time, they procrastinate," says Sharee Waldron, the Marist athletic and activities director. At freshman gatherings, she often takes the new students by the arm to sign them up for a club. "I know if I do that, I'm raising their GPA," Waldron explains.

Marist teachers do not cut athletes any slack. Those coming home on a bus at midnight are expected to have their assignments done for class the next morning.

It's tempting to theorize that Marist students are talented because they live in a college town. But only a handful of Marist parents work at the University of Oregon. And some of Marist's top students say there was no tradition of academic excellence in their families.  
Jay Conroy, the principal, credits highly involved parents and good faculty. Most Marist teachers hold master's degrees or higher and the school offers 22 college-level courses. Conroy says the makeup of the community has created a culture with high expectations. Highly motivated students pull up the students who are talented but not naturally ambitious.

"Kids have come here to excel," says Father David Cullings, longtime teacher and chaplain. "If you want to get into Notre Dame, you don't want a dossier that's dusty, but one with a lot of clubs and activities."     

Like Portland's Catholic schools, Marist gets erroneously labeled as a school for rich kids. About 40 percent of Marist students receive financial aid. Full tuition is $9,600 per year, less than a lot of private schools.  

Marist is aiming to create more space for the brain and athletic power. Officials are about to begin an $8.6 million campaign that will pay for, among other things, a new science wing and a turf field. Enrollment is expected to increase to 560 in the next two years.  
True to its Catholic identity, Marist does not stop at academics and extracurricular activities. Faith and service also are part of life here. Each year, student athletes write reflections on how extracurriculars and spirituality meet.  

"When I run I am chasing my happiness and peace of mind," writes Shannon Walsh, a senior track and cross-country athlete. "When I am content with myself, I feel more open to the unknown. God is mysterious and powerful. His mystery is something I struggle with greatly; I like things to be consistent and plausible. God isn’t either of those things, so running consistently is my way to keep God present and consistent in my life, because even if I don’t get 'high,' I am aware of the possibility of it happening, the pure joy I get from it, and Who I am getting it from."