Monday, January 22, 2018
Education

Shorecrest Prep's top students: a brother and sister who push each other to excel

ST. PETERSBURG

Adrianna and James Wenz Jr. share a passion for theatre performance and a desire to uphold their reputation as "A" students at Shorecrest Preparatory School. But the siblings kept their distance when it came to academics, even as they finished their high school careers as valedictorian and salutatorian for the Class of 2014.

Just five hundredths of a point apart in their grade point averages, the two insist they did not compete.

"We've never been involved in each other's academics; that's just not how we are," James said, adding: "Academics definitely comes naturally to the both of us, but theater, you definitely had to spend time in rehearsal."

The two will graduate with the rest of their class Sunday in the Janet Root Theatre on the Shorecrest campus.

Adrianna, 18, and James, 17, said their busy schedules made studying together impossible. James, graduating with a 4.78 GPA, performed in more than eight shows while at Shorecrest, including this year's spring musical, Chicago. Adrianna organized poetry slams, performed alongside her brother and maintained a 4.73.

"Sometimes I'll see him doing well, and I'll be like, 'I want to do well,' " Adrianna said. "When people expect you to do things, you naturally want to meet those expectations or surpass them."

The siblings' academic genes are strong, with the legacy of their parents as doctors. Lidia and James Wenz Sr. died in a car accident on Jan. 20, 2004, while driving home to Baltimore from a family vacation in New York. Their children then moved to Florida to live with their maternal aunt Roma Palcan, whom they now refer to as "mom."

"We don't talk about it very much, but it's always been nice to know that someone else has gone through the exact same thing and knows exactly what I'm talking about," Adrianna said, referring to her brother.

It was in Baltimore that the siblings, a year apart in age, came to be in the same grade. Adrianna's parents decided to hold her back after a year of kindergarten, part of a "pre-first" program intended enhance a child's development.

At Shorecrest, James and Adrianna juggled roles beyond class work. Adrianna was president of the National Honor Society, led the creative writing club and played varsity basketball. James led Shorecrest's Thespian Society as well as its Student Honor Council, a peer group that decides on consequences for students who violate the code of conduct.

On the council, James "offers the student perspective but he also sees things from the institutional perspective," said Tom Dillow, head of the upper school at Shorecrest. "He has helped to set a standard for others to build upon."

Last summer, sister and brother toured Ivy League schools, eventually passing on Harvard and together deciding to attend Brown University in Providence, R.I. They say they chose the school for its opportunities in the arts and its lack of pretension.

Palcan said their values and effort brought them to Brown.

"We all kind of model hard work for each other," she said. "It's really passed down from both sides of the family."

The siblings leaving for college will be a challenge for the family of five. With younger cousins Larissa, 14, and Karsten, 10, remaining behind in St. Petersburg, James calls his sister a lifeline.

"It would be good to get a little independence but still have him around in case I want to talk about something that's happening in my life, and be near someone that I know and love," Adrianna said. "It'll be nice to have a little bit of home with me at college."

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