This article was first published in the Winter/Spring 2018 issue of Parker Magazine
By Tiffany Yu

You might not picture a football player who canʼt wait to get off the field to study astrophysics. But then thereʼs Jack,  always looking for his next challenge.

Passionate thespians like Natasha make it their lifeʼs work to tell untold stories. Sheʼs been doing it professionally since the young age of 10.

A defensive lineman might not be the first person you think of when someone says, “nicest guy in school.” But then thereʼs Bryan, who is just that.

Youʼd be surprised to know that Maria, who appeared on a billboard sign because of her love for science and exploration, was once a shy, young Girl Scout who hid behind her Mom while selling cookies.

And not every young Eagle Scout that you meet is an award-winning woodturner who also happens to be earning his pilotʼs license. But youʼre about to meet Ryan, who seems to never back down from a challenge.

These students have found their passions and made them their own. Parker continues to challenge them academically while creating a space that allows them to carve out their own niche—and others take notice.

Read on as these five standout students share their secrets to living life to the fullest.

Jack Sachrison, Class of 2018

Jack Sachrison, Class of 2018 and Parker lifer, thrives on challenges.

Whether itʼs on the football field staring down a wall of linebackers or in the classroom staring down a complex math problem, Jack sees every difficult encounter as a chance to learn more about himself.

Sports are a big part of who he is. As a wide receiver and cornerback for Lancer football, he has been tested many times.

“Being part of a team, you see how you fit in and how you work, and that helps you find your strengths,” says Jack.

On the academic side, Jackʼs discovery of his strengths dates back to Grade 7 when he was placed into advanced math at Parker. Not only did it push him to constantly extend the boundaries of his knowledge, but it also showed him that the fields of math and science are engaged in that very same pursuit.

“I like the fact that a lot of [research in math and physics] is still unanswered, and every week it seems there is a new discovery.”

Now enrolled in Advanced Placement math and physics courses at Parker, Jack plans to major in astrophysics and quantum physics in college. What he wants to do is push the envelope.

“Usually when I say ʻmath and physics,ʼ people think ʻengineeringʼ,” says Jack. “But I donʼt really like engineering because you are working with ideas that have already been discovered. I want to be on the research side and be the one discovering those new things that engineers will use.”

When Jack is not doing research, he is playing clarinet in the Upper School band, preparing for a competitive athletics season, or exploring a new sport: Bouldering, a form of rock climbing done without ropes on smaller rock formations. Jack was attracted to bouldering not by the physical challenge it represents, but because of the methodological one.

“I love how every pathway upward is called a ʻproblem,ʼ” he explains. “To get up, you have to solve the problem. Itʼs an actual application of problem-solving, which blends the things that I like: thinking, studying, and athletics.”

Bryan Shaw, Class of 2018

At 6 feet 4 inches tall, Bryan Shaw, Class of 2018, knows how it feels to be the one who sticks out in the crowd.

He also knows how important it is that everyone feel included. As a member of the Associated Student Body, part of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for Upper Schoolʼs Diversity Day, vice president of the Umoja Club, and team captain of Lancer football, Bryan makes it his job to ensure that all Parker students feel proud of who they are.

“I have been the odd one out since kindergarten—always taller than my friends,” says Bryan. “Growing up, Iʼve just always had to be comfortable in my own skin.”

Not long ago, Bryan was selected by the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) as the winner of the 2017 Boys Spirit of Sport Award for San Diego County. The award recognizes student athletes who showcase exemplary sportsmanship and leadership in their school and community.

Bryan certainly has a presence in the Parker community. Nearly everyone in the Upper School knows who he is. But thatʼs a street that runs both ways: This year, Bryan made it his goal to learn every Upper School studentʼs name.

With fewer than 100 days until the end of his senior year, Bryan has only the freshman class left to get to know.

“When you keep saying ʻhiʼ to people, theyʼre going to want to talk to you, and then you get to know their names,” he explains. “This is my way of taking those initial steps to making a nicer, more welcoming community.”

“I believe you should give what you want in life,” says Bryan. “If you want to be happy, you should make the community happy.”

Social justice is another passion of Bryanʼs, and one of his outlets is serving as vice president of Parkerʼs Umoja Club, whose name means “unity” in Swahili. The club seeks to educate the School community about African American culture and discuss national issues on Campus, all with the goal of creating a more inclusive community.

For this yearʼs Upper School Diversity Day, Bryan plans to teach a session on the societal effects of colorism; a component of racism referring to discrimination based on  skin color.

“I hope to teach that you should just love yourself for who you are,” he says. “It doesnʼt matter what shade you are. Itʼs the person you are on the inside, and how you want to present yourself.”

With his twin sister, Bryanna Shaw, Bryan serves as co-chair of the youth ministry for Extended Hands Worldwide Ministry, an organization focusing on providing resources and services to people in need. Bryan and Bryanna started the youth section of the group after they ran an event that involved delivering clothes to the homeless. Bryan was especially moved by the number of children in the San Diego area who need resources, so he asked if he could start collecting and distributing childrenʼs books at events.

“I want to do a little something that will  brighten their day,” he says.

Upon graduation, Bryan plans to study biochemistry and become a pharmacist. To continue his goal of creating an inclusive, brighter community, Bryan says he will be greatly involved in student government in college.

Natasha Partnoy, Class of 2018

Natasha Partnoy, Class of 2018 and a Parker lifer, has never really had to think about what sheʼd be when she grows up.

“Iʼve always known it. Iʼve always felt it,” Natasha says. “In preschool, the head of the school told my mom, ʻSheʼs going to be an actor.ʼ Even my aunt, who was an elementary school teacher, said, ʻSheʼs going to be an actor.ʼ”

After more than a dozen people told Natashaʼs mother the same thing, four-year-old Natasha tried out for the San Diego Junior Theater in Balboa Park.

“The cutoff age was five, but I begged my mom to let me go. We just pretended that I was five, and it was fine!”

While the Junior Theater was Natashaʼs first experience with acting, she continued to hone her craft elsewhere, landing her first professional acting gig at age 10. This past December, she was a finalist for the National YoungArts Foundation Award for Excellence in Theater, chosen from among thousands of talented young actors. Thanks to the award, Natasha spent time in intensive master classes in Miami.

“The most exciting thing about the master classes in Miami was being around other people my age who share my passion and ambition. Being around such talent made me realize that maybe I must be an amazing artist, too.”

Natashaʼs senior-year schedule is filled with English honors and AP classes. While English is her favorite subject and Shakespearean theater her focus, her love of Shakespeare was not sparked by her acting, but rather by her studies in Parkerʼs Middle School.

“I feel my academic interests and passions feed my artistic life,” she says.

Unlike most professional actors Natashaʼs age who attend specialized art or theater schools, she has drawn on her Parker experiences to bring depth to her acting.

“Iʼve never felt my acting was held back by being at an academically challenging school like Parker,” she says. “Acting is informed by knowing the world around us, and Parker has only made me a better actor because I have an enriched understanding about humanity.”

Upon graduation, Natasha plans to attend an acting college and minor in English. After college, she will pursue the dream that she always knew she would—acting.

“Be creative in how you choose to live your life. You donʼt have to follow a prescribed plan, even if thatʼs what
everyone else is doing. There are ways to create your own path.” – 
Natasha Partnoy, Class of 2018

Maria Burritt, Class of 2020

Maria Burritt, Class of 2020, became a Girl Scout in an unexpected way.

Averse to the spotlight and extremely shy as a young girl, Maria decided to push herself and try out for a Girl Scout production of Peter Pan. She imagined it would be an opportunity to make a few new friends. What she found was the confidence to go out and create positive change in the world.

Today, Maria is on her way to achieving the Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can earn. Having already earned the Bronze and Silver Awards, Maria hopes that her Gold Award project will make a meaningful difference in her community.

“What I learned from my time in Girl Scouts was more than how to make friends and sell cookies,” says Maria. “It taught me to speak for myself and for other people who donʼt have a voice.”

For her Bronze Award, Maria coordinated her Girl Scout troop and local community members in making blankets for homeless children in San Diego. For her Silver Award, she organized an event called “Creating Tolerance” with guest speaker and Holocaust survivor Rose Schindler. People who attended the event were invited to create ceramic butterflies for the Butterfly Project, a worldwide effort whose goal is to make a butterfly for each of the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust. The butterflies from “Creating Tolerance” now hang at the Girls Scouts San Diego Balboa campus.

Mariaʼs success with the Girl Scouts predates these efforts. In Grade 6, she won a billboard competition co-sponsored by Girl Scouts and the national dairy farmersʼ campaign, “Got Milk?” The contest called on young people to submit simple ads depicting how they drank milk and ate cookies, with the winnerʼs ad displayed on billboards along the California coast.

Maria won for an advertisement that was based on her love of science and exploration. Her billboard depicted her beneath a starry sky with her telescope snacking on milk and cookies.

“Iʼve always been extremely interested in science,” she explains. “My brother has autism. Ever since I was little, I told my mom that I wanted to find a cure for autism and study neurology. I wanted to showcase that in this ad.”

Mariaʼs brother, who has epilepsy as well as autism, has provided her with continued motivation to do more for others.

“My brother has always been my inspiration,” says Maria. “He was the one who got me interested in science and research into the brain. It makes me happy to see how my success makes him really happy.”

Maria also helps tutor Somali refugee children, a weekly commitment she made back in Grade 6. Given all of her commitments to the community, Maria finds it a great comfort to be at Parker where her teachers and classmates are supportive of her endeavors.

“One of the reasons I chose to come to Parker was because I felt like the competition at Parker was a healthy competition,” she says. “Everyone cares for one another, and everyone genuinely wants you to succeed, whether itʼs a teacher, an advisor, or other students.”

Ryan Austin, Class of 2018

Ryan Austin, Class of 2018, says the only way to find out what youʼre good at is to seek out what challenges you.

Woodworking was his obstacle.

In Grade 6, Ryan needed to fulfill his arts credits. The Middle School administration encouraged him to try woodshop. He found the suggestion appalling.

“I thought woodshop was the worst thing,” he recalls. “I didnʼt think it would be fun at all because I liked my computer programming classes. But the School said I had to earn my arts credits. So I chose woodshop, and it was the best thing I have ever done. It turned into a passion for me.”

That year, Ryan created a lamp that won an award at the San Diego County Fair. From that moment on, he was hooked. He became interested in learning more complex designs, such as segmented bowls and pens.

Fast-forward to this past July when Ryan was one of only eight high school students from across the United States to be selected as a finalist in the woodturning competition, “Turning to the Future.”

What turned Ryan from a reluctant woodworker to a master craftsman? The understanding that woodturning represented the practical application of math in art.

“In school we talk about concepts and theories of what could be,” he explains. “But in woodshop, we are actually applying what we learned in geometry class to make something meaningful that will last generations.”

Woodturning is only one of Ryanʼs many achievements. He is on his way to completing his pilotʼs license, and he recently finished his Eagle Scout project which involved rebuilding an informational kiosk at Presidio Park.

“From getting the permits to talking to the City to gathering supplies to making the project happen,” becoming an Eagle Scout “was an amazing leadership experience for sure,” he says.

Ryan has been involved with Boy Scouts since Grade 1 at Parker. The experience has taught him to try new things and not fear failure because, as he says, “you have an incredible community behind you.”

Thatʼs a statement he says is also true of Parker. “The best thing about Parker is the supportive faculty—being able to go to any of your teachers and know they are always there for you on anything.”

“Parkerʼs environment really pushes everyone to succeed at whatever you put your mind to,” Ryan adds. “It doesnʼt matter what you love. Go out there and do something.”

Ryan plans to study aerospace engineering in college and one day build for SpaceX or Boeing.

“I just want to build things,” he says. “I think that love of creating was driven in me from woodshop.”

Itʼs a passion he wouldnʼt have found if he had backed down from the challenge.