Belen Valdivieso, right, from Lake Gibson High, and Cullen Wyatt, left, from Lakeland High, will represent Polk public schools at the state level for the Presidential Scholars Program. They were recogonized by School Board member Lori Cunningham and her colleagues recently.

Polk County Public Schools recently celebrated 39 students as honorees in the 2023 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program and two Lakeland students as the district winners.

The U.S. Department of Education initiative recognizes high school seniors for their accomplishments in academics, the arts, and career and technical education. Each year, up to 161 students are named Presidential Scholars at the national level. It is considered “one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students.”

“It’s a true honor for seniors to be nominated by their schools for the Presidential Scholars program,” John Miller, a PCPS curriculum specialist for Accelerated Programs, said in a press release. “These are remarkable students; they deserve recognition for their hard work and accomplishments.”

According to the press release, eligible PCPS students are those who are in good academic standing, who either score high on the SAT/ACT or demonstrate achievement in Career and Technical Education programs.

District winners for 2023 are Belen Valdivieso from Lake Gibson High and Cullen Wyatt from Lakeland High. They will represent PCPS at the state level for the Presidential Scholars Program.

Valdivieso, 17, told LkldNow that she plans to get a bachelor’s degree in biology and go to medical school to study to be a trauma surgeon.

“What I did to achieve this was to work hard from the moment that I got here, always be involved with my community and never give up,” Valdivieso said, adding that she hopes to attend either the University of Florida in Gainesville or the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Polk County’s Presidential Scholars for 2023 | Polk County Public Schools

Other Polk County Presidential Scholars are:

  • Auburndale High: Meaghan Knowles, Tessa Mullis
  • Bartow High: Jaime Rullo
  • Bartow IB: James Barrios, Samantha Pattey
  • Davenport High: Alexis Anstadt, Cullen Hughes
  • Fort Meade High: Gracy Johnson, Dakota Newsom
  • Frostproof High: Autumn Ellis, Morgan Luckey
  • Gause Academy: Victoria Youngblood
  • George Jenkins High: Tegan Baker, Kylie Hess
  • Haines City High: Skyler Cabrera, David Scruggs
  • Haines City IB: Sim Noelle De Jesus, Payson Keown
  • Harrison School for the Arts: Susannah Braswell, Barbara Rosenkranz
  • Kathleen High: Kiara Arce, Jensen Dix
  • Lake Gibson High: Tavian Douge
  • Lakeland High: Callen Mank,
  • Lake Region High: Alexander Cannon, Delma Zarate-Chaves
  • McKeel Academy: Evan Ho, Joshua Santiago
  • Mulberry High: Trent Hair, Ryland Stanek
  • Polk Virtual School: Darcy Brooks, Makenzie Thomas
  • Summerlin Academy: Benjamin Alfaro, Jadon Looney
  • Tenoroc High: Arely Frias, Caleb Hudson
  • Winter Haven High: Juan Rodriguez-Casarotti

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at or 863-272-9250.

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