She stayed glued to her textbooks. 

On band bus trips. In car rides home. At the kitchen table after school ended—sometimes even before the day started.

“I’ve always had this mentality to just get it done,” said Amber Stone, 18, graduate of Mount Paran Christian School in Kennesaw. “Procrastinating just piles on more work.”

Stone’s work ethic is part of the reason why she became one of the only African-American students from Mount Paran to earn a presidential scholarship — a full-ride award that’s highly competitive and limited in number — to an internationally renowned research university this fall. 

The other reason: A supportive parent who has helped Amber through her high school self-discovery process.

“(Stone) was the first and only girl—and African-American girl—to participate in Mt. Paran’s middle school band,” said Barbara Ingram, Stone’s mom and also a working single parent. “She was sometimes the only black person in her classes, but that’s OK. It’s taught her to own situations, appreciate her culture and even celebrate simple things like her natural hair.”

Despite the lack of diversity in her classroom experiences, Stone managed to excel in academics and secure a full ride to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

Stone was one of 16 African-Americans to graduate during May in a senior class size of 109 students.

Ingram, 54, made a tough decision to move Stone from public to private school. She felt the transfer would help expose her daughter to opportunities not offered in the public sector.

Ingram said she also knew the shortage of diversity and inclusion was something the two would have to work through if they went the private route.

Mt. Paran is a primarily white college prep school. Its K-12 program ranges anywhere from $13,778 to $19,632 per year. However, the school does offer scholarships to waive tuition costs. 

During the 2018-2019 academic year, students of color made up 22 percent of Mt. Paran’s school body. Of that percentage, 49 percent were African-Americans; 19 percent biracial; 14 percent Hispanic; 4 percent Asian or Islander; 3 percent African; and 10 percent other.

“I made sure Amber knew what type of environment she was entering,” Ingram said. “Being the only one in many situations has made her more fearless. She’s used to trying new things and working with people completely different from her family life.”

Ingram also knew she needed to get a jump on Stone’s life after high school. The two put in the groundwork early to prepare for college. Stone became familiar with SAT/ACT testing — one of the top requirements universities factor into scholarship eligibility — her freshman year.

“Don’t wait,” Stone said. “As long as you keep your grades up, do your best in class then score high on the SAT or ACT, the rest is easy.”

From there, the duo made college visits priority whenever possible. The lesson they both learned: What universities market online may not represent what the campus actually looks like in person.

“I applied up to five universities: UAB, Mercer, Kennesaw State, Purdue and the University of Cincinnati,” Amber said. “UAB offered exactly what I wanted to study, but out of all of the schools I applied to, I felt at home as soon as I stepped on the campus. It wasn’t even on my radar until I got on campus.”

With its scenery, supreme customer service and career options with biomedical engineering, Stone said she was sold.

Because of her grades, test scores, extracurricular involvement and mom’s negotiation skills with college reps, Stone earned UAB’s highest scholarship award. 

The institution even traveled from Alabama to Mt. Paran to surprise and present the honor to Amber in front of her colleagues and the administration.

Starting this fall, Stone will major in biomedical engineering. She said she plans to explore new technology to build prosthetic limbs for those with disabilities. 

“The first time I made a prosthetic foot for a client was on a shadowing experience,” said Stone, who resides in Austell. “I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do.”

Throughout her high school years, Stone also participated in a number of extracurricular activities outside of her coursework. 

On top of her performance in advance placement classes, Stone served as drum major and a clarinet player in the school’s marching band; a member of the jazz band; Beta Club communications lead/secretary and “Outstanding Service Award” recipient; National Honor Society member; National Spanish Honor Society member; Spanish Club member; Chick-fil-A Leadership Academy participant; and Roswell Street Baptist Church orchestra member.

“Yes, I’m a busy person,” she admitted, “but my mom has been there with me to get through it all. We’ve done so much together.”

After putting in years of hard academic work, Stone now spends the summer months odd-jobbing for extra spending cash and packing for the fall semester.

“I realize I have to start adulting when I leave home and that my mom won’t be with me all the time this time,” Stone said. “I’m really going to miss her and everything we’ve accomplished. I am excited, though, to meet new people, learn new ideas and develop a social life in a new place.”

High school graduate Amber Stone made history at Mt. Paran Christian School when she became one of its only African-American students to earn a presidential scholarship — the top academic award a student can receive — to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham. (Photo: Trarell Torrence / The Atlanta Voice)

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