Before she was born, the parents of VHS junior Moonica Taing left Cambodia for the United States looking for a better life. They moved from California to Vernon when Moonica was two years old and settled in to live that better life.

Moonica has grabbed that better life in both hands and is striving to make it even better. She is currently the top-ranked student in her class, and had a remarkable score of 29 on the ACT college-prep exam to lead the entire VHS junior class that took the test in March.

“I was surprised,” the soft-spoken Moonica said of her score when VISD Supt. Dr. Kermit Ward stopped by the high school to congratulate her. “I was expecting to score about a 23.”

One of Dr. Ward’s first initiatives as Vernon ISD’s new superintendent was for the district to pay for every junior to take the ACT. Scores over 20 on the ACT opens doors to colleges and to scholarships that can help relieve parents of the financial hardship that sending a child to college can bring for some families.

“I am so proud of you,” Dr. Ward told Moonica. “A 29 is just a fantastic score. That is your golden ticket. With that score you can go to just about any college you want to go to, and your parents won’t have to pay a cent for your college education.”

Moonica, who started as a student in the Vernon school system in pre-kindergarten, has her eyes already set on one school.

“I plan to go to the University of Texas at Austin and major in computer science,” she said.

High school students can take the ACT as a junior and then retake it as a senior if they want to try and improve their score. And while some juniors who scored a 29 would be happy and not worry about taking the ACT again as a senior, Moonica is still striving for more.

When asked by Dr. Ward if she knew the highest score you get on the ACT, she didn’t hesitate.

“A 36, and I’m taking it again next year. I think I could have done better on the English portion of the test,” she said with a smile.

Along with her parents, Samarith and Keang Taing who own C.J. Liquor, Moonica’s family includes two older brothers and a younger brother who attends Vernon Middle School.