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Altoona High School graduating seniors and twin valedictorians Morgan and Riley Parks aren’t letting a senior year cut short by school closures dim their enthusiasm for beginning their college careers at UW-Madison this fall.

Morgan and Riley Parks’ high school careers haven’t looked exactly the same, with different sports teams and different extracurriculars.

But the twins, who have attended Altoona schools since kindergarten, are sticking together even as they graduate as valedictorians of the Altoona High School class of 2020. This fall, they hope to continue their studies in the STEM field at UW-Madison.

Morgan, 18, said she and her brother Riley weren’t shooting for the valedictorian honor, but it was “sort of a bonus.”

Having her brother in many of the same classes meant a built-in study buddy — and a good person to bounce ideas off.

“You don’t have to go anything alone,” Morgan said. “We decided to take a class at North High School because it wasn’t offered at Altoona. I was really nervous because I didn’t know any of the kids there. I had him; I didn’t have to do it alone.”

Todd Lenz, an Altoona High School teacher who coached both siblings in cross-country for several years, said Morgan and Riley’s bond is visible.

“Sometime it’s really funny watching them do it, because they can get on each other as brother and sister too. But they use each other to help understand things,” Lenz said. “That’s kind of a gift.”

Morgan and Riley were persistent to excel in sports as well, Morgan in varsity track, Riley in varsity baseball, among others.

But one of the siblings’ biggest challenges in high school was advanced placement classes, which cemented both Morgan and Riley’s interest in science-related fields, they said.

“They just really have a drive to understand things. They’re great at asking questions and pursuing something until they truly understand it. It’s not just about getting a grade,” said Lenz, who also taught both siblings in AP biology.

Studying for AP classes during their final two years in high school — with a glut of snow days in early 2019 and schools closing completely in mid-March — was “probably the hardest,” Riley said.

“The biggest obstacle was overcoming expectations for myself and learning to not expect to be perfect,” Morgan said. “That’s impossible. Learning to be okay with and be proud of what I could accomplish.”

In the fall, the twins will attend UW-Madison. Morgan is undeclared but is considering a major in biomedical engineering; Riley plans a degree in biochemistry or molecular biology.

They’ve known since high school that they wanted to study science, both said.

Both are disappointed that schools had to close in the middle of their senior year but are pragmatic about the future. Their fellow high school students should “enjoy every moment you have,” Morgan said.

“Just enjoy all this free time that you’ve been given,” Riley said. “Do something you enjoy, but also don’t forget to do your homework.”