Eighth-grader to bypass high school for college

May 14, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

At age 2 1/2 , Loren Spice was reading his own storybooks; at 4, he scored in the genius range for IQs; at 8, he skipped fourth grade; and now, at age 12, he's going to college.

He's also bypassing high school.

In the fall, the Harford County eighth-grader will become a full-time student at Harford Community College, where he recently won a two-year scholarship.

"We've probably not had a student this gifted," said James Quigg, counselor and academic advising coordinator at the school.

After all, Loren did score 1380 out of a possible 1600 on his Scholastic Assessment Test.

What really makes him outstanding, though, is that his writing is as exceptionally good as his math, Mr. Quigg said.

Loren writes poetry with titles such as "A Life Was Shattered," "Lament" and "Reavers of Trust." Haunting themes of death and dying and his own bouts with asthma are often woven through his compositions.

"My writing lets me express myself," said Loren, who is named after a grandfather. But his goal is to be a math teacher, he said.

Albert F. Seymour, deputy superintendent of Harford County schools, said that in his 35 years as a local educator he's not aware of any other student who has skipped all four years of high school.

To Loren, who carefully chooses each word when answering a question, the jump to college is no big deal.

"It's a great opportunity," said the preteen, dressed in the uniform of his age -- jeans, baggy T-shirt and sports shoes. "I look at it as gaining a better education."

His parents, Martha and Ralph Spice, say their son, one of four children, has been searching for a program to meet his educational needs for a long time. "He was always looking for the school, Mrs. Spice said.

"He has a big desire to learn," said Mr. Spice, who is a self-employed manufacturing consultant. "He looks at it as his fault if it doesn't work."

And while his teachers have tried to challenge him -- he's taking high-school-level geometry this year -- he has needed more, his mother said.

The family's search for alternatives led to the community college. A visit to the school was the clincher for Loren.

"The students had a different attitude," he said. "They're more interested in the work, not saying, 'Do I have to do this?' "

It bothers Loren when people ask him why he isn't going to a "better college."

"We picked it for two reasons," he said. "One, Harford Community College is close, and two, it's a good college."

Loren did say that some of his classmates at North Harford Middle don't agree with his educational decision. "They say, 'I wouldn't do that if I were you.'

"I have a lot of friends there," he said. "I'll still keep in touch with them."

His parents say they carefully researched the decision.

"We've named it the 'but you'll miss the prom syndrome,' " Mrs. Spice said, with an easy laugh. "We did agonize over the socialization point."

Loren, who is very polite with liberal use of "thank-you" and "excuse me," isn't worried about it, though. "I'm not a real social person," he said. "It doesn't bother me as much as other people."

When he says this, both parents glance at each other in the comfortable living room of their flagstone,suburban ranch house in Madonna and acknowledge they're home-centered. The rest of the family includes a daughter, Taz, 20, and sons Ben, 9, and Adam, 6.

"The kids enjoy being here, in the yard," said Mrs. Spice, a Montessori teacher who is also a storyteller in local schools. "Loren says this is his ideal home."

That doesn't mean that the 12-year-old, who will turn 13 July 21, doesn't have other interests. In fact, he's fairly ordinary by kid standards.

He likes to work on his father's computer, listens to 98 Rock RTC (WIYY-FM), loves "Saturday Night Live" and argues with his younger brothers.

And just like any preteen, he's capable of blushing when the talk turns to girls and kissing -- although he quickly says he hasn't done that particular thing yet.

He probably won't have to worry too much about romance on the campus.

"He's a very, very young-looking middle-school student," said Frances M. Turcott, director of marketing and community relations at Harford Community College. "He makes Doogie Howser look like an old man."

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