Pupil to join Hopkins youth program

Fourth-grader who demonstrates intelligence `well beyond his years' is already considering potential colleges and careers

Education Beat

November 20, 2005|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Jake Hughes is a shade taller than the kids in his class, but his interests are typical of a fourth-grader. The Edgewood youth plays football, lacrosse and baseball. He plays drums and loves to read.

What distinguishes the 9-year-old from his peers surfaced long ago: Jake recognized all the letters of the alphabet by age 2. He was reading in preschool. Early on in first grade, he was reading chapter books and doing advanced math.

Although Jake has never taken a formal IQ test, he has excelled academically. His scores on last year's Maryland School Assessment were in the 99th percentile in math and the 97th percentile in reading.

Now, he has been accepted to a Johns Hopkins University program that offers an accelerated curriculum for gifted pupils from around the world. It has centers nationwide.

"Jake is well beyond his years in intelligence, and I thought a program like the one offered by Hopkins would be a great way to actually see how far ahead he is and also help to ensure he's being adequately challenged," said Jennifer Markoff, a math specialist at Jake's school, Deerfield Elementary, who nominated him for the Hopkins program.

Nominees for the Center for Talented Youth take the School and College Ability Test, an above-grade-level test measuring math and verbal skills, to determine placement into the two programs offered by the center. About 77,500 pupils worldwide took the test last year. Prospective participants are nominated by their teachers and must meet one of the following criteria: achievement at the 95th percentile or above on a national standardized test, achievement at advanced levels on a state test, or superior academic performance. Jake met all three criteria.

The center was founded in 1972 by Julian Stanley, who was a psychology professor at Hopkins. Stanley introduced the program for academically talented pupils in second through eighth grades.

The program has two components. An independent program is done at home or at the child's school under the supervision of a tutor from the center. Children purchase books and materials and are closely monitored as they take courses through seventh grade. The cost ranges from $440 to $1,650. A summer program takes place on the university's Homewood campus in Baltimore and is divided into two sections: a residential program for pupils in fifth and sixth grades and a day program for students in grades two through seven. The cost ranges from $1,280 to $2,750 for tuition, plus books and fees.

Although Jake demonstrated advanced abilities early on, his progress was cultivated under Pat Elliott, his first-grade teacher at William Paca Elementary in Abingdon, say his parents. That partnership ended when Jake had to change schools because increased enrollment eliminated the transfer exception that enabled him to attend the school.

Jake's parents decided to put him and his siblings - Taylor, 6, and Jordynn, 8 - in Deerfield Elementary in 2003. Because the school did not offer a program for gifted and talented pupils, teachers suggested that Jake skip second grade and join third.

Already adjusting to changing schools, Jake didn't like the idea.

"I would never want to skip a grade," said Jake. "I would miss out on learning too much stuff."

His parents - Tim, 30, a machinist and football coach at North Harford High, and Cara, 31, a secretary at Deerfield - agreed and requested that Jake receive enrichment or extra work to broaden the concepts taught at his grade level.

Cara said Elliott came to Deerfield and observed each of the second-grade classes and helped select the teacher she thought would be best for Jake. His teachers say broadening the curriculum has been one of their biggest challenges.

"He demonstrates an ability to master concepts he hasn't been taught yet," Markoff said. "He challenges me to challenge him."

In preparation for the Hopkins test, Jake's mother says he has to study for things he's never officially learned.

"Jake has never studied for a test," she said. "He learns the concepts just by doing his homework, which typically takes no more than 10 minutes each night."

Jake says he studies math about a half-hour every weekday night to prepare for the test, which he's scheduled to take next month.

"I already have all my multiplication facts memorized," Jake said. "If I don't know something, then I just find out about it."

But Jake admits that some things - such as science and getting acceptance from friends - don't always come so easy.

"Rocks and minerals are really hard for me," said Jake. "When we did that in class I had to really think about it. ... That kind of stuff is hard."

And Jake says being smart has its downside at times.

"Sometimes my friends get angry at me because I know the answers to things they have trouble with," he said. "When the teacher asks a question, I raise my hand and they say things like, `He knows all the answers. Don't call on him.'"

Jake says he doesn't let the comments get to him because he knows being smart will help him get into a good college, where he has his sights set on more than academics.

"I want to be an NFL player," said Jake, who plays quarterback for the Edgewood Joppatowne Steelers, a Harford County Parks and Recreation league team. "I love football, so I have looked at the colleges that have good football teams. And, if I don't make it, I can always get a good job with a college degree from a good school."

His fourth-grade teacher said his ability to overcome tough situations is one of many things that reveal to her that he has character in addition to being a gifted pupil.

"He's the whole package," said Stacie Himes. "He does his work, and he gets along with the other kids. Everyone wants to be his friend, and he is everyone's friend."

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