Students in the transition school learn mathematics in Guthrie Annex 2. The next step for the students will be the Early Entrance Program.
Rebecca Mark of the UW Academy, and Gavin Campbell, who is part of the Early Entrance Program are both students at the Robinson Center For Young Scholars.
It’s your first day at the UW. You clumsily move all your things into the dorms with the help of Mom and Dad and feel like you’ll never get to know anyone. After the tears and hugs, you sit and wait for your unknown roommate, wishing you were back in high school.
Now, think back to seventh grade. All that mattered was following the latest fashion trends and whether that cute guy or girl in class liked you. You couldn’t wait to get to high school.
For some students, these two very different parts of life come at the same time. At the UW, these students are called young scholars.
The UW’s Halbert and Nancy Robinson Center for Young Scholars handpicks and guides these students through their first years in college. Students are chosen based on their academic abilities, social abilities and the likelihood that they can succeed in a university setting. The selection process includes an application, a visit to the UW and a meeting between the student, parents and Robinson Center instructors.
“It’s an intensive process,” said Nancy Sisko, associate director of the Transition School (TS) and Early Entrance Program (EEP). “We decide if the students are socially, emotionally and academically ready.”
The Robinson Center provides two programs: EEP (seventh and eighth graders) and the UW Academy (10th graders). The Early Entrance Program consists of 16 students, who, by law, must have completed sixth grade to enroll in TS, which prepares them for EEP.
“TS is a radically accelerated college preparatory year,” Sisko said.
Students spend a year at the Transition School learning how to shift from a middle school setting and succeed as full-time college students in a four-year university setting.
“These students were worlds ahead of their peers intellectually and had to work really hard to feel at home,” Sisko said. “They have dreams and academic drives outside those of their peers, so being with a cohort who has the same intellectual goals is good.”
Students who pursue the TS and EEP frequently feel out of place in middle school and desire an education beyond high school.
“Everyone comes from a place where being smart isn’t really accepted,” said Alyssa Broenneke, a 14-year-old TS student. “My friends liked me, but when I showed that I was smart, they didn’t like it. Here, being smart is normal.”
Sisko said young girls, more so than young boys, frequently have to “dumb themselves down” around peers because being smart isn’t acceptable.
“At the university, they don’t have to do that,” she said. “They get validated as incredibly smart young men and women.”
Broenneke, who hopes to be an FBI agent, wasn’t especially interested in attending high school — in particular, she’s not disappointed about missing the prom.
“We have a different value system,” she said.
TS classes are designed to be small and high contact, so students develop support networks with their teachers and each other.
Not only do students take academic classes to prepare to be fully matriculated, they also take skills classes that include note-taking, time management and study skills, according to the Robinson Center’s Web site.
During the spring of their first year, TS students take one UW class to help them prepare for the full-time workload. Even though they are seven to 10 years younger than other students in the class, most students aren’t intimidated.
“You feel like you fit in but you definitely stand out from the rest of the student body,” TS student David Armo said.
Armo, 15, said he rarely gets treated differently, even if other students find out his age. “[There’s] one moment of awe, then it fades away,” he said.
Michelle Shepardson, 14, said traditional students rarely treat her differently.
“It’s not that they (other students) treat you differently, but they’re surprised,” she said.
Many students keep age to themselves, not revealing to students or professors, Sisko said.
“When they’re at UW, these students conduct themselves like any other UW student,” she said. “They really resist outing [their age] to professors or students.”
There is rarely a need to reveal age, except when it comes to after-finals outings. “Once they’re in their major, the only time they have to talk about age is when everyone goes out for a beer after lecture,” Sisko said.
Some students who keep their age private feel they might be treated differently if other students knew.
“If age does come up, I will expect to be treated differently,” Broenneke said. “Hopefully age won’t come up until I know someone well enough that they don’t care.”
Even if others treat them differently, many TS students are glad to be surrounded by their intellectual peers.
“My favorite part is having lots and lots of work,” Armo said.
Broenneke said that the program allows students to think.
Others appreciate the companionship they find in the Transition School.
“The community is very close-knit,” Armo said. “Everybody is friends with each other.”
Since they are so far ahead of traditional students, TS and EEP students can explore different fields of study.
“An advantage of being in TS is time,” Armo said. “You can dabble in different stuff and it’s not going to hurt you.”
After TS, students are reevaluated and move on to EEP, becoming, as they’re known around the center, EEPers. EEPers attend classes full time and spend their downtime on and near campus or in the lounge at the Robinson Center. Gavin Campbell, 18, went through TS at age 14.
“The transition went really well,” he said. Even though he’s now of traditional university age, Campbell said he rarely talks about his age to other students.
“I don’t say my age because I don’t say my age around adults either,” he said. “Neither do I expect to be treated differently nor am I treated differently.”
Junior Rebecca Mark started at the UW as an Academy student after her second year of high school.
“You get out of it what you put into it,” she said. “You try to excel and do well, which is common to all college students.”
EEPers, like TS students, find community in their program.
“You have a really interesting peer group,” Mark said. “It’s a really good community of inquiry.”
For Mark, starting college early was mostly favorable.
“I don’t think I’ve really missed out on much,” she said.
Mark said the only downside to the program is that people assume the students are remarkable. “But it only comes out every once in a while,” he said.
Rarely do students yearn to be back in middle or high school, but there are those moments, Armo said.
“There’s always a part of me that says ‘what if?’ during the winter doldrums when I think it might be nice to be back at my old school where work was easy,” he said. “But you can’t actually go back.”
[Reach reporter Sarah Jeglum at email@example.com.]
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