By Juliana Bledsoe
“I had to work really hard to make sure I didn’t go into public school because that’s really hard when you’re gifted, and so I started working and studying for the test so I could get into the DA,” said 11-year-old Kaely Smith during her P.E. class at the Davidson Academy.
The Davidson Academy is a free, public high school program on the University of Nevada Reno campus that opened in 2006, but admission to this school is specifically limited to “profoundly gifted” students — just 133 students currently attend.
Some of them are a lot younger than the typical high school students, but all of them are extremely smart. The students of the Davidson Academy can be seen raising a hand in college lectures all over campus, or sometimes just kicking around a soccer ball outside the Jot Travis Building.
What was once the student union, before the construction of the Joe, is now home to some of the brightest pupils in the nation, about half of whom move from all over the country for the sole purpose of attending this prestigious school.
Smith is a Reno local, and her parents started planning for her to attend when she was four years old, the same year that the academy opened. They knew then that she was a smart kid.
Smith says her first steps meant going straight from crawling to walking while also picking up and carrying a box, and she was already communicating with sign language. When she was four, however, Smith said she asked her mom a mathematical question that really convinced her parents of how intelligent she was.
“I asked my mom what 10 plus 10 was. She said ‘count all your fingers and all your toes,’” said Smith, at which point she began rattling the multiples — 10,20,30 and 40. “She understood that I was already grasping the concept of multiplication.”
Smith’s mother had her intelligence level tested that year and homeschooled her during the preceding years while she prepped Smith to enter the Academy. Smith was accepted in fall 2013, just in time to avoid public school.
“When I was like nine or 10, that was when I really understood the importance of getting into the Davidson Academy,” Smith said.
Though Smith never attended public school, she had heard how difficult it could be for a smart kid, and she avoided it at all costs.
“The social aspect is really hard — like because I’m so smart, I would probably get picked on, and it would be really boring for me. Like, everyone else was just really bored, or (public school) would just kind of suck for them because they already would know everything that they were in, but they were already in the highest level.”
Being accepted into the academy soon afterwards presented a whole new set of challenges.
“I was really nervous because I thought I was going to be the youngest kid, and I thought I was going to be the shortest kid,” Smith said. “I’m not the youngest, but I am the shortest. And I thought it would be really hard to make friends, but I actually already have a lot of friends.”
Smith also said she has struggled a little bit with science this year, but one of her favorite aspects of the Academy is how much the teachers are willing to work with her.
“They want to make sure I succeed,” Smith said. “They’re not just going to let me lag behind.”
Nonetheless, there is more to the high school experience than academics. The students also report having a more supportive peer group in addition to more individually catered class schedules. As for not attending a typical public school, Smith doesn’t think she is missing out.
“The Davidson Academy is really great. A lot of people think that just because we only have 133 kids, the social aspect wouldn’t be there like at a normal high school and middle school, but still there’s a lot of social (interaction).”
Students at the Davidson Academy also say they have found a welcome place to make more like-minded friends.
“Back in New Jersey, it was hard to make good friends because there were pretty much just two kinds of kids: there were kids that liked playing sports and kids that liked playing video games, and I didn’t really fall into either of those categories,” said Davidson Academy senior Karthik Rohatgi. Rohatgi’s entire family moved to Reno from New Jersey so that he and his siblings could attend the Davidson Academy. “Here it’s a lot easier to make friends who are intellectual but that also have similar interests,” he said.
Vishvaas Ravikumar is one friend that Rohagi has made at the Academy. Ravikumar is from Carson City, and attended a private Lutheran school when he heard about the Davidson Academy from a friend.
“My parents encouraged me to try for myself,” said Rivikumar. “I had some good friends there too, but at the academy it’s nice to have other kids who are also interested in academics and who are interested in excelling.”
Ravikumar is sill close with friends from his old school in addition to new friends from the academy.
“It definitely keeps the discussion more lively. I enjoyed school even before coming to the Academy, but it was definitely a big change having the opportunities to pursue more advanced classes and having a curriculum based around my personal interests,” Ravikumar said. “At my old school it was just about ‘get this done.’”
Freshman Ian Oh had a similar experience at the charter school he was attending in San Jose.
“I skipped two grades, and I was still sitting there in class, like ‘What am I doing here?’” Oh said. “They would just give me a textbook and put me in a corner while they would teach class. I would be two grades ahead in the textbook.”
Oh comes from a six-person family, so it was a big transition for them to move upon learning about the Davidson Academy, but Oh says it was one of the greatest moments of his life.
“We were all more excited to go to a place where we could learn more and excel,” he said.
Oh’s older sister and younger brother also attend, and his youngest sister just applied.
Despite attending such an exclusive school, Oh said that being smart doesn’t affect the way he interacts with others.
“It doesn’t really have as much of an impact on how you treat other people, but more on how you treat yourself and the way you do your work,” Oh said. “You’re a lot more motivated to do harder things and challenge yourself. You can’t just define smartness by getting into a smart kid school, you’ve got to put in your effort and do something with it.”
Juliana Bledsoe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.