TAMS lets super-smart high schoolers go their own speed

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by JOHN McCAA

Bio | Email | Follow: @johnmccaa

WFAA

Posted on February 4, 2012 at 1:19 AM

Updated Thursday, Feb 9 at 2:53 AM

DENTON - How many times have you heard it: Our kids are falling behind, or America needs more scientists and mathematicians.

One small school on the University of North Texas campus is really making a difference. As a matter of fact, your future boss could be the right now.

It’s the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, or TAMS. The 376 students who attend are regulars in the most advanced research labs on the UNT campus.

These young people are among the smartest of the smart in Texas high schools. They regularly ace the toughest college-level math and science courses on campus.

Many of the students set themselves apart early.

"I started taking algebra in 6th grade," said student Amanda Quay

Her unique intellect immediately caught the attention of her parents and teachers.

"They knew that I was going to run out of math classes if I stayed in high school, so based on that is why I decided to apply to TAMS," Quay said.

Stephen Du of Flower Mound took the SAT test in the 7th grade. It was the science opportunities drew him to TAMS.

"At my old high school, conducting science research was something that I never even fathomed that I could do as a high schooler," Du said.

He’s a regular in the  UNT research labs now. So is Kurtis Carsch of Plano, who said he came because the math curriculum seems never ending.

"If someone wants to enroll in as many math classes they want, there’s always going to be another math class that they would be able to take the upcoming semester," he said.

Despite their amazing intellects, these students insist they are still plain old teenagers.

"I really miss my mom, but at the same time, I know she wants me to do well," said Katarina Mentdelopoulos of Plano. "I call her every other day or so."

They are competitive, but newcomer Beulah Agyemang-Barimah said it is also encouraging.

"[Others] sincerely want you to know just as much as they do," she said. "They want to help you and they really care... Like a place that’s full of family."

TAMS Dean Richard Sinclair said it's a matter of putting together like-minded students.

"They come here and they’re intellectually challenged," Sinclair said. "And more importantly, they’re with a peer group that is just like them. Here they flourish, they become people... They’re happy."

Last year, no high school had more finalists in the Siemens Original Research Competition than TAMS. In fact, they snatched the $25,000 top prize in a college-level competition for the best plan to create a new business venture.

Kurtis Carsch is headed to Washington next month as a finalist in the Intel Science and Math Competition. Amanda Quay just returned from doing research in Israel, and has already been published in six academic journals.

After their two years at TAMS, they get a high school diploma and two years of college, then apply to America’s top universities. And most importantly, they get in.

TAMS started in the 1980s, as a place for the smartest students to sharpen their minds. So getting in isn’t easy.
This year’s class of applicants is full of students who make A’s like Betty Crocker makes biscuits. If they get through the interviews and tests and are accepted, they’re told that probably will not happen at TAMS.

Members of the first TAMS class, from 1990, just reached their 40s. Four thousand have come through since. Many of them are now tenured professors and successful entrepreneurs.

What’s next for today’s students? Who knows... Sinclair said they’ve already won just about every award they could - except one.

"I’m asked often have we had any Nobel Prize winners yet," Sinclair said. "I say, 'Just wait, just wait..."

E-mail jmccaa@wfaa.com

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