'Profoundly Gifted' Students Find Home in Reno

Growing up in tiny Columbus, Mont., population not quite 1,800, almost everyone who knew Emma Schmeltzer agreed that she was smart, above average, a very good student. But then, as her dad recalls it, something went wrong.

"She lost some of her interest in school," said Lee Schmeltzer. "She was kind of floating along. And that wasn't good for anybody."

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Emma was in high school when this shift occurred. And it wasn't that she suddenly couldn't keep up — it was that she was too far out in front. She'd skipped two grades already, but now, school was so easy for her that going seemed practically pointless.

Standard Education 'Wasn't Enough'

She said her school tried to make her curriculum more challenging, "but it got to the point where it wasn't enough."

Along with other families around the nation, Emma and her family uprooted themselves and moved to Reno, Nev., where, last August, she became part of the inaugural class of 35 students in a brand new public school designed for the smartest of the smart.

There, you will find 11-year-olds taking Chinese or third- and fourth-year high school algebra, 12-year-olds intensively studying Eastern civilization, and 14-year-olds taking honors biology or hopping a shuttle bus to take college courses at the University of Nevada, where the school is located. The school is called the Davidson Academy, named after founders and primary funders Jan and Bob Davidson.

Genius First 'Denied,' Now Accepted

"These are the kids in the last one-tenth of 1 percent of ability level," said Jan Davidson. "Basically, as high as it can be reasonably measured."

"Without putting too fine a point on this, it appears to us that the children we serve are approximately 160 and above IQ," said Bob Davidson.

The Davidsons, for their part, are wealthy (you could say "profoundly wealthy").

Bob is a retired businessman, and his wife is a former educator. In the 1980s, they spearheaded a software program called MathBlaster, the first of a series of educational programs that were massive best-sellers.

Currently, the academy — which is a public school, free to students — comprises two classrooms on the back side of a campus building. According to the Davidson's book, "Genius Denied," they were driven to open the school out of concern that schools in the United States were underserving the very brightest students.

Tenth-Grade Mind in a Fifth-Grade Class

"Remember when we were 10th graders and what would have happened if we were forced to be in the fifth grade?" asked Jan. "I mean, to sit in fifth grade. That would have been very hard for us to take."

"As a result of being underchallenged, many of our nation's brightest students are either tuning out or dropping out," said Bob Davisdon.

"This is a population that is not getting any accommodation for their special needs," his wife added.

Emma, who at 14 has already written a novel and started a school newspaper, is now taking a college-level course in comparative religion.

Her parents said her old public high school back in Montana just didn't have the resources to tailor a program to a child as intellectually gifted as Emma.

"The resources in small, rural schools tend to go toward sports and just not serving the gifted population," said Kerry Schmeltzer.

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