Gifted students could go straight to college

By Jessica Brice, The Associated Press
Monday July 08, 2002

California’s budding geniuses can attend community college without going through high school 


SACRAMENTO – Eleven-year-old Levi Clancy wasn’t happy in public schools with kids his own age. Spending time in an intensive college-level chemistry class, however, is what he calls a good time. 

He is part of a growing number of highly gifted kids in California who are opting out of traditional public schools – where they complain of being teased and harassed – in exchange for more challenging college courses. 

Levi Clancy, who was taunted by other students, says he decided to attend community college because he was depressed at public school. 

So far, it’s been an uphill battle for Levi Clancy, who started taking classes at Santa Monica College when he was seven. 

“When I first showed up at the college with my son, they laughed at me,” said mother Leila Levi, who complains there are very few public school programs for highly gifted kids. 

Although Levi Clancy’s IQ measures around 150 – the average community college student ranks at 116 – school officials said he wasn’t old enough for college courses, she said. 

Through a series of lawsuits, Leila Levi was able to get her son out of public school and into a two-year college, but only if she went with him as a chaperone. 

Four years later, Levi Clancy says he is ready to move on in pursuit of his bachelor’s degree. He already has his eye on UCLA, wants to become a biological medical engineer and dreams of curing cancer, but universities won’t consider him because he’s too young. 

“They say 13,” Leila Levi said. “So we’re just going to hang out for a while.” 

Sitting back and doing nothing, however, has not been Leila Levi’s style. When they said her son couldn’t take the high school exit exam until he was 16, she bugged the school until they let him take the test at age 10. When they said her son couldn’t go to college, she sued and won. 

“Children in California are only entitled to an education at age level,” she said. “It’s ludicrous. We need to enable our brightest citizens to change the world, not hold them back.” 

Now, Leila Levi is sponsoring two bills to help other highly gifted kids test out of high school and receive a publicly funded education at community college. 

Roughly 408,000 California students were identified as gifted in California last year. Of those students, up to 60,000 students are highly gifted. 

A bill authored by Assemblywoman Lynne Leach, R-Walnut Creek, would nix the age requirement for the high school exit exam, allowing kids with an IQ above 150 to take the test regardless of their age. The other bill, authored by Assemblyman Jay La Suer, R-La Mesa, would provide financial assistance to help with tuition and books. 

Both bills, AB2626 and AB2607, stalled in the Senate Education Committee because of concerns that the kids may not be mature enough to handle a college atmosphere. The bills are expected to be heard by the committee in August after a possible amendment is added to allow community colleges to require chaperones. 

Levi Clancy said students at Santa Monica College showed him greater respect, which made the transition easier. 

“People are really nice to me. We are academic peers,” he said. “In elementary school, they were only my age peers. I was singled out.” 

“The thing is, if you’re unhappy in elementary school and happy at a college, in my opinion you should be able to go to college,” he said. 

Frank Quiambao, president of Los Angeles College, said he expects more colleges to design programs that tailor to the needs of gifted kids. 

“Because they are profoundly gifted, everybody thinks they have it made,” Quiambao said. “But these kids are forgotten. They are overlooked.” 

A pilot program at the college, which starts in August, will help kids ages five through 14 adjust to college life. Quiambao said it will give the kids a challenging academic setting while also giving them with a chance to socially interact with their peers. 

“Community colleges are supposed to respond to the need of the communities they serve,” he said. “We have to develop their talent at an early age to maximize their potential. One of these kids could be the doctor that cures cancer or Alzheimer’s.”