It is pretty unusual for a 13-year-old middle school student to already be studying on a prestigious college campus like Vanderbilt University, but that was just the case this past summer for eighth grader Ridge Turpin. He had quite an experience during a week’s stay at Nashville’s Vanderbilt Summer Academy for advanced learners, known as Rising 8th Graders in June.
Ridge, the son of Jeff and Amy Turpin, was amongst fellow eighth graders at the academy who typically test at high levels in one or multiple areas on the ACT. He represented Wayne County Schools, after picking from several locations for summer studies as a result of his Duke Talent Identification Program participation for the 2016-17 school year as a seventh grader. He was amongst 17 students at Wayne County Middle School who were named to the Duke Talent search pool, allowing them to take the ACT somewhat prematurely. In addition, Ridge and three other classmates – John David Rains, Savannah Ramsey, and Evan Taylor – qualified for the Center for Summer Studies making them eligible to attend summer learning camps if they desired to do so.
“I picked Vanderbilt Summer Academy (VSA) because it was just a week-long,” said Ridge. “I thought that was a good amount of time to devote to this.”
His priorities were math, along with creative writing and pop culture. He enjoys creative writing as a hobby and likes to compete on the academic team trivia questions regarding pop culture. In fact, he placed at the district level during the academic team season.
“Ridge is one of our starters on the WCMS Quick Recall Team and was really helpful with the Arts and Humanities questions,” said Assistant Academic Coach Lindsey Aguilar.
Being an only child, it took some courage to commit to a week’s stay away from his family, for the first time living in a college dorm. He noticed that there was not a nearby McDonalds’. Nevertheless, he persevered getting his lanyard key and got settled in his new digs, known as V dorm, living with eighth graders from across the country. He enjoyed meeting kids from different backgrounds like his roommate who was from Florida. He has even continued to keep in touch with another VSA classmate named Zachary from North Carolina. He said half of the kids attending were from private schools and there were no rural kids. He noticed that the guys wore collared shirts and khakis, where he was used to wearing t-shirts and jeans.
On his first visit to the lunchroom, he realized the hamburgers were at least on par with an F & H Drugs hamburger and he had three times the amount of lunchtime break, as he does during a Wayne County Middle School regular school day. He also enjoyed the recreational atmosphere where he and his roommate played pool. Ice-breaker games were part of the fun after a celebration honoring the Rising 8th Graders in the elaborate Grand Hall.
By then, he had gotten past the nervousness of being outside his comfort zone and he was happy to be a part of V House with like-minded students his age.
His first class had 19 students in it and was called Combinitorics, dealing with patterns, puzzles, and number sets. His instructor wrote, “Ridge stood out as a great communicator of mathematics, clearly explaining his ideas both to me and to his group, though I wish he was more willing to share with the whole class. This is wonderful to see, because the ability to clearly articulate your work is incredibly important, and I think undervalued, in mathematics.”
One of the classroom highlights was concerning a lesson on recurrence relations. “The class was trying to use ideas of recursion to determine the minimum number of moves needed to solve the Towers of Hanoi puzzle with a given number of disks. After doing so, Ridge and his group decided to modify the puzzle by adding a fourth tower onto which the disks could be moved, and investigated what effect this added flexibility had. So much of mathematics is taking an object or idea and asking interesting questions about it, but this can be a very difficult skill to teach,” said Ridge’s Vanderbilt instructor.
The instructor had not thought about this option in the puzzle, which made it even harder to analyze than the standard three-tower version. So, he was intrigued by the findings from Ridge’s group.
In the evening, events like a photo-scavenger hunt familiarized him with the area and proved to be somewhat exhausting, but entertaining.
Ridge also got to work on his writing while there. He enjoyed an elective opportunity concentrating on the spoken word using poetry.
The final day of camp climaxed with a karaoke event that left Ridge and his new friends unable to talk after several hours of singing Ridge learned that it was okay to be smart since he was surrounded by students who enjoyed the challenge of learning at high levels. That, perhaps was the most important lesson to be learned for a 13-year-old teenage in middle school.
Ridge’s story mirrors the typical gifted student profile. “It’s easy for an advanced learner to become frustrated in rote memorization and repetitive learning tasks. This frustration can lead quickly to unhealthy work habits or underachievement. That’s why it is so important that classroom teachers, like the ones Ridge has had, differentiate their instruction to meet advanced learners’ needs,” adds Wayne County’s District Gifted Coordinator, Jennifer Chaplin.
“Enrichment opportunities at the middle school level like MathCounts, Pulse of Surgery, UK Engineering Day, Future City, Minecraft EDU, Codeacademy, and Student Technology Leadership Program are also vital to students like Ridge in order for them to find their passions and pursue them with other high achieving peers. Competitive academic programs at the middle school level like Duke TIP, GEMS, G2-TECS, Rogers Explorers, and summer camps are important as well. These opportunities provide high achieving students engagement with high intensity curriculum, other high-energy students ready to learn, and passionate teachers,” continues Chaplin.
“Ridge’s intense curiosity and sense of humor are what I appreciate best about him,” Chaplin shares. “We as educators must find innovative ways to encourage and develop all children’s capacity to think and create.”
That is just what Wayne County Schools do. From the pre K-12 teachers to the key decision makers across the district’s faculty, Ridge and students like him are encouraged to expand their talents. When this is combined with a healthy support structure at home, like Ridge has had, suddenly the possibilities for talent development are vast. His Great Aunt Louise Edwards, a retired elementary principal, who devoted her time to making sure he completed his work and reinforced the skills he needed, has been instrumental in Ridge’s academic success as well.
Ridge affectionately reflected on his aunt’s continued interest in keeping him on track and helping him with his after school studies over the years, “It’s beyond me why she’s put up with me. I don’t think she knows the answer,” laughed Ridge.
But, they are a perfect example of how important it is for local schools to partner with families, so all students may have the opportunity and access to an appropriate educational fit.
Combinitorics classroom solving Towers of Hanoi puzzle
VSA 8th graders congregated in the courtyard outside the lunchroom
Ridge with his Vanderbilt PHD candidate teacher
Ridge makes a V for V house, where he stayed at Vanderbilt University
L-R; 8th graders Savannah Ramsey, Evan Taylor, Ridge Turpin, and John David Rains qualified for the Duke Talent Search Center for Summer Studies