Seventh-grader takes SAT with the big kids

Saturday, January 22, 2011 | 3:57 p.m. CST; updated 4:41 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 27, 2011
In preparation for the SAT, Kelsie Small, 13, works on reading comprehension with her mother, Kimberly Small, at Anthony's Italian Restaurant in Columbia on Friday. Kelsie is part of the Talent Identification Program (TIP) run by Duke University, which gives gifted students the opportunity to take the SAT early.

COLUMBIA — Before the clock struck 8 a.m. at Hickman High School, junior Jacob Tarrant was anxiously awaiting one of the biggest tests of his life — the SAT, formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

“I know it depends on what colleges you’re looking at, but most of them want you to have the ACT and SAT nowadays, so you obviously want a good score on them so you can earn more money for that place you really want to go,” Tarrant said.

Duke Talent Identification Program

From late 2008 to early 2009, 67,000 seventh-graders took the SAT or ACT as part of Duke University's Talent Identification Program.

Who: Current seventh-grade students who score in the 95th percentile or above on qualifying standardized achievement tests are eligible for the program. Once students qualify, a high score on the SAT or ACT might give them the opportunity to participate in further programs at Duke.

How much: Students and their families are responsible for testing fees of $70 unless the student qualifies for a fee grant, which lowers the price to $25.

After the SAT or ACT: Duke provides a results summary that analyzes students' scores and reports strengths and improvement areas.

Source: Duke University Talent Identification Program

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Meanwhile, in a classroom not far from where Tarrant sat, a Hallsville student named Kelsie Small was more concerned about which snack she would eat during break — peanut butter crackers or a granola bar — and with beating her younger brother Gaven, 9, at Mario once "this thing" was over.

That’s because Kelsie, 13, is in seventh grade.

“Commiserate? Colloquially? There are a lot of big words I’d never heard of before this test," Kelsie said. "Plus, I haven’t even taken algebra yet.”

Kelsie began preparing for the SAT about a month and a half ago after being accepted into a national gifted program at Duke University known as the Talent Identification Program.

The program was designed to help young students like Kelsie realize and reach their full potential. 

“In 12 weeks we’ll get an analysis report from Duke, showing Kelsie what areas she did well on, what areas she needs to work on, that sort of thing," said Kimberly Small, Kelsie's mother. "Depending on how she scores, Kelsie can qualify for all kinds of things, like summer study programs and workshops on Duke’s campus. We’re all just really excited for her."

Kelsie said her whole family has been supportive since the beginning.

“I told my dad I was really scared, and he said that whether or not I do good or bad on it, it doesn’t really matter," Kelsie said. "He told me I should feel honored regardless."

At 1:13 p.m., Kelsie finished her first SAT.

“I’m a seventh-grader, and I just took the test that all the high schoolers have to take," she said. "Now I can be like, 'Yeah, I did that.'” 

Kimberly Small said this is the first time Kelsie seriously thought about what she wants to be when she grows up.

"She tells me, 'Mom, I think I want to be a marine biologist someday,'" Kimberly Small said. "And she’s excited about her plans and what the future holds for her. To me, that’s the greatest gift that could have come from this."

Around 1:30 p.m., juniors and seniors began walking to their cars.

And even though Kelsie was headed another direction — toward celebratory cherry vanilla ice cream in her mom’s green Nissan Pathfinder — she said she felt positively "grown up." 

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Chris Delbert January 22, 2011 | 10:27 p.m.

Congratulations, kids, you should be very proud. It helps a great deal to have incredibly supportive parents like Kimberly and her husband who are willing to put forth the time and effort that it takes to raise a successful child like Kelsie. They serve as an example for parents everywhere. Great job!

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