Oct 172011
Authors: Katherine Long McClatchy-Tribune

SEATTLE — When he was 8 years old, Gabriel See got a score on the math part of the SAT that would be the envy of most high-school seniors.

When he was 9, he galloped through high-school Advanced Placement math and science classes — calculus, statistics, physics, chemistry and biology — scoring a perfect 5 in each subject.

When he was 10, he worked on T-cell receptor research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

When he was 11, he won a silver medal at a competition on synthetic biology for undergraduate college students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Last month, at 13, Gabriel was named one of the top 10 high-school inventors in the country by Popular Science magazine, even though, technically, he’s attending a junior-high school.

Ernest Henley, physics professor, dean emeritus at the University of Washington and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, has never met a student quite like him. “Frankly, I have never seen a boy of his age who displays as much intelligence and aptitude for learning,” Henley said. “He is one of a kind.”

That kind of off-the-charts intelligence comes with a conundrum, though: Because he’s only 13, Gabriel is not emotionally ready to handle programs designed for older students. His intellectual abilities raise the question: How do you map out an education for a boy at the extreme end of the gifted population?

“Honestly, I don’t know what’s next for Gabriel,” said Dan Phelan, who oversees accelerated programs for the Lake Washington School District. “All of us are puzzling a bit right now … He’s doing work that’s way beyond what I can understand. But socially, he’s not ready to be set loose in the adult world.”

Gabriel’s father, Jason See, said: “Trying to find the right program for him is very difficult. There is no program that caters to his level. He is out of the norm for the supergifted.”

His parents, Jason and Valerie, want him to have a normal teenage upbringing, so for half the day Gabriel attends a small, arts-oriented junior-high school in the Lake Washington School District called Renaissance School of Art and Reasoning, where he takes dance, drama and language arts.

He has taken an upper-level math class at the University of Washington each quarter since 2010; this quarter, it’s applied linear algebra. He’s on the YMCA Sammamish, Wash., Swim Team, takes music classes and plays Ultimate Frisbee on Fridays.

Quiet and reserved, Gabriel is most comfortable discussing advanced mathematics or molecular biology. He’s not good with questions about typical teenage pursuits, but he will explain to you the concepts he is studying in applied linear algebra this fall, if you are smart enough to understand him.

When he’s not in class, he’s working through a stack of books at home; he keeps a list of everything he has read. He’s absorbed 52 textbooks on science and math: read the physics lectures of Richard Feynman, and books on robot programming, systems biology, immunobiology, fractals, Latin (a new passion), music theory and the work of Fibonacci, Rene Descartes, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, among others.

He’s studied chaos theory, string theory, quantum mechanics and nuclear science. Along the way, he’s also devoured popular fiction and classic literature — Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia and most of the works of William Shakespeare (“Not all of them,” he notes, modestly).

He has a younger brother, Michael, 10, and the two boys are especially close, his mother said.

Gabriel has a laser focus on math and science, but the University of Washington’s Robinson Center program for early-entrance students — those younger than 15 who are emotionally ready for the rigors and social challenges of college — is not a good fit, his dad says.

“Keeping him engaged is critical, and so far, reasonably successful,” said William Monahan, Gabriel’s Advanced Placement (AP) biology teacher at Eastlake High.

In elementary school, Gabriel was placed in the district’s program for highly capable students, but it wasn’t until third grade that the adults around him started to realize the depths of his intellectual abilities.

At age 8, he began teaching himself calculus and physics from sources he found on the Internet. Curious to know how much he was learning, his parents signed him up for the SAT; he scored a 720 out of 800 on the math portion, placing him in the 95th percentile for college-bound high-school students.

That score plus Gabriel’s math notations — he had written out pages and pages of solutions to math and physics problems — sent the Sees to Elizabeth Sirjani, who was then the math chair at Eastlake. She confirmed that Gabriel had taught himself AP-level math and physics work on his own.

“We started scrambling then,” said Phelan, of the Lake Washington district’s accelerated program.

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