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Local students totally enjoy college setting for learning

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The Gatton Academy at WKU

By Alex Wimsatt

    BOWLING GREEN - The Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science at Western Kentucky University is regarded as one of the nation’s premier high school institutions.

    Featured in Newsweek’s list of 16 “Public Elite” American high schools, the Gatton Academy selects 120 gifted Kentucky juniors and seniors to participate in the program each year.

    This year, nine Bullitt County Public Schools students were selected for the prestigious program, the third highest number of students from any county.

    These students were selected through a rigorous admission process after exhibiting exceptional performance in the classroom, scoring high marks on the ACT and demonstrating interests in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

    Instead of spending their junior and senior years in traditional high schools, the BCPS students enrolled at the Gatton Academy live on campus, taking courses with fellow Academy students and WKU undergraduates.

    By the time they’ve finished their course work at the Gatton Academy the students will have earned not only BCPS high school diplomas from their respective schools, but at least 60 college credit hours, giving them a significant head start on their post secondary education.

    For these students, however, the experience has been much more than academic.

    Though being away from home and her North Bullitt friends has been difficult at times, Dana Wheeler, 17, said the challenges of Gatton Academy have helped her grow as a person.

    “I have learned how to interact with diverse people in numerous situations. Being on campus as a 17-year-old is an amazing experience,” she said.

    Anthony Gutierrez, 16, of Mount Washington, said he’s enjoyed having the opportunity to have fun while focusing on academics, gaining time management skills and better study habits.

    “It’s been great because it is challenging and makes me work harder,” he said.

    His twin brother, Alex Gutierrez, said his favorite thing about the Academy was having the freedom to make his own choices.

    “I’m not told how to go about doing what is needed. I’m able to tackle any situation as I see fit,” he said.

    Being away from home and North Bullitt, Tina Stottman, 17, has built strong relationships with her fellow Academy students and she’s been able to do things she would never have had the chance to do at home in Bullitt County.

    “I love everything about the Academy. Everyone here is amazing. I’ve made some of the best friends in my life,” she said. “I’ve also had opportunities that I would never have otherwise, everything from summer research experience to a possible winter term abroad.”

    With the experience Stottman gained from the Gatton Academy she felt fully prepared for life after high school.

    Layne Thomas Webb, 16, of Shepherdsville, has enjoyed making new friends, taking challenging classes and learning to be independent.

    “I know now that I can handle myself on my own,” he said.

    Webb had nothing bad to say of his experience at the academy, adding that he has barely had time to think about home with all the activity around him.

    Though she said the workload has been overwhelming compared to her course work at Bullitt East, Micaela Montgomery, 17, of Mount Washington, said she loved her experience, gaining more than she could mention.

    She added, however, that she made a lot of new friends.

    “The people are great. Gatton has a very family atmosphere with students and staff,” she said.

    Shelby Martin, 17, of Mount Washington, said the experience has helped her better understand herself.

    “It has made me more confident,” she said.

    Like most of his peers, Brooks Junior James Richard Allen, 16, said he most enjoyed the independence of being away from home.

    Gatton Academy Assistant Director Corey Alderdice explained the Academy’s purpose was providing challenging opportunities that foster scholastic advancement.

    At the same time, students have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, build new relationships and gain independence living in the Schneider Hall dormitory.     

    Alderdice pointed out that while most school districts around that state didn’t offer magnet progress for gifted students, the Academy provided advanced scholars the challenges they needed to succeed.

    “The Gatton Academy allows us to remove the learning ceiling,” he said.

    Students at Gatton Academy maintain their status as BCPS students. They are allowed to participate in high school activities such as prom and graduation. The Academy is in constant correspondence with BCPS, sharing test scores and other information with the district.

    “The only thing the district is losing is the physical student,” Alderdice said. 

    The Academy’s partnership with BCPS is strong, according to Alderdice.

    “Bullitt County is one of our biggest advocates providing one of our largest pools of applicants,” he said. “These students wouldn’t be ready for this experience if it weren’t for the district.”

    The Gatton Academy has boasted students from 95 of Kentucky’s 120 counties. Since its inception in 2007, Bullitt County has been consistently represented at the Academy.