Getting a head start on her dream

Spending part of summer break listening to lectures and dissecting owl pellets might not be many high school students' idea of fun, but for Rachel Hughes, it was a dream experience.

The 14-year-old Sequim High School sophomore spent three weeks in July and August at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., as part of the JHU Center for Talented Youth.

"Rachel was identified as a highly capable student by the district," said her father Dick Hughes, who is president of Sequim Education Foundation. "She's eligible for different programs in universities across the country."

Rachel was designated as highly capable after scoring well on SATs, which she took in sixth grade. She said many Sequim students are classified as highly capable.

After exploring options at the University of Washington and other colleges, she and her family chose the Center for Talented Youth because of the options it included, many in her chosen field of medical sciences.

"CTY offers a variety of courses all year long," Rachel said, citing ethics, Chinese and marine science classes. "They want to give the kids a broad spectrum of educational opportunities."

For her first of what she hopes will be several summer school experiences through CTY, Rachel chose a fast-paced high school biology course along with 35 other students from across the nation. Rachel, who is taking advanced placement biology this year through SHS, said she felt it would be a "nice prep" for the course.

The three-week crash course wasn't a breeze. Rachel and her fellow students worked from 9 a.m.-9 p.m., which included lectures, labs and study halls.

"The first day we got a month's worth of biology information," she said. "But labs really helped clear things up (and) showed us what we'd just learned in lecture."

Rachel stayed in a freshman dorm with the other girls in her biology class, an experience that she found difficult - but only for a few days.

"We got into a routine pretty quickly," Rachel said, adding that after she settled in, she got to sightsee in Baltimore and nearby Washington, D.C. "And now I have new friends from all over the country!"

"It was hard to leave our little girl alone for the first time," Dick Hughes said. "But she loved it."

So much so that Rachel, who wants to be a brain or heart surgeon, already is eyeing a neuroscience course in Carlyle, Pa. Although her parents say it might be difficult for them to send her across the country again, it's worth it.

"This will give her the opportunity to travel," said mom, Kris. "She's challenged academi cally and gets a whole new experience."

The Highly Capable

program - an overview

About 40 students at Sequim's elementary and middle schools and about 50 students at Sequim High School are designated as Highly Capable by the district.

According to Sequim Community School principal Patra Boots, who is in charge of the Highly Capable program, also known as HiCap, students are nominated by parents, teachers, community members or themselves starting in third grade. The students then are given standardized tests such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Cognitive Abilities Test.

"The students have to meet a certain criteria: They have to score in the 97th percentile in at least one area on the CogAT," Boots explained.

She added that there are not a number of slots that must be filled in the HiCap program each year - if none of the students match the criteria, none will be accepted.

The testing begins in third grade and is offered again in fifth grade, although Boots said there is some off-year screening through middle school.

Once the students are in, Boots said, there is a host of services offered to them, any of which they can accept or decline.

"At the elementary level we try to cluster (HiCap) students into a single classroom and support them in that classroom and work with the teacher to help them," Boots said.

These students also have a half day per week "pull-out" session with HiCap teacher Bonnie Bless-Boenish, where they receive individualized learning plans.

"Bonnie writes those plans to focus on each student's area of strengths," Boots said.

In middle school, challenge courses are offered that HiCap students have access to prior to any other students and in high school, the children are encouraged to take honors and Advanced Placement classes in their area of interest.

"They'll move through the spectrum of mathematics or science or music," Boots said. "It just depends on what their expertise is."

If you think a child you know might qualify, visit the National Association for Gifted Children at for information, assessments and checklists. To learn more about the Sequim HiCap program, call Bless-Boenish at 582-3440.

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