Nysmith Alumni Build on Success

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Maxwell Jones, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

Students who attended Nysmith School for the Gifted, a private, preschool through eighth grade institution, have a high rate of success. What exactly is life like after Nysmith? Two alumni currently attending Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology recently weighed in.

Maxwell Jones, who attended Nysmith from 2011 to 2015, plans to double major in math and computer science at Carnegie Mellon University this fall. He already tutors other Nysmith students in those subjects.

Maxwell scored 35 out of 36 on the ACT and had perfect scores on the math and physics portions of the SAT. He also has experience as a writer and editor for a national origami magazine and has tutored middle school and high school students in several STEM subjects.

Additionally, Maxwell played varsity basketball for several years, was vice president of his school’s business and science club and participated in a number of other extracurricular activities. He has also completed multiple programming projects and obtained expertise in at least half a dozen coding languages.

The support he received at Nysmith helped him get into Thomas Jefferson and go on to succeed there, Maxwell said. While all the teachers there were helpful, Mrs. Broccoli stood out as a math teacher invested in him as a student and made the subject interesting, he said.

“There were days when I would lose my homework and she would help me find it, or ask me how I was doing before class started,” Maxwell said. “I had her for both Algebra 1 and Algebra 2, and I can’t remember a day that I wasn’t excited to learn more. Mrs. Broccoli is one of the main reasons that I pursued math to the level that I am at now — taking differential equations and complex variables my senior year), and why I plan to major in math in college.”

He also credits Mr. Schrembs, who taught him for one year.

“We had one exercise where we had to design the most impenetrable medieval castle possible, and another where we had a pop test about a subject we knew nothing about, but the answers were all hidden in the test itself,” Maxwell recalled. “Mr. Schrembs taught me to question everything, be creative and find unique solutions. All three of these ideas helped me become a better student, and more specifically a better programmer.”

Teacher Phillip Stevens, he recalled, often liked to begin the day by showing a painting or two from a distinct period.

“Through my seventh-grade year, we got through around 400 years of art history,” Maxwell said. “Since then, I’ve loved to go to art museums and look at exhibitions, whether it be near me or while on vacation. That year, I learned to love art, but also learned to pursue new interests that I had, regardless of how different or outlandish they may be from other things I like.”

Maxwell has this advice for current Nysmith students:

“Have fun, and don’t take Nysmith for granted. Maximize the amount that you interact with the school, whether it be through hanging out with friends or studying hard and asking teachers for help. The environment and teaching staff isn’t something to be taken for granted, so use it well!”

Vikram Bala, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

Vikram Bala, a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson, attended Nysmith from 2007 through 2017. He has received a number of accolades for his work in computer science and programming. Vikram has experience serving as a tutor in Fairfax schools and has also dedicated numerous hours of volunteer work. He also enjoys playing piano, engaging in structured debates, and participating in Boy Scouts of America, where he is a Life Scout working toward the Eagle rank.

Vikram credits Nysmith with exposing him to different STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math)  areas, which helped broaden his interests and open his eyes to a range of possible career opportunities. He also appreciates having built a peer group of the same caliber and work ethic to support him through his high school years.

“There were many activities that made students analyze different topics and research to a level that isn’t typically seen in other schools,” Vikram said. “A great example is science fair. I covered topics from anticoagulation and hemophilia to big data analytics. The variety of topics that I was able to research and understand prepared me for the diverse stream of subjects t TJ and also honed my analytic skills in researching for multiple subjects.”

Vikram credits Ms. Dragg, his eighth-grade physics teacher and debate coach from sixth through eighth grade, with encouraging him to learn in new ways.

“After our first (debate) tournament, she encouraged me and other members of my team to keep working and improve,” he said. “Her motivation and support at tournaments were invaluable in keeping everyone in the club on track to improve. That same motivation to debate stays with me even as I participate in high school debate.

“When I had her as my physics teacher as well, I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t disappointed though — she engaged the classroom in multiple ways to instill a passion for learning in all of us. Also, when I was deciding what high school to go to, she was the first teacher I talked to. I asked her about school choices and she gave me honest answers, which was a factor in me attending TJ.”

Vikram plans to major in computer science and/or economics after high school with the aim of possibly working in product development and management or participating in some startup projects.

“In addition to the courses that I take at TJ, debate and computer science, I’ve been heavily involved in other interesting activities,” he said. “One that comes to mind is the LearnIt conference. Along with some other students, I submitted a product idea to an entrepreneurial-tech competition and was selected by SMART Technologies to present at the LearnIt conference in London. LearnIt is a conference which brings educators from across the world to discuss how to better the state of education. The idea we submitted was about using electroencephalogram technology and virtual reality to teach students by monitoring focus and increasing student engagement.”

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