Career & Education

Immaculate, Avery!

High school grad passes enough subjects to bypass sixth form

Associate editor – features

Sunday, September 17, 2017

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WHEN Avery Barnett graduated fifth form in July, she already had more subjects than a typical sixth former at the end of two years. And by the time exam results were published last month, she had doubled her previous tally.

At 17 years old, she holds a total of 19 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects, one IGCSE (O' level), four GCE A/S levels, and two GCE A' levels, earning the last 14 in this year's May-June exam period alone.

“This was not by chance, but by design,” Barnett's mother, Dr Janine Dawkins, told the Jamaica Observer.

“She had set her sights on becoming an orthopaedic surgeon from as early as first form and recognised that this would require approximately 14 years of study beyond high school. Immediately deciding that sixth form could be avoided, she began her quest to be prepared to leave school at fifth form and go straight to college overseas,” Dawkins reported.

Avery graduated second in her class at Immaculate Conception High and has already started at Grinnell College in Iowa, USA, where she was awarded an international grant and work-study opportunities. She is pursuing a 3-in-3 programme that will see her doing three years at Grinnell and three years at an affiliated university in order to obtain: a Bachelors of Arts from Grinnell, a Bachelors of Engineering from the affiliated university, and a Masters of Engineering from the same affiliated university.

She sat her first three CSEC subjects when she was in second form, two after third form, three in the January sitting during fourth form, and the Cambridge IGCSE, AS, and A'levels at the end of fourth form.

“The decision to pursue subjects ahead of time was entirely hers,” her father, Mark Barnett, told Career & Education.

“All we did was guide her and support her… She gets bored easily, and so she has always challenged herself.”

Barnett, who is president of the public utility company National Water Commission, said neither he nor Avery's mom had any doubt their daughter would have aced all the exams she sat this year.

“Based on her earlier performance at CXC, I had all confidence she could. My only thought was whether she would achieve the straight 'A' profiles, which I know was her target,” he said.

She did.

Asked how a teenager, with all the distractions at that age, finds the time to do as many upper level exams as she did, Avery, who says she doesn't consider herself a genius or 'super bright', replied:

“The key was that I knew what I wanted to do and had the determination to accomplish it. It took a lot of late night studying, sacrificing free time to attend classes, etc. I knew my learning style (read-write) and studied in such a way that it encouraged me to remember the information at hand. To study for my external exams, most of the time I rewrote the entire textbook by hand and read over the information from the notebook. This venture takes a lot of focus and commitment at the base of everything.”

“I will admit that I do interpret and understand most concepts easily, [but] I had to work hard and persevere to achieve most of these accomplishments... In some aspects, I do consider myself nerdy, but for the most part, no. I just like to learn,” the young woman said.

Not everybody was supportive of Avery's accelerated study track, but she managed to silence the naysayers by delivering an improved overall average each year.

“The school was very facilitative and was in support of it for the most part. At the student level, some persons were very supportive and wished me well and assisted me when I wanted help. Others were not in favour of it, and were particularly unkind about it,” she revealed.

Grinell was one of 11 colleges which accepted Avery. All offered some financial aid varying in type and amount.

“I chose Grinnell because I wanted a small, tight-knit community with a diverse student body. I felt that Grinnell's overall package would be fitting for my personality and my overall academic progression. This includes the opportunities available, study-abroad options, and their academic flexibility,” she said of her choice.

This isn't the first time young Barnett is being away from home and her parents. In the summer of 2016 Avery was one of 19 teens from across the Caribbean who participated in the four-week Summer Programme in Innovation, Science, and Engineering (SPISE) at the UWI Cave Hill campus in Barbados. SPISE patterns a similar programme at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is designed to increase the number of Caribbean people represented in the worldwide STEM field.

“The experience reinforced her love for science, and opened her eyes to the opportunities in technology and engineering, and influenced a shift in her career interests. Her current proposed course of study as she enters Grinnell College is one which will take her through a liberal arts degree in the sciences to one in engineering, then on to further studies which are likely to include the medical sciences,” said Dr Dawkins.

Of being away from home and parents for this prolonged period Avery said, while she is a bit nervous because of the new surroundings, “Grinnell has a good support system in terms of people to talk to, and I am comforted by the fact that I am not alone in this journey.”

Her dad added: “We have always travelled on holidays and she likes to explore new places. Yes, she will be missed, and maybe we'd prefer to have her closer, but being a very focused individual, with set goals, I have no doubt she will do exceptionally well.”

Academics aside, Avery's interests include gymnastics, aerial silk, dance, music, string craft, canvas art, embroidery, cooking, and baking.

In addition to being involved in varying extra-curricular activities at different points during high school, she maintained active community participation as the teen event planner for the Kingston Church of Christ during third and fourth forms, and volunteered at her previous schools, Sunrise Early Childhood Development Centre and Morris Knibb Preparatory, when time allowed.

In January this year she and a friend started a business venture where they baked a variety of goods every other week for sale. The proceeds were used to subsidise the cost of a post-exam trip to Ocho Rios for a group of her friends.

“This was done in order to allow those who were not able to cover the full cost to be able to come and enjoy the experience,” young Barnett said.




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