Been busy with some In Real Life GT issues lately and yesterday evening I found myself once more combing through down county school websites. Out of close to 40 schools, I think maybe four had GT liaisons listed on their PTA websites. Even more discouraging was to find that some schools don’t even have a PTA website…or even a page on the school’s website that lists some officers and committees or basic parent information.
But in my Web-surfing I did have the chance to stop at the site of Silver Chips, the award-winning online newspaper of Richard Mongomery Blair High School. There, I read a great feature story about Maneesh Agrawala, a recent MacArthur Fellow “genius award” recipient–and Blair Math Science Magnet alum.
Although Agrawala was shocked to be receiving the MacArthur grant, his entire life has been committed to the creativity and knowledge the MacArthur Fellows Program looks for. Ever since he was young, Agrawala was interested in math and computer science. Agrawala recalls that seeing his father teach computer science at the University of Maryland influenced his interest in the field.
Agrawala took his love of these subjects to Takoma Park Middle School’s Math and Science Magnet Program, where he excelled in math….
From 1986 – 1990, Agrawala continued these pursuits, enrolling in Blair’s Magnet Program and furthering his interests in computer science and math. “The Magnet was really great,” Agrawala says. “The Magnet was able to put me on my set path and helped me understand concepts.”
Agrawala’s residency in the Magnet was quite notable. He was a finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search competition and had an interest in writing.
However, his biggest impact on Blair came in 1988. Along with Sven Khatri, Dan Mall and Howard Gobioff, all in Blair’s class of 1990, he took part in the first national “SuperQuest – The High School Supercomputing Challenge,” according to notes from the Board of Education. The team won second place out of 1,480 high schools nationwide, winning Blair a Cyber 910 workstation. What’s more, Blair received its first-ever direct connection to the Internet, making it the first school in Montgomery County to have Internet access, according to the Magnet Foundation. The connection even initiated the mbhs.edu domain that Blair still uses.
Ah, those magnets. You know, those “boutique programs” that MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast was talking about back in April. Wisely, believing that the strong defense is an offense, some magnet parents offered passionate testimony in support of the math science magnets at recent Board of Education-sponsored Community Forums [sic]. You can read their testimony here, on pages 5, 11, 12, 14 and 17.
Maybe their cause will be bolstered with a local screening of the documentary Whiz Kids at the National Academy of Sciences in December.
WHIZ KIDS is a coming-of-age documentary that marks the distinct paths of three remarkably passionate 16-year-old scientists who vie to compete—win or lose—in the Intel Science Talent Search, a program of Society for Science & the Public (and formerly known as the Westinghouse Science Talent Search)…. For a year and a half, they visited high schools around the country searching for teenagers who were engaged in sophisticated research. The team found students, who at 16 and 17, were already working in university and government labs, sometimes alongside Nobel Prize-winning scientists. They also found students with fewer resources who were making discoveries in the apocryphal basement or garage lab. Several traits were consistent among these “whiz kids” — an insatiable curiosity, a deeply felt determination to communicate their work to the public, and a passion to make a difference in the world.
You can see a trailer of the film on the film’s website, www.whizkidsmovie.com, as well as get information on the issue of fostering excellence in science. Which can start right here in Montgomery County.