I (David) found out about The Gatton Academy in May, 2022 from a podcast focusing on a string of crimes in Bardstown, Kentucky. We had no idea that there was an option for high-school students who are interested in Science to live and study on a college campus at virtually no cost. Gatton Academy opened in 2007 at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green and has been rated among the top high school programs in the country.
Students live in their own building on the campus of Western Kentucky University (WKU) and take college level courses in areas of math, science and the humanities. At the end of two years, Gatton Academy students will have earned between sixty and seventy-two college credit hours in addition to completing high school.
They also have the option to participate in original research with WKU faculty which could lead to publication and other opportunities. Regular talks from professionals in scientific fields and site visits to such organizations as national laboratories and private scientific organizations supplement the students’ coursework. There are full-time residential and counselling staff on-site to support and monitor the students. Regular social and non-academic activities are scheduled to give students a break and encourage comradery.
After investigating more about the Academy through their website and You Tube videos, Jacob decided that he wanted to apply to Gatton. We encouraged him to consider it, of course, but the decision needed to be (mostly) his. It was a big decision, because it would require Jacob to take an online summer course in Geometry so that he could complete Algebra II and Pre-Calculus his sophomore year. He would have to prepare for the ACT and SAT throughout the Summer in order to achieve a Math score minimum of 22 on the ACT or 540 on the SAT to qualify for Gatton Academy. He would also need four letters of recommendation and complete five essays as part of his written application. After completing all of the application requirements, he would be notified if he had been selected to interview at the Academy.
He spent the summer of 2022 working through his online Geometry class and the test prep courses for the ACT and SAT. He also dealt with his sadness and frustration of not having the kind of summer he had throughout his childhood. There would be no structure-free days, no laying around for hours reading. No hours spent outside. We talked with him, encouraged, argued and coached each day through the summer. He knew he wanted to try for Gatton, but at times he was overwhelmed with the work and stress.
He first attempted the ACT in July and missed the required Math score by one point. After reviewing his previous SAT scores, he decided to take the SAT to qualify for the Math score needed. In August, he took the SAT in Elizabethtown and he found out two weeks later that he had scored high enough to qualify.
After the test scores came back and he realized he qualified, he began work on his six essay responses. We encouraged him to finish them before the school year started. We again encouraged, coached and prodded him along. He asked for our feedback occasionally on his responses and we gave him our input while trying not to give so much that the essay was no longer his. This is a very difficult thing to do when you want something for your son so badly and at the same time want him to achieve it on his own.
The rest of the Fall was a lead up to the deadline of February 1st, 2023. He and we made one final read through of his essays and he then submitted the application. We then waited in anticipation to see if he would receive an invitation to interview. On the evening of Friday, February 10th, he found out that he would be interviewing with a three-person panel on Saturday, March 4th, the day after his 17th birthday!
The waiting for that day was stressful. It seemed to be the longest three weeks in a long time. It reminded me of the happy stress that comes from waiting for a baby to arrive. In the meantime, Jacob worked on preparing for the interview. He had large papers in the hallway with notes about information he could use to answer the panel’s questions. He also had three rounds of mock interviews to help him prepare for the reality of interviewing with three people he had never met. The day finally arrived, and we left our home early on the morning of March 4th and traveled to the Academy in Bowling Green.
The day started off with a joint session of parents and students with a presentation from the Director of the Academy, Dr. Lynette Breedlove.
After her presentation, the students were taken in groups to a math placement exam, their interview, tours of the laboratories at Western Kentucky University and a session with Academic Advisors on choosing his Fall class schedule.
He was very nervous about the interview. We saw him at lunch which was immediately after his interview. He told us he was interviewed by a retired German Math professor, a Biology professor and an alumnus of Gatton Academy. He was disappointed that he dropped eye contact and felt bad that he had forgotten some of the points he had written down and practiced. We encouraged him to remember that the panel would not expect a perfect interview from a high-school student and that the interview was just part of how they decide who to admit. After the course of our lunch, he seemed to feel better. He then headed off for a tour of the laboratories and to meet with Academic Advisors.
When we came back to pick him up, he was in much better spirits. He was excited by the tour of the laboratories and the talks in each laboratory from a professor who does research there. One of the Biology professors talked to the students about his research into Cave Beetles. He has discovered 14 species. Each professor made clear that the students could participate in original research at the labs on campus, at other universities in the U.S. or internationally.
It was a long day. Everyone was tired. We were glad the day was over. At dinner, Jacob told us more about the interview and his responses. It wasn’t as bad as he made it out to be right after he had interviewed. He was now laughing and smiling. We were all relieved for him.
Now came the waiting for a decision. This would again be one of the longest periods of waiting we had experienced. It was on our minds constantly. Would he get in or wouldn’t he? When would we find out? How would he handle it if he wasn’t accepted? How would he (and we) handle it if he was?!
We were told the e-mail notifying students of the admissions decision would be sent on the evening of Friday, March 10th. Lam suggested Jacob check it on Wednesday, March 8th just in case there was something from Gatton.
And there was! We got word early. He had been accepted! Below is the e-mail he received:
They also sent a picture they took on Interview Day that we could use to announce the good news.
Jacob was also sent the form below to indicate whether or not he would accept the offer to attend. After thinking about it very briefly, he signed. We jokingly referred to it as ‘signing away his childhood’! Below are photos of the form and Jacob signing.
We are thankful to God and to all those that helped him along the way that Jacob has been accepted. We believe this path will present him with opportunities he would not have access to elsewhere, and we hope it will also help him with his life skills and personal development.
We now are preparing for our 17-year-old to live away from home and to face what will no doubt be challenging academics and social situations. We believe in him so much and we are so proud of him.