Body vs Brains

As school begins for another year, teachers and parents flood the aisles of paper, crayons, and notebooks while kids are trying to squeeze the last drops out of summer. Long, lazy days are being replaced by routines and alarm clocks. Like most kids her age, 12-year-old Grace Hong is trading a season of summer camps and craft projects for a classroom with her peers. But Hong’s class picture looks a little different from the rest. Instead of the bright, shiny faces of a spunky seventh grade class, Hong is among college students at Oklahoma Christian University.

Grace has a gift. Ever since she was a small child she learned quickly and easily, reading and speaking before most children. Her mother, Connie, stopped looking at age limits when buying puzzles and games and began considering if a particular one looked possible for Grace.  School came naturally for her and she excelled in her early education without much effort.

Sending Grace to college at 11 was never a plan that her parents mapped out for her future, it simply became necessary for her intellectual survival. “It may have seemed like everything led us this way, but it has not,” said Connie. “I had the sense that she was a little bit different, but I had no clue what kind of child we had.” Little signs that Grace was more than just bright started appearing when she was only in first and second grade. Her joyful, friendly attitude started changing and she began closing up. Like a flower that isn’t getting what it needs, Grace too
began to wilt. 

A job transfer before Grace’s 4th grade year brought the Hong family from Houston to Edmond, where they enrolled her in the local elementary school. Nothing was out of the ordinary about the new school year, until – in the midst of preparing new books and backpacks – Connie met three families in the local library that homeschooled their children. Their philosophy on education and the appeal that their kids could go as fast as they needed convinced Connie to test Grace to determine her true academic needs. The test revealed she could skip a grade, so right before school started, they decided to homeschool her for a year.

She went through a year’s worth of curriculum in just a few short months. After Connie researched gifted learning opportunities, she signed Grace up for the ACT. Her average of 21 was well beyond her 10-year-old age. Even more shocking was her English score of 26. Without much preparation, those numbers alerted them to the real facts of Grace’s abilities.

They discovered the Davidson Young Institute, which is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the nation’s brightest young people. Grace became a Davidson Young Scholar in 2007, and the free programs, family consultants, and resources helped shape Grace’s new education.

For the past year, Hong has audited classes at both Oklahoma Christian and the University of Central Oklahoma while being homeschooled. With the help of Professor Givan at UCO and Dr. Agan at OC, Grace has taken three language and literature courses, and is dual-enrolled this fall at OC taking a history course for credit and auditing another course in literature.

She’s written stories, research papers, and even stood in front of her college peers to give a presentation which she titled: Giving a Presentation or Else… A Long and Drawn Out Death. “That was really scary,” said Grace. “I think my main worry was that I was really small and I know that sounds silly, but I don’t really like it, although I’m not sure I would like it if I was taller. I tried to sink down beneath the podium, but no luck, they could still see me. We had rehearsals and a panel, but the presentation was kind of a disembodiment feeling like I was watching myself do all this stuff. At the end, I was really happy and told the professor I want to do another one, which I know I’m going to regret later. It was really fun, even though it was a difficult experience.”

While Grace enjoys the intellectual challenge of the college courses, she is no different than any other 12-year-old. She tries to keep a balance in her life between brain and body, and has friends her own age that she just likes to laugh with. She took up fencing two years ago at Oklahoma Sport Fencing and her coaches have become life mentors to her. She plays piano, is actively involved in her church, and writes fantasy stories for fun. “I’m still a 12-year-old no matter how you look at it,” said Grace. 

Grace doesn’t let any of her experiences go to waste. She created a blog called, “They’re All 2 Feet Taller”, in relation to her college experiences where she talks about what it’s like to be a normal 12-year-old and a “weird grown up person”. She hopes that in some way it might help someone else just like her understand what they’re going through.

For Grace, traditional schooling took away her creativity, but now she is forging her own path. “It’s a road seldom traveled, but if we had stayed on what we had planned out none of this would be like it is and she would not be who she is today,” said Connie. “We always look back and can definitely see God’s hand in all of this.”

Grace is ready to take on the world and sees her gift as a way to help others. One thing is for sure; she has the motivation to do anything she could imagine. “Maybe I could become a counselor in a public school and help out the gifted kids because I’ve been through that, or I could become a professor at a university, or maybe a psychologist,” said Grace.

“I keep thinking, “What is my legacy on earth and what am I going to leave behind”? I think that before I die I should get all my experiences and all my knowledge out so that I can help others like me and then they can pass it on or something, but I don’t just want to keep it to myself.”

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