Gifted Highland Park 15-year-old enrolls at Northwestern with eye on economics
BY KAREN BERKOWITZ kberKOWITZ@pioneerlocal.com July 6, 2013 2:06AM
Alex Gordon, 15, graduated from Highland Park High School last month and has already begun taking courses at Northwestern University. | Photo submitted
Updated: August 7, 2013 6:18AM
HIGHLAND PARK — Alex Gordon has been on the academic fast track since grade school in Highland Park, where his exceptional abilities were evident even before he produced a report on Nelson Mandela at 6 years old.
A librarian at the Highland Park Public Library took note of his preschool reading abilities and suggested he be tested for gifted programs.
Gordon was advanced two grade levels during his years in North Shore School District 112, skipping over first and seventh grades. He entered Highland Park High School at age 12.
In late May, the 15-year-old graduated with the Class of 2013, and has already started taking classes this summer at Northwestern University, where he plans to major in economics.
“I would like to eventually be involved in economic research so as to expand the depth of human knowledge in this field,” said Gordon. “I’d also like to spend time addressing misconceptions about the field, of which many exist in our populace today.”
This summer, he’s taking anthropology, economics and philosophy to get some college credits out of the way. He hopes to pursue debate in college, an extracurricular he was passionate about as a leader on Highland Park High School’s accomplished Congressional Debate Team.
Gordon said he was particularly fond of debating with teammates Alex Foster and Cameron Deahl on the question of U.S. military involvement in Syria.
“The changing nature of the conflict in Syria allowed the debate to shift from tournament to tournament without becoming stale rehash as so many recurring topics do,” he said.
“Any student entering Highland Park High School should seriously consider joining Congressional Debate or Model United Nations,” he said. “These activities teach strong researching skills, excellent communication skills and a much wider and deeper understanding of key world issues.”
Gordon’s mother, Debi, said she didn’t initially recognize her son’s abilities were outside the norm.
“He taught himself to read between 3 and 3 1/2, but I didn’t recognize that as being gifted,” she said. “This is the North Shore and a lot of kid do a lot of amazing things. What he was doing to me seemed perfectly normal. It wasn’t until I would talk to parents of kids the same age that I realized that doing a report on Nelson Mandela at age six was not typical.”
Evaluations showed Gordon was highly gifted and District 112 adapted and made adjustments. He went directly from kindergarten to second grade. On several occasions, he was transferred to other district schools to particular teachers considered better able to meet his needs. In 2004, he was part of a PBS’ News Hour with Jim Lehrer report asking if the No Child Left Behind Law and its heavy emphasis of basic standards was leaving gifted students behind.
“We never needed to go to a private school,” said Debi Gordon, noting the family’s goal has always been to provide as normal a childhood and teen experience as possible. “Everybody rose to the occasion to make sure he had the best possible experience.”
Gordon will turn 16 this month. While not many students start college at his age, Northwestern University personnel have assured the family that early-age starts are becoming more common, particularly among students who’ve been home-schooled.
Gordon, who accumulated a long list of honors and accomplishments at Highland Park High School, credits two courses that had a particularly strong influence on his development: AP European History taught by Joseph Brysiewicz and an engineering sequence taught by John Connolly.
“The ability to ‘think like an engineer’ has always been a valuable asset,” he said, highlighting class assignments that had students create shoes that walk across water and chairs made of cardboard. “The class emphasizes the important idea of learning through doing, which is valuable in increasing a student’s independence, confidence and enthusiasm for the field of instruction.”
Gordon also served as a student representative on the Highland Park City Council’s Housing Commission. While shoveling snow for his own family following the big blizzard in early 2011, he began wondering how Highland Park seniors were managing the deluge. He ended up working with the city officials on a sidewalk snow shoveling programs matching teen volunteers with seniors.