Reno school for gifted attracts national attention

RENO, Nev. -- A small school that has not yet celebrated its first anniversary is attracting some of the brightest students in the country and garnering some national attention.

The Davidson Academy of Nevada, a public school for profoundly gifted middle and high school students, is the cover story of the Aug. 27 edition of Time magazine.

The academy was founded and funded by Bob and Jan Davidson of Incline Village, who spent $10 million to open the school last fall on the University of Nevada, Reno, campus.

The school offers an alternative for students who need a greater academic challenge than Advanced Placement classes or the limited number of college-level classes available at high schools. Students who apply for admission to the academy must score in the 99.9th percentile on IQ or college entrance exams.

"The way our educational system currently operates, it provides extra things for students with special needs, but extremely gifted children are not given the same attention," Jan Davidson said.

Davidson, a former teacher, said the nation cannot allow its brightest minds to languish.

"If we want to stay competitive in the world today, we need to nurture our entire student population: Those with special needs and the highly intellectual ones, too," she said.

The academy's inaugural class of 35 students came from cities across the United States and included a student from Australia.

This fall, the academy will have 45 students and hopes to expand to a class of 200 students in five years.

Colleen Harsin, Davidson Academy director, said individualized educational programs are developed for each student.

"We also maintain classrooms so we can strike a balance between meeting students' individual needs and keeping them in a classroom setting with their peers," she said.

The courses are taught by state licensed teachers and professors and instructors from UNR and Truckee Meadows Community College, Harsin said.

"The biggest challenge we faced during our first year probably was addressing the individual needs of these highly able students," Harsin said. "They come from such diverse backgrounds and they have very unique expectations of what they want to do here and where they want to go next. I think that will remain a challenge in the future."

Annalisee Brasil, 14, who moved to Reno from Longview, Texas, hopes to receive her high school diploma in two years and her bachelor's degree from UNR two years after that.

"Opera is my passion, but my other passion is science," she said. "I am also going to study biochemistry at UNR so I will have something to fall back on if my opera career doesn't pan out."

Andy Wei, 14, of Reno will be taking U.S. history, Spanish and communications this year at Davidson, as well as calculus, Chinese, English and computer science at UNR. He also is a pianist and hopes to earn his black belt next month at the Freestyle Martial Arts Academy in Reno.

"Sometimes, I wonder if I'm going too fast, but I have a lot of friends at the Davidson Academy," he said.

This upcoming school year is the first time the academy will receive state funding.

The 2005 Legislature passed a bill establishing the academy as a public school, but the Davidsons covered the entire costs of its first year of operation.