‘He’s only 11! He’s too young for college.’ She set out to prove I wasn’t smart. I got grouped with disruptive kids.’: 13-year-old attends college, ‘I found a place that challenges me’

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“My parents had a plan for me ever since they started to read me bedtime stories in the cradle. By the time I was a teen, I barely had plans of someday going to college, but they remained aspirational. My father made clear, like a lot of Indian fathers, that my sister and I were to become doctors or engineers. Lofty goals you find in many immigrant families where education is prioritized.

My mother believed in gifting books for Christmas and birthdays, so we were always getting new ones. We had books on how the weather worked, how the earth moved around the sun, and how mankind came to be a force upon the world. My mother would read to us long after we could read ourselves, and if a text failed to answer all our questions, she would turn to the internet. This taught me to seek information for myself and to identify what sources could be trusted.

I tended to be the quiet child, the one content to draw alone or push the buttons on the keyboard till they made something of a song. My only real contact with people was my mother’s family, and even with some of them, I remained hesitant. The idea of sending me to preschool hinged on my being around other kids rather than what I could learn.

I found myself different from the other kids in preschool. They were loud, excited, and talked among themselves with ease I tried to comprehend. My mother talked with the teacher who reassured her I would assimilate as the year continued. A fact proved incorrect, as the year ended, and I had never even spoken to my teacher. My mother decided another year of socialization would do me well despite the results.

I decided if the classroom was going to be a part of my foreseeable future, I might as well have some conversations. My mother was surprised to hear that I began to talk with the teacher, letting her know I enjoyed the class. This brought about the first hint to my parents that my mind worked a little differently.

The teacher told her, ‘We misplaced one of the puzzle pieces and I asked the kids about it.’ After a pause. ‘Rohan went over to the shelf of games and pulled a game off the shelf, inside was the missing puzzle piece.’

My mother shook her head and asked me later about the piece. I told her I had seen it several days before. Which made her ask why I would remember such a random thing. I found this strange and told her that once I see something, I remember it like everyone else. To which she laughed. My frustration at others’ inability to quickly retain information would come to play a big part in my educational life, until my mother finally had to let me know that not all minds process information like mine.

Once I started kindergarten my mother wanted the school to test me and see what I truly understood. This began a battle my mother and I would continue to fight for the entirety of my education. They informed my mother they did not test kindergarteners and that I would be tossed into a standard class.

My kindergarten teacher stated, ‘I only teach in the middle.’

Frustrated, my mother continued to work with me at home. I also had the benefit of a sister two grades ahead of me. She taught me to write my name and read to me from her homework. My mother worked as a substitute teacher and would try to give me more advanced lessons from the classes she would teach.

Courtesy of Rohan Kamat

By the time I left kindergarten, I could multiply and understand the basics of division. Through worksheets, my mother knew what I could do. As I entered first grade, she thought I would have more opportunities to move up to advanced work. Unfortunately, first grade proved no better than kindergarten. For most of the year, I languished in the middle.

The only thing that had improved over the year and a half of public school was my ability to make friends. I learned by being active on the playground, tossing a football, or playing soccer in the field, I could always gather others. I played school sports including baseball, soccer, and hockey. My family skied, hiked in Glacier Park, and camped out at one of the many lakes in the area.

My time away from school became a better time. I was not shoved into the mold of public school, only to return for yet another lesson I already knew. I had to sit still and wait for something to change. For the school to get better with the next year.

Only towards the end of first grade did they begin testing. The first test was to check reading ability, something my mother never tested. We took the test and then had to print our scores before we presented them to the teacher. I peaked, my score about 530 which meant nothing to me at the time.

When the teacher took the scores, she held my aside, my curiosity got the better of me and I began to question others on their scores. Several 50s and 100s which made me think there had to be something unusual about my score. When my mother arrived, we were asked to stay.

My teacher informed her, ‘We were looking for anything over 50. Over 200 and they are ready for second grade. Rohan scored 530.’

Her words made my mother smile, and I understood the score to be a good thing. They spoke for some time and the smile faded. My mother took me home to inform me that even though I scored far higher than needed, I would not be moved to a higher group or given special work. Frustration began to grow, and my mother tried to come up with a solution before I decided that school was not worth my effort.

Knowing she had to work within the system my mother thought the best thing that we could do was ask for me to skip a grade. A simple solution in my mother’s mind that set off the first of many fights with the district. Despite my reading score and my subsequent math score that put me squarely in third grade, the district felt I should stay with my class. My mother could not understand the hesitation and then outright dismissal of our request.

I felt defeated, as though nothing I did would change my situation. Dreading years and years of being in classes and learning nothing. Only after my father became involved and threatened to remove me from the school did they relent.

I could have been the youngest kid in my class until high school graduation. Only I raced through the material in third grade and by the fourth grade, I was again far ahead of my peers. A fact my fourth-grade teacher did not appreciate, as she set out to prove I was not as smart as I, or my family, believed.

The little things she did to needle me, mocking me anytime I did not know the answer right away. Pairing me in group work with disruptive students and never giving me credit for the work I accomplished. Slowly, this turned from irritation to anger and I quickly dreaded school once again. To stave off boredom one day, I used my resources to get a hold of her email and end class.

Halfway through my fifth-grade year, my mother decided to try another approach and pulled me from public school. I became the home-schooled kid on all my sports teams, the kid that got to sleep in and learn what he wanted. Which was only kind of true.

At first, the sheer amount of what we could learn overwhelmed my mother and she had to research the requirements of each grade. This included a trip to the homeschool office that offered us several outdated books that we could use. Though we found that Amazon had books of a similar nature with far more up to date information. The homeschool center began my mother’s contact to keep my education on track.

Through all our struggles and fighting my mother remained unconvinced that what I was learning was correct. We used Khan academy, books, and documentaries to keep me learning. I felt my mother stressed too much about what she taught and did not truly understand how little public school taught me in a year. I learned about things that public schools had never covered or interesting ideas on the cutting edge of science.

During this time, I learned that I wanted to work with tech, specifically with robots. Watching documentaries on what robots could do and what they hoped to do in the future I made up my mind to be a part of robotics. I began to study computer programming on my own and learned about the various languages and how they were used. It only took a month of work to do what a public school does in a year.

After a year, my mother tried to enroll me back into public school so that she might be able to go back to work. Again, I tested, and again, the school looked at the scores and decided to put me back into the class I knew. Another fight with the district, this time more of a draw. I spent half my time in sixth and half my time in seventh grade. This also meant that I had math with my sister having moved two grades.

My mother’s most head-shaking moment came when she had to argue with the principal about the need for me to take Mayan history. One of the reasons that wanted me to be in sixth grade to ensure I had the same education as everyone else.

My mother said, ‘Have you ever been to a job interview where they ask you about Mayan history?’

After only a few months, it became clear that my teachers acted as though acknowledging I could move faster meant they were insulting the other students. At worst they appeared to believe that if I needed something more it was not the responsibility of the school. My mother found we were spending more time on schoolwork and learning less so she decided to homeschool me until high school.

While looking for outside activities, she came across an AD for a computer programing class at the local community college. Though it was for a few grades above mine, she felt that I needed a challenge and could use some hands-on work with technology. This would be my first time on a college campus, though my mother learned of the class from taking courses there. I was excited to see what a real intellectual setting could provide for me and only when I entered the class did it become apparent the material was rudimentary.

The entire class centered around a kit. The teacher, young and enthusiastic, wanted us to go through all the activities over the course of a week. Towards the end of the week, she spoke with my mother. My partner and I had completed everything in the kit and started to use the bots in ways not directed by the class. I had laid out a way to fix traffic in America using the color-coded robots, and I presented my idea to the teacher.

She told my mother, ‘He’s really good. I need you to sign a form to send his picture to the company.’ Which my mother signed. ‘I want the company to see what they can do with their products.’

The class offered me a glimpse into what could be, and for the first time, I looked forward to being around others and learning. My mother was so impressed that she decided I might benefit from a basic computer class. Even though I was only 11, she thought I could hold my own in a class at the community college. I even allowed myself to get excited.

Courtesy of Rohan Kamat

Over the next few months, I studied and took a test at the college to ensure that I met the prerequisites for the class. That meant sitting in a testing area with other potential college kids most of which found my presence rather odd. After I received my score, I would have to talk to the head of the computer department before I could register for classes.

What should have been a simple one and done discussion turned into a dream-killing nightmare. My mother emailed the director to set up an appointment and the reply was swift and devastating. ‘My other students wouldn’t feel comfortable with an 11-year-old in the class.’ He stated. ‘I don’t need to meet with him, he’s just too young.’

Being the head of the entire department meant that I was locked out of all computer classes at the community college. It was the first time I began to wonder if I would ever be treated as an equal in academics. My mother, after sadness, turned to rage and informed me that we would find a different college and then staple my degree to his forehead.

Deciding to get into a four-year college meant a lot of things to me, though at this time I kind of lost hope that they would accept me either. Though I began to study and work towards taking the SAT’s in the back of my mind I could not help but think they were just going to turn me down as well.

After a year of working on my studies, we found out to take the SAT younger than 14 you must have special permission. Which, being homeschooled was hard to come by. My grandfather learned of our plight, and we received the papers and set out to get the test done. Only to have my grandfather pass away before he could help us file everything.

Saddened by the loss and without help, my mother waited until I was older. Finally, after several phone calls and working with the College Board online she was able to sign me up for the SATs. Again, I journeyed to the community college, and along with several members of the local high schools, I took what I hoped would be my ticket into college.

I took a little while to get the scores back and when they did, I worried they would not be enough. I held my lingering doubt from the last time. We applied to Bozeman for many reasons. My parents went to the school and knew it had a good computer science department. It was close enough and they could keep close tabs on me because I was 13.

As we are working on getting my application through, the number of boxes that had to be ticked never seemed to grow any shorter. My father’s office had a job fair at the college and he invited me to stay at the booth with him. For the first time, I had the opportunity to interact with my peers, never happier to put in a day’s work. They talked about things I knew and could tell me about things I wanted to understand.

Once again, I allowed my hopes to rise and after some time the school came back with the same instructions as before. You must speak with the head of the computer department before you can enroll. Only this time my mother did not contact him, my father and his former student did, and requested that we meet.

Finally, I sat down with the head of the department and pleaded my case face to face. I felt a little nervous but basically, I had nothing to lose. I wanted him to see me as a potential student. As we ended our talk, he informed me ‘I will be happy to see you attend college,’ and even allowed me to sign up for more than just a freshman programming class.

My journey, long and strange as it may be, has only just started. I finally found a place that treats me as an intellectual, that allows me the opportunities to challenge myself in a way I have never been challenged.”

Courtesy of Rohan Kamat

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rohan Kamat of Bozeman, MontanaYou can follow their journey on Instagram, Twitch, and Youtube. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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