Grade 7 pupils turn undergrads
Provincial program offered at UBC puts students on the fast track to university
Although the number of “gifted” students being identified in B.C. is dropping sharply, there are plenty of applicants for one particular program where students go to UBC directly from Grade 7.
It’s the university transition program at the University of B.C., a provincial program in which 20 young students a year are selected to complete high school and university entrance requirements in just two years.
To get in, students must have completed at least Grade 7, although some have completed as much as Grade 9. Classes are at UBC, which helps the students prepare to become university students, often at age 15.
The transition program is not an enrichment program; rather it is a radical academic acceleration, designed to create global citizens who will be successful university students, said Daria Danylchuk, the program’s coordinator.
“It’s a very powerful change,” Danylchuk said. “The students transform so much within the two years that by the time they’re in classes at UBC nobody notices their age.”
It’s the only program of its kind that organizers know of, Danylchuk said, adding that most accelerated high school programs are in high schools, not at universities.
There is a similar program at the University of Washington in Seattle, but students in that program pay tuition to the university.
The UBC program is funded by the B.C. Ministry of Education and is free to students, although there are extra charges for special field trips.
Danylchuk said there is an invisible cost inherent in the decline in recognizing gifted students in B.C. school districts and providing them with special programs.
“You will only know it by the loss,” she said. “These kids not only have talents to give, but they are also very idealistic. They’re the ones that will join Doctors Without Borders. They can create original solutions to challenging problems.”
Students in the first year of the program were learning physics during a recent visit — they are just starting the theory part of the program, having already completed several labs and presentations. The students said the labs were extremely challenging, but that is what they’re looking for in this program.
“Most of us were too bored in normal school. The class work was too easy so we came here to get a challenge,” one student said during a fast-paced discussion in class with this reporter.
Another student said she felt like a lot of her time in regular school was wasted. “Here, you learn in a few weeks what we would learn in an entire term,” she said. “I just want to push myself to my full potential.”
Several of the students said they participate in extracurricular activities to relieve stress, and one said it was her participation in high-level sports that showed her that she could excel in academics.
Another student said the program is different from normal school because they have to figure out how to solve their own problems, with help from their classmates. As an example, she said the students each presented on the physics of a particular toy and had to include a formula — her theory was centre of mass and she demonstrated it using a toy balanced on a needle.
Another student said that by doing those presentations, they each became an expert on one formula or theory and how it works, so in the coming months, they will be able to help their classmates with that topic.
Sometimes, the teacher will ask the students to find a Science Journal article in the university library that they think is interesting, Danylchuk said. Then, the teacher will ask them to find an expert at UBC to talk to about the subject, and to invite them to the student’s class presentation. She said usually the experts are thrilled to come to the class and this gives the students the opportunity to learn from academic experts in person.
She said it means the students are taking responsibility for their own learning and extending it to subjects that they might become passionate about.
While one might expect most of the students to be planning careers in medicine, a survey around the class found a great variety of career aspirations, including medicine, law, commerce, conducting an orchestra, writing books and entering politics.
The students recently returned from a class trip to Ottawa and Montreal, during which they visited many museums and got a chance to bond with each other. In other years, they have also made international trips. The program includes clubs such as robotics and dance and offers students the opportunity to take part in Reach for the Top and a model United Nations.
The program started in 1993 and produced its first graduates in 1995. In May, there will be a 20th anniversary reunion and conference at which prominent graduates will speak.