Higher, sooner education

Skyler Owens. Staff Photo/James Ivancic.

Fourteen-year-old Skyler Owens is taking a great leap forward by skipping the last two years of high school to enroll at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton this fall.

By forgoing the pomp and circumstance of receiving a high school diploma to start college early, she could be getting a bachelor’s degree at an age when others are just starting college.

She’ll be a “PEG student” on the college campus. Her leapfrog into college was made possible through her acceptance into the Program for Exceptionally Gifted students. She’ll be in a special dormitory under supervision on the campus of the all-female four-year college. The dorm is reserved for students in the program who are younger than typical college students.

She’ll be in classes with the older students, though, and she plans to take a class load this fall consisting of biology, chemistry, intermediate Spanish and English.

“I’m kind of looking forward to it. I’ll be independent,” Skyler said.

She feels her parents, Bill and Wendy Smith, are “a little nervous but they think it’s the right thing to do.”

Her four sisters and brother “think it’s cool.” The family lives in Amissville.

Skyler said she’s spent five days away from home at a 4-H overnight camp but otherwise hasn’t spent an extended time away from home.

Her mom heard about the Mary Baldwin program from a staff member at a magnet school for science and technology where Skyler originally considered applying for acceptance. There were only two slots available to junior transfer students so she thought she’d take a shot at applying to the PEG program instead.

PEG admissions criteria takes into account intellectual capacity and motivation of the student, consistent academic achievement, social and emotional maturity and a serious sense of purpose, according to the program’s Web site.

Skyler submitted her application for the program in May and learned she was accepted in early June.

That came after she spent some time getting to know the college during an overnight stay on campus in March.

The application requirement included submission of SAT scores, grade point average, completion of four essays, teacher recommendations and listing of activities and awards.

Besides 4-H, Skyler has been active in the Girls Scouts, softball, Spanish Club and cheerleading.

“I want to join clubs and sports there [at Mary Baldwin] — cheerleading and softball,” Skyler said.

She said she’s looking forward to being around older students.

“I think it will be great. It’ll be fun to be with older students. Usually they don’t know who the PEG students are unless they tell them,” Skyler said.

She said her parents plan to visit once a month and she’ll be going home on breaks.

“I feel very comfortable with the program,” Wendy Smith said. “It’s an all-girls schools and she’ll be in a dorm with girls her age. They’ll have monitored study hours. It’s a very safe campus and I think she’s ready. I’m so happy for her. I’m a little nervous. This has happened sooner than I thought it would.”

Smith said the other girls in the program range in age from 12 to 16. She said visitors to their dormitory have to sign in and out. The college also provides transportation for the younger students to the store and appointments off campus — a service not available to other students.

Skyler said she is considering majoring in pre-med with a possible double major in Spanish.

She’ll be heading off to college in August prior to the start of classes Aug. 30.

Come Nov. 4, Skyler will be turning 15 during her freshman year in college.

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About James Ivancic 67 Articles
James Ivancic is a reporter for the Fauquier Times in Warrenton, Va. Contact him at jivancic@fauquier.com.