By BENNETT HORNE
Special to the Press Argus
Northridge Middle School seventh-grader Nate Whittington is, for the most part, just an average 13-year-old boy.
He likes to go off-roading with his dad, Gary, and harass his younger sister Avery. He runs cross country for his school, plays tuba in the school band and also plays piano.
And he’s been known on a few occasions to drink the last of the milk and forget to replace it with one of the extras from the refrigerator in the garage.
But when it comes to his school work – in particular his first attempt at taking the ACT – he is not the typical teenager.
Whittington scored a 31 when he took the test earlier this school year, a score school officials believe may be the highest ever recorded by a Van Buren seventh-grade student.
Whittington’s scores in the individual areas of the test were as follows: Reading 32, English 33, Science 33 and Math 25.
Making the scores even more eye-popping is the fact he has yet to have been taught in class some of the material covered in the test.
Not only did he do extremely well, his mother said he actually enjoyed his first attempt at taking the test.
“He actually had a really good time,” said Rebecca Whittington. “We knew he was going to do well. We know him and we know he’s going to do well anyway. But he came out (after taking the test) and was like, ‘I had fun. That was really fun. I had a good time.’”
Van Buren School District Director of Curriculum Nancy Robbins said Nate had met certain criteria set by the Duke Program through his work on the ACT Aspire which qualified him to take the ACT.
“The Duke Program recognizes talent and there are some criteria that the students have to meet to even qualify to get to take the ACT test in the seventh grade,” she told the school board during its December meeting. “And you can imagine it’s really quite a challenge to take it in the seventh grade.”
This year the district has 74 students that have met the Duke Program criteria, including 43 at Northridge and 31 at Butterfield Trail Middle School. Robbins said that of those students, 46 were free or reduced lunch students.
“Sometimes that’s a little surprising to some people,” she said.
Twenty-four of those were at Northridge and 22 at Butterfield.
Robbins said qualifying 74 students doesn’t necessarily mean 74 will take the test this time.
“The parents actually have to register the students,” she said. “We give the parents a code if their child qualifies and the parents enter that code online which allows the student to take the test. So it’s up to the parents to register their student and to get them to the test. We really never know exactly how many take the test. We don’t get a lot of that data back. So we’re not sure how many actually go through with it, but that’s how many will qualify this coming year.”
There is also a charge for taking the test each time.
When asked by Van Buren School Board President Candice Settle what he did to prepare for the test, Nate said, “I studied some test booklets. I studied about 30 hours in total.”
Settle said, “Wow. That just shows your commitment. You did a great job.”
Superintendent Dr. Harold Jeffcoat asked Nate if he was nervous on the day of the test even though he had done all that preparation.
“Yes, I was a bit nervous,” he said. “I’d only taken practice tests before then and it was a bit nerve wracking to say the least.”
Board member Christy Mayo asked Nate if it was his goal to make a perfect score on the ACT before graduating high school, to which he replied, “A perfect score or near a perfect score. I’ll probably be taking it again sometime in ninth or 10th grade ... maybe in the eighth grade.”
While there is no limit to how many times a student can take the ACT, Lance Lanier, the board’s vice-president, asked Nate, “It wouldn’t be any fun taking it every Saturday, would it?”
“Yeah, probably not,” the seventh grader replied.
Nate will have to take the ACT at least one more time, when he’s a junior in high school, because that’s when the ACT is given to serve as the district’s state assessment test.
Robbins said colleges usually look at that score in a student’s career because it would be a more recent score, but they’ll still consider a student’s entire score history.
Nate said he has yet to decide what career path he plans on taking after graduating from high school. He said he is currently thinking about the fields of engineering, neuroscience or neurosurgery.
Jeffcoat said no matter which career field he settles on, school officials know he’ll end up being successful.
“We’re excited because we know you’re going to do great things in life,” Jeffcoat said. “And we’re happy because one day we’re going to see you doing those great things and we’re going to say, ‘That young man was a Van Buren Pointer.’”