Science

Norton middle-schooler well on the way to Harvard degree

Posted November 21

— At 13, middle school student Chris Strynar is building his own computer and can solve a Rubik's Cube puzzle in a matter of seconds.

But don't think of him as nerdy.

Strynar, an eighth-grader at Norton Middle School, takes advanced math courses at Harvard University. But in most ways, he's a typical young teen who has played Pop Warner football and the piano and likes to invite friends over to bounce on his family's trampoline. "Chris is a regular kid with extraordinary talent," Norton Middle School Principal Vincent Hayward. Hayward said, adding he's particularly impressed with Chris's thirst for knowledge. "You have people who are very talented, and people who are very motivated. Chris is both."

Chris has already earned 28 credits toward a degree at Harvard, and at his current pace should earn a college degree while he's still a junior in high school. And last month, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth honored Chris and about 1,000 other students from across the globe as being among the brightest middle school students in the world.

That comes as no surprise to Chris' parents. "Chris just really likes math," said his father, Christopher, who began to notice his son's aptitude for numbers when he was still in kindergarten. "We used to play little math games with him, and noticed he had some ability," he said. "One day when we all got in the car for a short trip, he blurted out 'teach me multiplication.'"

Shocked, his dad and mother Michelle tried to explain about the difficulty in relating multiplication tables, but eventually agreed to help. By the end of the ride, his father said, Chris was able to do multiplication problems easily.

Both parents say they can't begin to keep up with their son's mathematical abilities.

Easygoing and humble to a fault, Chris feigns surprise. "I don't know why they can't," he said.

Numbers are just what he does. Trigonometry and calculus seem as natural to him as an ice cream soda to most 13-year-olds.

Chris's talent for numbers and insatiable appetite for knowledge has proven to be a challenge for the schools he attends. In fifth grade, he studied algebra while other kids were working on multiplication. He also began attending advanced math courses at Bristol Community College.

Chris was 10, about half the age of the other college students. "I was going to class with people who were 20, but I wasn't treated any differently," he said.

That is, he wasn't treated differently except by two young women in the class. They asked Chris to help them with their math problems.

After briefly attending private school, Chris transferred to Norton Middle School, where the administration and faculty agreed to be flexible so that the Stryars' son could leave school twice a week to attend college classes.

Chris's dad says the Norton schools have gone out of their way to make opportunities available to his son. "They've done everything possible to accommodate us," he said.

Chris takes his Harvard advanced calculus class online but attends physics at nearby Wheaton College. Based on his progress to date, he should be able to complete his college degree requirements by the time he's 16, his father said.

While his progress has been spectacular, Chris doesn't seem particularly impressed with himself. If he has a weakness in his studies, he says, it would be in subjects like language and social studies — neither of which involve a lot of math.

Along the way, Chris and his family have had to face occasional skepticism from schools and colleges as to whether a 13-year-old can handle the demands of higher education and interacting with older students. So far, Chris has proven them all wrong. "Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something," he said.

Wisdom from a very smart 13-year-old.

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