March 01, 2001 2 min read

Cream of the Crop: At the Illinois Math and Science Academy, a public high school 35 miles west of Chicago, several hundred handpicked students receive “a private-school-quality public education,” writes Meredith Maran in “A Perfect High” in the online magazine Salon. Established by the Illinois General Assembly in 1985 to educate top-rung students in math, science, and technology, IMSA, Maran reports, spends $20,000 per year to educate each student, more than twice what most American public high schools pay.

“The student population and the classes are small, gender-balanced, and ethnically diverse,” writes Maran, author of Class Dismissed. “The teachers are handpicked, well-paid, and methodically evaluated; testing is frequent and rigorous"; and 99 percent of graduates go on to college, she adds. In short, it’s a fabulous school, but Maran asks the inevitable question: Is it fair?

“Whether one sees IMSA as admirable or elitist, or both, the contrast between IMSA and the typical high school raises disturbing questions. Is it only our ‘gifted’ children who deserve an IMSA- quality education? If tomorrow’s nuclear physicists are worth $20,000 a year to us, how much should we spend on tomorrow’s dancers, or teachers, or bus drivers?”

Maran concludes that a school like IMSA “proves that we know how to educate our children and educate them well. We know how much it costs, and when we decide it’s worth paying for, we know how to find the money.”

Eager Beavers: New York, the city of ambition, has always been full of hard-working young people striving to get ahead in their chosen careers. Now, reports Deborah Netburn in the January 29 edition of the New York Observer, affluent teens have jumped on the bandwagon.

“Gone are the days when working as a lifeguard or a baby sitter was considered a legitimate, even productive, way to spend a summer,” Netburn writes. No, these days private school teens have bigger fish to fry.

A 15-year-old sophomore at the Collegiate School says he plans to get a job at Bear Stearns, the investment banking firm, this summer to “get a leg up” in the business and to make some money. Marissa Petrou, 16, spent last summer working in Washington, D.C., as an intern at ISD/Shaw, a financial consulting company. Her current after-school internship is assisting a researcher at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Jennifer Kallus, a senior at Stuyvesant High School, hopes to get an internship at the Museum of Modern Art this spring. Her résumé, Netburn writes, “boasts drawing classes at the Met, an Israel Scouts Summer Teen Program, attendance at the New York State Summer School for the Arts, a semester spent in Germany, and several art and writing awards.”

Such overachieving students, Netburn believes, are “products of the entrepreneurial ‘90s, when even socialites had cubicles somewhere.” But is this healthy? David Borus, dean of admissions at Vassar College, says, “I’m of the opinion that any real-world work experience that a student can get along the way is all for the good.”

Still, child psychologist Steve Yarris counters, “Adolescence is a time of finding yourself, getting independence, and establishing a social self,” all of which “can be precluded by jumping into work.”

—David Hill