Thursday, August 06, 2009

Finding a Genius

(Ed. note: This story appeared in Days with the Dads last December. Al Groncki, who was the contract supervisor at the McCoy Job Corps Center, read it and sent an e-mail saying the story essentially was correct, but some details were wrong. He was acquainted with the young man, and arranged his further education in Washington, DC. This version has the revisions Al suggested.)

I worked for nearly two years as public relations coordinator for the McCoy Job Corps Center located at Camp McCoy in western Wisconsin. In Job Corps, we had good kids, great kids, and some bad kids that may have been beyond redemption.

A few were brilliant. I carefully researched the background of one of these, and wrote a feature article about him that was printed in regional newspapers in Milwaukee and Minneapolis-St. Paul as well as local media, after they checked out the facts.

The 17-year-old Corpsman scored in the 99 percent level of the Stanford Achievement Tests. Math, science, language, history—name the subject, and he was outstanding. What made this amazing is that he never spent a single day in a school, nor was he home schooled in the usual sense.

Like many Job Corps enrollees (by the way, George Foreman was a Jobs Corps enrollee), our prodigy came from a troubled family. His parents both died when he was about 5 years old and he went to live with an aunt and uncle. A year or so later, his aunt died and he was left with the uncle. The uncle had been a teacher, but became a traveling salesman and sometime gambler. When the uncle went off to work or play, he dropped the boy off at a local library with some direction on what to read. However, the young man was pretty much on his own with freedom to explore all subject matter. He and the uncle discussed the day’s learning events most evenings.

For unknown reasons, the boy and his uncle had a falling out. The lad was abandoned in Milwaukee. By chance, he went to Catholic Charities (I phoned people there while verifying the story). They initially put him to work as a janitor. The people in charge soon realized he had extreme intelligence, but no job skills or formal education, and suggested he enroll in Job Corps.

This guy was no nerd. He was a handsome lad, who starred as a pitcher for his dormitory softball team and also played on a basketball team at the Center.

He completed the six-week drafting course, one of the toughest the McCoy Center offered, in two weeks. At the time I learned about him, he had been awarded a high school equivalency certificate, and finished so many Job Corps courses that the counselors had run out of places to send him. He was placed in a center in Washington, DC, where especially talented Corpsmen could attend George Washington University. He intended to study medicine. I have no idea where he is now, but will wager that "Dr." precedes his name.

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