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Boy genius set to become youngest-ever grad of Independent Study High School program
BY JOE DUGGAN Lincoln Journal Star

 
JOE DUGGAN/Lincoln Journal Star Brandenn Bremmer, 10, absorbed a stack of textbooks and class materials to complete his education in the Independent Study High School program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

NEAR VENANGO - Like any 10-year-old kid on the cusp of summer, Brandenn Bremmer can't wait to seize the days.

There are golf balls to hit.

There are fish to catch.

There's tents to pitch and campfires to build.

And there's robots to program and Venus fly traps to propagate and Beethoven piano concertos to polish.

But first, there's a high school diploma to pick up.

That's right, the intellectual wonder kid from southwest Nebraska is graduating from high school.

On June 15, the 10-year-old with brown curls and blue eyes will walk across a stage on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's East Campus to accept his diploma from the Independent Study High School.

The young scholar with an IQ more than twice his weight has blazed his own academic trail - with guidance from his home-schooling parents. Not since preschool has he participated in traditional education, but there's one high school tradition he'd really like to experience.

"I want to graduate with a cap and gown," he said at his family's rural Perkins County home.

So with a handshake and a repositioning of the tassel, Brandenn will set a record for the 72-year-old Independent Study program. And with a grade-point average around 3.7, nonetheless.

"This will be a first," said Jim Schiefelbein, the program's principal. "We've had young students before, but as a 10-year-old diploma student graduating, this will be a first."

Brandenn's life has been full of firsts. By pure happenstance, he demonstrated to his mother that he knew the alphabet when he was just 18 months old. At 2, he could read and memorize children's books. At 5, he took an IQ test and scored 178 - by comparison, 130 is considered "gifted" and 150 gets the "genius" label.

At first, Martin and Patti Bremmer didn't know where to turn with their profoundly gifted child. A local school teacher suggested they slow Brandenn down until he was 6 and could enroll in kindergarten. They soon realized home schooling was their only option.

In his 6th year - when most kids his age start kindergarten - Brandenn took his first correspondence high school classes through Independent Study.

Hyperintelligent kids process information differently, so the Bremmers were advised to let their son set his own agenda and go at his own pace. If Brandenn was really interested in a subject, he'd ravage it like a great white shark. He snarfed a semester's worth of Biology II in two weeks. He digested Agronomy I in one week.

"I always was a big science buff," Brandenn recalled.

Early on, with Patti's guidance, he'd spend a couple hours in the morning reading texts and doing assignments. He took breaks to watch "Bill Nye the Science Guy" or play Math Blaster on the computer. He also liked helping with the family's dog breeding business, riding his bike, playing piano, roughhousing with his dad or smacking a Top Flite or two at the local golf course.

Then, last November, he decided to finish high school in time to graduate in the spring. The Bremmers took stock of his credits and found he was a junior.

Brandenn buckled down.

"He completed two years of high school in seven months," Patti said. "It was six days a week, seven in the morning to seven at night."

Along the way, his parents hired tutors as needed. And he sat in on some classes at the University of Nebraska at Kearney just to see what college was like.

To help cover the roughly $17,000 cost for tuition, books, materials and tutors, Brandenn qualified for grants through the Davidson Young Scholars program. The founders of the educational software company selected him as one of 15 students nationwide to participate in their pilot program for profoundly gifted children.

"That's been a real blessing because it wouldn't have been possible to graduate this year without their help," his dad said.

But there's a lot more to high school than computers and books. Brandenn's never ridden a school bus, never been sent to the principal's office, never seen his name on an honor roll. Has he even had time for childhood?

Yes, he has, said Linda Silverman, a licensed psychologist who directs the Gifted Development Center in Denver. It's just that Brandenn's childhood defies a conventional definition.

"When we start to say he's lost his childhood or his parents are terrible for doing this to their child - however well-intentioned it may be - it is so far from the truth," Silverman said.

Exceptionally gifted kids have minds wired in ways researchers can hardly describe. Forcing them into traditional school settings leaves them bored, frustrated, anxious, even depressed.

"If we have this image of the sick, puny, gifted kids, it's because we're making them that way," she said. "They're not in the regular trajectory, if you try to make them have a 'normal' childhood, you destroy them."

Silverman has worked with gifted children for 40 years. She said Brandenn Bremmer is one of the nicest kids she's ever known, a credit to his upbringing.

"He's a very special young man," she said. "He's not a nerd. He's not a showoff. He's very socially poised and he treats people very well.

"He's in wonderful emotional shape."

So what's next for the wonder kid?

He and his parents will explore some options for college. He met and liked a music professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, which is significantly closer to Venango than Lincoln. But there are lots of factors to consider before a decision is made.

In the meantime, Martin and Brandenn are looking forward to watching some movies on the VCR this summer. And he's already tried out his graduation gift: a nylon camping tent.

Seems like the Venus fly traps are always hungry. The golf course beckons, as does the digital piano in the living room.

Just as they've done all along, Brandenn's parents will be there to support his explorations.

"Now it's really time to learn things about life," Martin said. "He can learn spiritually and emotionally who he wants to become, because that's what life is about."

Reach Joe Duggan at jduggan@journalstar.com or 473-7239. 


Copyright 2001, Lincoln Journal Star. All rights reserved.
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