Tuesday 27 January 2015

Welcome to nerd camp

Those who attend the Centre for Talented Youth are smarter than the average graduate

CTYstudents Josh McCabe, Grainne Hutchinson and Ciaran Hegarty
Colm O'Reilly, Director of CTY at DCU
Ciaran Hegarty , student at CTY at DCU
Caroline Crowther , student at CTY at DCU
Grainne Hutchinson , student at CTY at DCU
Fionn O'Maoileoin , student at CTY at DCU
Sorcha Fallon , student at CTY at DCU
Josh McCabe , student at CTY at DCU
Conor McDonnell ,Mayo , student at CTY at DCU

'It's very difficult to explain to people what we're doing here," admits 17-year-old Caroline Crowther. "I mean, without sounding horribly pretentious."

There are murmurs of agreement from the room. "Usually, I just tell my friends I'm at nerd camp," she grins. "And leave it at that."

Mind blowing science ....Fionn O'Maoileoin and Caroline Crowther, Students at CTY at DCU pix Ronan Lang/Feature File

"Nerd camp is good," deadpans Fionn O Maoileoin. "Because it's self-deprecating. People are less inclined to hate you when you're self-deprecating."

It's Wednesday morning at the Centre for Talented Youth (CTY), Ireland. Based on campus at Dublin City University, the school aims to help gifted youngsters fulfil their full academic and social potential by creating a stimulating environment in which they can interact with like-minded peers.

The CTY is a three-week residential summer camp. And most of these geeky, likeable, high-spirited, endlessly entertaining and – just occasionally – smart-alecky children have been enrolled here annually since they were in primary school.

Do clever kids get a hard time from their schoolmates, I ask?

"No," says Fionn. "But by virtue of the fact that people know you've been here, even if you never mention it to anyone, there is an assumption that you must be arrogant. That you must think you're better than everyone else."

"Which, of course, you don't," his classmate hastens to add.

"Although you probably are," another chips in, jokingly. There is more raucous laughter from the group.

So how were these Hibernian Doogie Howsers identified and recruited to a better life?

When she was just seven, Sorcha Fallon from Cork read 'The Hobbit' from start to finish. "I think my mother was surprised by that. She thought, 'what on earth is a seven-year-old doing reading 'The Hobbit'? She took me to an educational psychologist and I ended up here."

For the purposes of this conversation, Fionn's classmates are gathered around on high stools. But Fionn has elected to sit on the floor.

"I've always been bad with people," he admits. "I got into a lot of fights. I couldn't really talk to anyone properly. You know the kid in school everyone hates? That was me."

He is precocious, remarkably articulate and sitting with his legs folded on a stone-cold linoleum floor for no apparent reason. Yes, at a stretch, I can just about imagine this kid having trouble fitting in at a regular school.

For programme director Dr Colm O'Reilly, students with advanced abilities are just as deserving of special attention as those with learning difficulties.

"School curriculums are designed for those in the middle. But when the people at the bottom have difficulties, we have resources in place to help them. The kids at the top don't have that support," says O'Reilly.

"If someone is good at football, they join a football team. There's a support structure available to them there. If you're good at maths, what's your outlet? Who's going to help you follow your maths dream?"

Irish Independent

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