Rising to the challenge

Published 12:30 am Friday, January 6, 2012

She takes classical mythology, chemistry, calculus.

But there’s more. She studies evolution with advanced topics and western European culture. She lives in a dorm and has a roommate. Every few weeks, she makes the trip home to Washington to spend the weekend with her family. It sounds like the life of any college girl. But Mollie Crawford is not a college girl — yet.

Mollie Crawford

Crawford is in her senior year of high school at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, which is the world’s first public, residential high school for juniors and seniors specializing in math, science and technology curriculum. The school serves the academically gifted, and as Crawford has recently been named a National Merit Scholar semi-finalist, she decidedly falls into that category.

The National Merit Scholar Corporation honors the nationwide, top 50,000 scorers on the standardized PSAT, then assigns automatic semi-finalist standing to the highest 16,000. From that number, each of 8,300 students will be awarded a $2,500 scholarship. There is the potential for other corporate scholarships, based on a variety of information: a student’s academic record, his or her school’s curricula and grading system, written recommendations, as well as the finalist’s written essay.

“It was out of the blue,” said Crawford, referring to the email alerting her to the semi-finalist status. While the email caused a bit of confusion, it was quickly clarified by some of Crawford’s classmates who also were selected. In an educational environment like NCSSM, the odds of there being more than one recipient could be considered a sure thing.

This is Crawford’s second year at NCSSM. She applied in the fall of her sophomore year at Washington High School, was accepted in the spring and the following fall left home to pursue her studies — two years earlier than most children leave home, a fact her mother, Kara Crawford, acknowledges was probably harder for her to accept than for her daughter.

“She loves it,” Kara Crawford said of her daughter’s school experience. “It’s a highly rigorous curriculum that she loves. She thrives in this environment.”

The passion Mollie Crawford feels for her studies is evident in the way she speaks about the classes she’s taken — classes that delve beyond the traditional book learning, to explore the real world effects of what they read on the pages. Her interests vary widely, as is illustrated by an inability to choose her single favorite class so far. It’s a tie between physics and creative writing.

But it’s language that currently captures her imagination. She knows French, is teaching herself Arabic and Italian in her spare time and plans to study Greek, Russian and Spanish before she embarks on a career as a translator.

“The Beaufort County Schools prepared her for this,” said Kara Crawford. “They bent over backwards to give her every academic thing they could.”

The result is a student who enjoys physics and learned to sew by taking a Victorian fashion class; a student who welcomes the challenge that her school offers on a daily basis and is nationally recognized for her scholastic achievement.

“I think it’s just kind of opened my eyes a little,” Mollie Crawford said of her high-school education. “I‘ve seen a lot more of the real world through others’ eyes. People have a lot of different stories here.”