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A public school for the brightest

A Nevada public academy is making new inroads on working with gifted students and getting the most out of them.

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For fun, they read books on cognitive science, write novels inspired by Edgar Allen Poe, and study nuclear chemistry. They represent the top 10th of the top 1 percent on various measures of intelligence. But at The Davidson Academy they're normal kids who let off steam in karaoke club and dress up for a "Night in Venice" spring formal.

"You can basically be who you are and talk like you want to, and everybody can understand you," says Sarah MacHarg, a petite 11-year-old who is one of 123 students at this special public school.

It's a living laboratory for educating the profoundly gifted – a place where teachers constantly study the students to keep pace with their academic and emotional growth spurts; a place that raises questions about how much more talent could be harnessed if some of its approaches were incorporated more broadly in education.

No matter how smart, children need support to reach their potential, says director Colleen Harsin. "Creativity and highly academic thinking really do tend to develop and peak fairly early," she says, which means a "good start" is important.

Davidson combines middle school, high school, and college credits through courses at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), where the school is based.

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