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A public school for the brightest

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Ikya Kandula blended so well into a UNR class that when the professor asked a question that revealed her birth year, classmates gasped. "It was really awkward, but I made a lot of friends in that class," says the 16-year-old, who came to the United States from India at age 5 and radiates confidence.

Grouped by demonstrated ability, a 14-year-old may be studying precalculus with a 10-year-old and literature with a 17-year-old.

"We haven't put an upper limit on what they can learn," says cofounder Bob Davidson. He and his wife, Jan, earned their wealth through an educational software business. When they wanted to give back, they found gifted education to be a neglected niche. In 1999, they launched the Davidson Young Scholars Program, which has supported 1,900 gifted students with free consulting, educational advocacy, and networking with other gifted students. Countless families told the Davidsons they'd move anywhere for a school for profoundly gifted students, so they started the academy in 2006.

Students often find they have to stretch themselves for the first time, and it can be shocking to find others who outdo them in a subject. It's "a shaking up of that self-concept," Ms. Harsin says.

They don't do multiple choice until state standardized tests come around. And they don't do much out of textbooks. Their history teacher asks them to write papers based on primary sources. Darren Ripley, a hip math teacher, sends them to the whiteboard to build formulas. "Stack your information like it should be," he calls out. "Otherwise, what do we refer to those as? Mathematical jellyfish, just floating across the board."

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