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By SARAH BEACH
The News-Democrat Intern
Few students from this Carroll County get to attend “The No. 1 high school in the nation,” but Linda Aguazul, a senior this year at The Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science, was born and raised here.
Gatton Academy was recently named the top high school in the United States by Newsweek magazine, according to the Newsweek website. Gatton is located on the campus of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky.
Aguazul attended Kathryn Winn Primary, Cartmell Elementary, Carroll County Middle School and Carroll County High School before she applied to attend Gatton as a sophomore.
Gatton has allowed her to live like a college student, even though she is only a senior in high school.
At Gatton, she is taking college-level classes in math and science, as well as classes to fulfill high school English and history requirements.
“They try to expose you to as much science and math as they possibly can,” Aguazul said.
She has taken or will take up to calculus 4, physics, biology, chemistry and others, as well as participate in research opportunities.
One of these research opportunities came in the form of a 10-week trip to Taiwan, which she returned from on July 31.
There she was busy studying chemical engineering projects focused on “green” chemistry.
The trip included six students from WKU, two of whom were Gatton students.
The students were given projects and allowed to work independently, with a graduate student supervising them. A professor met with them periodically and discussed their findings, but they were primarily left to solve problems for themselves, Aguazul said.
Their project involved bamboo husks, which they used to make particles to filter out heavy metals from water.
The students lived in apartments and went in every morning to conduct their experiments. “It was basically just like a full-time job, 9 to 5,” Aguazul said.
She said that this experience allowed her to do independent work. She planned her own schedule and used her own initiative.
There was still time for fun, however.
“Every Sunday we had American night, where we would cook food at home,” Aguazul said.
The rest of the time the group ate Thai food, which she enjoyed, she said.
“Probably one of the most exciting parts was the food,” Aguazul said. She liked Asian cuisine before she went and ate it for most of the trip.
The group also went on weekend trips, including a hike up a mountain at sunrise, a trip to the beach in the southern part of Taiwan and a trip to Taipei 101, the second-tallest building in the world.
Now that she is back in the United States, Aguazul is preparing to return to Gatton for her senior year.
She said she does miss her parents while away at school, but her parents attended a boarding school when they were younger and understand. She said her parents encourage her to apply for as many programs and opportunities as she can.
She still visits home every month because Gatton has mandatory closed weekends once a month.
On the other weekends, she and her friends watch movies or just hang out and go out to eat, then do their homework on Sundays.
Aguazul said that while there is a significant amount of homework, it is not overwhelming.
“It’s just managing your time, because you can get it all finished, … but you can also procrastinate a lot,” Aguazul said. “So it just depends on which one you want to do.”
Some of her classes are composed strictly of Academy students. The rest are ordinary college classes, and most Academy students do not like to say that they are Gatton students. Instead, they try to blend in with the other students at WKU.
While they are encouraged to be as much like college students as possible, there are still more rules than a traditional college student would have to follow.
Most of these are simply meant to keep the students safe, such as restrictions from entering another college student’s vehicle or residence, and a 10:30 p.m. curfew, Aguazul said.
There also is an attendance policy that prohibits the students from missing more than eight classes in a year.
However Aguazul does not think that the rules are unreasonable. “It’s really nice, you feel like you have a lot of freedom,” she said.
“Even though we don’t have cars, we can go basically wherever we want,” she said. “It just makes you feel kind of like an adult.”
When she started at Gatton she wanted to be a doctor, but is now leaning more towards bio-medical engineering.
She will soon begin applying to colleges. Her advisors at Gatton have suggested that she apply to nine different schools: three ‘reach’ schools, three mid-schools and three safe schools.
Accordingly, Aguazul will apply to many schools including Rice, Duke, University of Texas, Georgia Tech and Purdue.
She is no stranger to applying for things, as she described Gatton’s application as a “mini college application.”
She was required to send in her ACT scores, write four essays and complete an interview.
“I think they just want someone who is well-rounded,” she said, “… who is really good in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) but can express themselves through the essays really well. Because it doesn’t matter what you have … on the ACT if you can’t express yourself really well in those four essays, and that’s why they have four different essays.”
She said she was nervous about the interview, but the interviewers helped to make her feel relaxed.
While at CCHS, Aguazul participated in marching band and played tennis and basketball. She also maintained a 4.0 GPA and took AP Physics and AP World Civilization as a sophomore.
“I never considered myself to be super involved,” Aguazul said, “… It was more like, that was who I was.”
At the end of her freshman year she heard about Gatton from another student and did some research. Her reaction to what she found was, “that sounds really amazing, that’s exactly what I want,” she said.
She then talked to Guidance Counselor Sheree Richter who helped her apply. Another student, Luke Yap, had just been accepted and also helped her to apply.
She said that Richter, math teacher Becky Woods and her parents were all “very supportive” of her decision to go and helped her to get everything done.
She has learned that “it’s really easy to just kind of be really quiet, and not say much, and just kind of ‘go with the flow’,” Aguazul said, “but it’s a lot more fun and you get a lot more out of things if you speak up and you take initiative and you actually ask questions and are not afraid to mess up or do something wrong. You just kind of learn from it, because you do learn a lot more with just making mistakes and having to start over.
“Even if you don’t have confidence, just pretend like you do, and people will start believing you.”