At 15, Snohomish student is too young to drive, but not to attend the UW

SNOHOMISH — The last-day-of-school assembly was largely about transitions: from grade to grade and school to school.

Half the students would remain at Snohomish High and half would move on to the new Glacier Peak High School in the fall.

Everyone, it seemed, except Alexander Neale.

“There is one of us who will never graduate as a Panther or a Grizzly,” Kathy Moore, a Snohomish High choir and jazz band teacher, told the student body. “Today is very much his graduation day equivalent even though he is only a sophomore.”

Alexander will be a Husky next fall as a freshman at the University of Washington. At 15, he’s too young to drive and will need to catch the bus to Seattle.

He stood quietly beside his band teacher June 17 as the applause grew louder and louder. The entire student body rose to its feet in admiration, giving their classmate a long, sustained ovation.

Alexander will begin classes next fall as one of about 35 high school students in the University of Washington’s Academy of Young Scholars. He’ll be among three students from Snohomish County accepted into the highly competitive program. There have been 13 students from the county since the program was started in 2002.

Students apply to the UW Academy during their sophomore year, and if accepted, withdraw from high school at the end of 10th grade to enroll as freshmen at the UW. Selection is based on ACT scores, high school transcripts, required essays and teacher recommendations.

Academy students are directly admitted into the UW Honors Program, which offers a small liberal arts college arm for the major research university.

Another UW early entrance program accepts even younger students from seventh and eighth grades.

Alexander hasn’t picked a major but is interested in biology and chemistry and likes to write. Lately, he has been exploring his family’s genealogy, tracing roots to the late 1700s.

Alexander said he has always liked his teachers in the Snohomish district and will miss band, but when he weighed the pros and cons of finishing high school, the decision was fairly easy.

“There didn’t seem to be any cons except I had to leave my friends,” he said. “It’s a really great opportunity for the future.”

Snohomish school officials describe Alexander as quiet, polite and remarkably unpretentious.

Moore, for instance, knew he was a solid student, but had no idea just how academically gifted he is.

“Sometimes when students are so intelligent it’s an almost in-your-face thing to their peers, but he is opposite of that,” Moore said. “He is not someone to showcase his own accomplishments.”

His mother, Elizabeth Neale, said the decision to apply and enroll at the UW was up to Alexander.

“I think he’s ready to do the work at the university,” she said.

Another of the students from Snohomish County to attend the UW program is Kyle Easterly. Her mom, Erin Easterly, has watched her reach a similar conclusion that it’s time to move on.

Kyle, 15, recently finished her sophomore year at Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek and will attend the UW’s Academy for Young Scholars next fall.

“I think it is an extremely child-specific decision,” Erin Easterly said. “It’s not for everybody. I think for our child it was the only decision.”

The mom said she was impressed with the resources that will be available to her daughter and the efforts to make it a smooth transition for students.

“Everyone has an opinion on it,” she added. “Some of them think it’s a horrible thing to do to your child. But she is not high school. She never would have wanted to go to a prom. She wants to do Peace Corps and Doctors Without Borders.”

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or e-mail

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