January 20, 2000
University Gazette


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Young Scholars Find Challenges, Acceptance at Extension School

By Louise Miller
Special to the Gazette

Extension School students David Colt and Amos Lichtman strolled into Sever Hall on their way to their College Algebra class. A little early, they plunked themselves down on the wooden benches in the hallway to compare their answers to the homework assignment. Wearing jeans, running shoes, and T-shirts, they were dressed like most other Extension students. So why did their fellow students momentarily stop what they were doing and glance at David and Amos?

Probably because they are not your average college students. David Colt is 13 and Amos Lichtman is 11.

David Colt (left), 13, and Amos Lichtman, 11, compare notes during an algebra class at the Extension School. Photo by Jon Chase
They are among the youngest students ever to attend the Extension School, according to the School’s communications office. Both boys are home-schooled, and the fall semester was their first at Harvard. Most students David’s and Amos’ ages are in grade 8 and 6, respectively. With 32 being the average age of Extension School students, some of David and Amos’ classmates are old enough to be their parents.

David is from Cambridge. His father owns Internet-based businesses and his mother is a social worker. Amos’ father is a doctor, and his mother is a stay-at-home parent who has home-schooled her son all his life. Sheila Lichtman says Amos "has always had an aptitude." According to his mother, Amos taught himself to read before he was 4, has enjoyed math since he was very young, and "has always picked things up quickly."

So how did her son wind up traveling from his home in Newton to Harvard? "I figured it would be good for him to stretch himself," Sheila Lichtman said. "If it works for him, I am happy. I want him to be where he is learning new stuff, and he feels comfortable. I think if he was in public school, he would be bored."

Both boys say they are certainly not bored. David, who has classes four nights a week, is taking Spanish and Shakespeare: The Early Plays in addition to College Algebra. Amos is taking College Algebra, which meets two nights a week.

Do they have to study much? "Yes," replied David. "A lot." Amos is more nonchalant. "I study a bit," he said.

Amos’ mother believes there is nothing wrong with mixing young and old together in a classroom if the desire and ability to do the work are there. And it seems that David and Amos’ teacher and fellow students agree.

"It’s been a privilege having them in class," said algebra instructor Andy Engelward, though he admits to doing a doubletake when he saw Amos on the first night of class.

"It was a very surprising moment, but it was also refreshing, because one of the things that having a younger student in class does is make you see things through the eyes of someone who is perhaps seeing them for the first time," Engleward said. "I think it’s a really nice balance to have younger students in class who have a refreshing point of view, and it is certainly the case of David and Amos. They do bring things to class that other people certainly can’t. They try experimenting with things through a much more intuitive approach. They are both doing great. They’ve got a lot of insight, and both work hard."

Algebra student Alex Tambascio also praises his younger classmates. "They are bright, stay up with the class, and are ahead of other students in the class," he said. "They are doing the same thing everyone else is doing, and they fit in fine. They are not treated any differently, are very mature, and take it very seriously."

Student Lonnie Di Nello echoed Tambascio’s sentiments. "I think it's great. It's cool – they are really good kids. They do well, and they understand." Di Nello said he has a little brother about the same age, but "couldn’t imagine him in this environment."

David and Amos said they feel right at home, however. "We fit in well" is the way David puts it.

So what do they do when they are not studying? "I play hockey and soccer," David replied, while Amos echoed "I play baseball, soccer, and basketball."

What do they want to be when they grow up? When asked, both looked blankly at each other and were speechless. One thing they do know, however, is what classes they will be taking next semester. David will be enrolled in Spanish, computer science, expository writing, and precalculus, while Amos will be taking Latin and precalculus.

So why Harvard? Smiling, they said in unison, "It’s the best!"

David Colt (left), 13, gets a critique of a literary paper from classmate Alex Tambascio, Harvard LL.B. '00, while waiting for their algebra course to begin at the Extension School. Photo by Jon Chase
Louise Miller is a journalism student at the Extension School.


Copyright 1999 President and Fellows of Harvard College