By Suzanne Berkovitz, 17, Beverly Hills HS
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While handing out the results of an English test this year, my teacher announced, "The highest grade goes to Julia."

I could hear people mutter, "She’s so smart," and "She ruined the curve, as usual!"

Julia Fang has been one of my closest friends since the eighth grade, but I never saw her as younger until that day. Then it hit me that we had never really discussed what it was like for her to skip the seventh grade, so I became curious …

I remembered meeting Julia in my middle school math classes. When she was in the fifth grade, she took sixth grade math with us. Then, in eighth grade, she suddenly appeared in all my classes, having skipped the seventh grade.

What is she doing here, I wondered then. I figured that with strict Asian parents who set high academic standards, they were the ones pushing her.

"It was more my idea than it was my parents’," she said. "They had wanted me to skip a grade before, because they felt that it was a testament to my ability to perform above my peers."

Most people who skip a grade do so primarily for academic reasons. Julia, though, said she skipped because she not only felt ahead of her class academically but she also felt more mature. She was "not quite fitting in, not laughing at the same jokes, and not talking about the same subjects. [The sixth graders] mocked me for being smart with careless off-handed remarks about my academic records. It isolated me from my classmates."

Fitting in after skipping a grade

As one can imagine, Julia faced many hurdles skipping seventh grade. The first came from the administrators at Horace Mann, our middle school.

"They felt that I was not socially prepared for skipping a grade (as the possibility of being unable to make new friends was a constant threat) and that my academics, however well-qualified I was, would suffer," Julia said in her polished, older-sounding way.

However, because Julia’s grades were so high, her teachers felt she was ready for the challenge, and her parents supported her choice. Therefore, the school had to allow Julia to skip.

The administrators proved to be wrong about the academics. Julia has one of the top GPAs in a group of people a year older than her.

As an eighth grader, Julia made friends quickly. "I was already familiar with a group of students via my math class, and it was easy to extend beyond that circle once I saw everyone on a regular basis."
She began to eat lunch with us and spend time with us outside of school. Before, we called her for help on our math homework, and now we called her to go shopping.

One of these seniors is only 16, while the others are 17 or 18. Can you guess who? (answer at bottom)
Photo by random passerby at The Grove

When I asked Julia if she ever felt socially behind, she said no.

"I believed that I was already more mature than those of my grade, thus on the same level as the eighth grade that I entered," she said.

But I saw Julia differently than she viewed herself when we were in eighth grade. I saw her struggle, especially in the first year after she skipped. Often we would talk about a particular subject that we were comfortable with, like dating, but it would make Julia uneasy.

"Dating is more of a cultural problem, as I am Chinese, and I was restricted [from] any sort of romantic life whatsoever. But I can’t disagree that I had my problems," she said.

But Julia ended up doing a great job adapting, since now she often seems more mature than us. When her friends argue, Julia is always the rational one. When we get upset over little things, Julia looks up at us from her small five-foot frame and tells us, "You guys are so childish!"

Now a senior, Julia has to face the advantages and disadvantages of being one of the youngest graduates in her class. Although she feels she has an extra year to accomplish things, she also faces more limitations.

"Being a senior in high school at the age of 16 [means I can’t] drive, see rated-R movies, etc. When I graduate from high school, I will be 17, not 18, and however close to 18 I may be, one digit’s change prevents me from voting, not being a minor, etc.," Julia said. "Perhaps I am jealous of the status symbol to teenagers that is being 18—older, independent and free."

When my friends want to see an R-rated movie, we forget that Julia usually can’t get in, and so we have to worry about either passing up the movie or sneaking Julia in somehow.

Looking back, Julia said that the advantages of skipping a grade were that she has another year to pursue a career and she has had more stimulating schoolwork.

She felt that the hardest thing was "dealing with my former peers. They reacted to my skipping a grade with a bitter sort of praise."

I remember several incidents, mostly at the beginning of the year, when her former classmates would tease her. We would walk through the halls and pass by an old friend of hers. Julia would say "hello," and the other kid would say something like, "How’s the eighth grade," or "You abandoned us for the older kids ’cause you were so smart. I guess we’re not good enough for you, huh?" with a mean smirk on his face and a tone of sarcasm in his voice.

After a few months, Julia built up a response that she would robotically repeat for every comment she got, "The eighth grade is fine. Have a nice day."

"But I don’t regret skipping a grade," Julia said. "Sometimes growing up quickly is the only thing you can do if you’re in a rush to accomplish a goal in life."

As far as recommending the option to other kids, Julia feels that self-confidence should be the key factor in their decision.

"If you are not confident in your own ability, no one else will be," she said.

Answer: The youngest is the student seated on the left, 16-year-old Julia Fang. The other students from left: Zachary Gale, 18; Adam Dayan, 17; Suzanne Berkovitz, 17; Julia Torgovitskaya, 17; Benjamin Chapman, 17.