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Northtown Academy junior Nathaniel Berele scored an impressive 35 out of 36 on the ACT. 00

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THIS MATH AND SCIENCE PHENOM KNOWS A THING OR TWO ABOUT ABSTRACT THEORIES, ACADEMIC SUCCESS, AND IF THE WHITE SOX ARE REALLY BETTER THAN THE CUBS.

(35/36) by Hilary Masell Oswald

Nathaniel Berele is what you’d call a whiz kid. The 17-yearold senior at Chicago International Northtown Academy did what most other college-bound teenagers only dream of: He earned a 35 (out of a possible 36) on the ACT, the nation’s most widely accepted college entrance exam. His score puts him in the top one percent of more than 1.3 million test-takers this year. “We took a lot of practice tests at school, and I scored pretty well on them,” Nathaniel says evenly. “I didn’t expect the ACT to be much harder than the practice tests, and when I finished, I felt like I had done just fine.” The ACT is a curriculum-based exam, not an aptitude test, which means its questions relate to what students have learned in four topical areas: English, reading—and

Photo by Caroline Voagen Nelson

Nathaniel’s favorites—math and science. The test also includes a free-response writing section. As you might suspect, Nathaniel’s whiz kid status does not begin or end with the ACT. He is one of those precious few students with an uncanny penchant for math and science. “I’m able to take one concept and predict the next 10 concepts you’re going to teach me,” he says, a hint of wonder in his voice. “I don’t know how, I just can.” The son of Miriam, a physician who retired to spend time with her family, and Allan, a math professor at Chicago’s DePaul University, Nathaniel grew up loving math and science. He enrolled at Northtown in ninth grade. He wishes the school offered calculus to freshmen, and he admits that he’d rather read a dry article about scientific theory than a novel.

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Last year, Nathaniel took the Advanced Placement Calculus BC exam, which tests students’ knowledge of two semesters’ worth of college-level single-variable calculus. “I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been,” Nathaniel says, “so I was surprised when I got a five [the highest possible score] on the exam.” The AP curriculum marked what is usually the most rigorous math curriculum available to high school students, so this year, Nathaniel made a deal with his math teacher: “I would take his final exam at the beginning of the quarter, and when I passed, he’d agree to let me work on any math I want in the back of the classroom.” Thanks to his dad’s stash of college math textbooks, Nathaniel is now busy studying applications of modern mathematics. “You know, graph theory,

“The best way to learn something is not to memorize a black-and-white fact. Argue for it; argue against it. Then you’re trying to understand it.” 08

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mathematics in nature, where different patterns appear in nature—that sort of thing,” he explains casually, as if esoteric math theories are as commonplace as Chicago pizzerias. But don’t peg Nathaniel as a guy with only one interest. When asked what he enjoys outside of school, Nathaniel doesn’t hesitate: “I love sports. Baseball is the best sport ever.” An outfielder on the Northtown baseball team and a member of the high school’s new flag football team, Nathaniel says he likes learning about the sports’ fundamental elements and dissecting highlights from college and professional games. “I’m very competitive,” he says sheepishly. “I like to do anything that involves winning.” Nathaniel’s baseball coach, Mark Stasiorowski, says Nathaniel’s passion for


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baseball is impressive. “He really wants to improve,” Mr. Stasiorowski says. “He’ll come up to me often and say, ‘Hey, Coach, I noticed that the other team’s catcher always drops the curve ball,’ or some other observation. He approaches the game with a very analytical mind and a lot of enthusiasm.” Whether he’s taking batting practice or delving into an obscure physics lesson, Nathaniel says one other quality defines his approach to learning: a love of debate. “The best way to learn something is not to memorize a black-and-white fact,” he explains. “Argue for it; argue against it. Then you’re trying to understand it.” (This theory applies to baseball as much as it applies to academic work. He’s a White Sox fan, and he’s ready to take on any Cubs fan in Chicago’s interminable debate over which team is really better).

Equipped with passion, intelligence and his excellent ACT score, Nathaniel has a shot at enrolling at nation’s top colleges and universities. He’s planning to apply to Hofstra University in New York, Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, DePaul University and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Nathaniel is also considering taking a year off and traveling to Israel, where he would study Hebrew and learn more about his faith. Nathaniel’s college counselor, Mario Ortiz, says Nathaniel has a lot of good opportunities ahead of him. “He has a tenacious mind, what you’d call a steel-trap mind,” Mr. Ortiz says. “He’s very sharp, very observant. He loves to debate ideas, which will serve him well in college.”

And what does the whiz kid have planned for his future? “I’ll take a good amount of courses in engineering and exercise science [in college],” he predicts. “Someday, I’d like to build a workout room where the energy created by people working out is converted to power that lights the room, runs the air conditioner and heater, that sort of thing.” Then, Nathaniel becomes introspective. He has a broader view of his future than simple plans about college and career imply. “In the next 20 years, I want to keep living life,” Nathaniel says. “I want to be happy with who I am. I want to be able to say, ‘Hey, you know what? I have done a good job.’” No doubt this whiz kid is off to a great start.

Photo by Caroline Voagen Nelson

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