Eighth grader enrolls in AB Calculus

Sarah Kimball

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Wearing a P.E. shirt with a last name different than his own carefully matched with plaid cargo shorts and bright yellow shoes, Matthew Russo is different than your average Redwood student.

In addition to his short stature and excess of energy, Russo is most commonly recognized for being the boy who sprints down the packed hallways, pushing students twice his size out of the way. But possibly the most surprising thing about Russo is the fact that though he is only a 12-year-old eighth grader at Del Mar Middle School, and is enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus AB at Redwood. Russo also took Precalculus last year at Redwood.

Russo has been taking high-level math classes since the third grade and has followed the path ever since.

In second grade, I wasn’t even in an advanced math class. Then, I got really good at math, so in third grade I did the challenge program and in fourth, I took an algebra course, and that just evolved into today,” Russo said.

Russo took a non-comprehensive Algebra 2 course when he was nine, an advanced topics in math course when he was in fifth grade, retook Algebra 2 when he was in sixth grade, and then qualified for

Russo works on his homework for his AP Calculus AB class.

Russo works on his homework for his AP Calculus AB class.

Precalculus as a seventh grader.

Russo takes his first five classes at Del Mar, and then takes AP Calculus AB during sixth period at Redwood.

Although Russo initially found taking classes with high schoolers intimidating, he quickly felt comfortable.

“The first few days in Precalculus were super intimidating, but the kids are really warm and welcoming, and I now have a squad,” Russo said.

According to Russo, his high school peers often question his young age.

“Typically the kids are very surprised. In a couple weeks we all settle in and I have my friends, so it is just like I am another kid in the class. I am more intimidated by them then they are by me,” Russo explained.

Senior Courtney Morris was in Russo’s Precalculus class last year. She enjoyed having him in the class, but was initially stunned by Russo’s age.

Throughout the year, Morris thought Russo added to the environment of the class with his energy and enthusiasm.

“I think he did adapt well to being in a high school classroom and communicating with the other students. The kids in high school tend to be more reserved and quieter in class, and don’t ask questions or aren’t as engaged,” Morris said. “[Russo] seemed to want to learn and wanted to know what was going on and talk to people.”

Math teacher Amy Benjamin taught Russo last year for Precalculus. She definitely saw the differences in behavior between Russo and her typical student, but thought that those differences created a more energetic class.

“He is very likable, and is not a shy, ‘I’m going to hide’ type of person. You could see the age difference sometimes in his comments, but I think everyone enjoyed having him in the class,” Benjamin said. “[Russo] is young. He has lots of energy, much more so than the others, but he brought that energy to the class.”

According to Russo, his friends at Del Mar are curious about his math skills.

“[My friends at Del Mar] think I am a total nerd. Only a couple of them know that I am taking AB. I always just say I am taking ‘math’ and then some of them inquire,” Russo said.

Russo sees a sharp contrast between his classes at Del Mar and his calculus class at Redwood.

“The classes at Redwood are no nonsense. In a couple of classes at Del Mar, it is like ‘place glue on a dot,’ and that is worth half your grade,” Russo said. “[At Redwood], it is only a little bit of homework and then you have the test, which are the only things that make up your grade.”

He also now understands that differences between a regular class and an Advanced Placement class, especially since calculus is his first college-level class.

“In Precalculus, it was just a bunch of different topics, but now in AP Calculus, it is all tied together so I find it easier in that way,” Russo said. “But [it] is a lot more labor intensive and you really have to think a lot in AB. It is really tough, but I enjoyed both classes tremendously.”

Besides taking calculus, Russo has also recently began studying for school math competitions. This year he will compete in the American Math Competition (AMC) 10, in hopes to qualify for the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME). He ultimately hopes to qualify for the United States of America Math Olympiad (USAMO).

The process starts with a test called the AMC that is offered at different levels depending on a student’s age. If the student does well in comparison to other kids, they are accepted into the AIME. Eventually if they take enough tests and do well enough, the student gets to participate in the USAMO.

“I have no hopes of getting any of [the problems] right,” Russo laughed.

Everyday after school, Russo studies for the competition. He has been preparing since the summer, and will continue doing so until the test in February, totaling eight months of practice. Russo even attended a summer camp that solely focused on the test.

As far as future math classes, if Russo chooses to attend Redwood, he will take BC Calculus as a freshman, and Topics in Modern Math as a sophomore.