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Challenge drives young math whiz
Grade 9 student tackles math 536. James Lyng High School teacher coaches exceptional teenager in a class of his own
The Gazette
Grade 9 student Wilson Mei is tutored by teacher Anne Quesnel at James Lyng High School as he prepares to write the examination for the advanced Grade 11-level Math 536 course.

Reviewing his practice test on vectors, functions and absolute values, Wilson Mei cringed at the realization that he'd just lost a point for an addition error.

"It's a mistake," the Grade 9 student admitted to teacher Anne Quesnel, during a review session for the Mathematics 536 examination.

"On the day of the exam, be careful," replied Quesnel, a math teacher at James Lyng High School in St. Henri. "You'll lose one mark for nothing."

At 14, Wilson isn't just the youngest student at James Lyng taking the enriched Grade 11 math exam today - he's the only one. With no Math 536 class available at the school, Quesnel has been tutoring Wilson on her own time.

"We can't just let him be," she said. "We have to do everything we can to make him like coming to school."

Tall, with spiky hair, Wilson appears years older than the Grade 7 students who'll be writing their math exams in the same room today. In fact, he should be only a year ahead of them.

"He aced all the exams at the beginning; everything was so simple, so easy for him," said Quesnel, explaining the school's decision to have Wilson skip Grade 8.

The teen is an unlikely star at the working-class high school; James Lyng usually receives accolades for its basketball team, not its math students.

When he was in Grade 7 last year, Wilson took Quesnel's advanced Math 436 class with Grade 10 students. Although he struggled at first, Wilson ended up helping out his classmates - he went from a 76 in his first term to a 94 on the provincial exam.

"I didn't believe myself (that) I could do it," he recalled.

"You were fine," Quesnel said. "You just panic a bit. It just proves you don't quit. You stick to your guns."

Wilson, whose father is a mathematics professor at Concordia University, displayed grit while participating in a national math exam this year. He elected to take the Grade 11 test - not the level for students his age.

"If the questions are easy, it's kind of boring," he said. "I don't care if I do good, I just like the challenge."

He got a challenge learning Math 536 without a class. For two years, Lyng hasn't offered the course formally, due to a lack of demand at the school of 240.

Instead, Wilson learns from Quesnel in an empty classroom and studies his textbook.

He could have gone to another school, but Wilson said he likes Lyng, which is near his home.

However, today's exam is probably the last time he'll do math at Lyng. The school doesn't offer the enriched science classes that Wilson needs to take in the fall.

To Quesnel's chagrin, her student, who moved to Montreal from Edmonton in Grade 7, will probably have to switch schools.

"He's a wonderful kid, he's an asset for the classroom," Quesnel said."We're going to miss you, Wilson, if you go."

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