Ray Huard…. Sixteen-year-old Jeyla Aranjo calls herself “a science nerd.”
Her guidance counselor at Vista High School, Patti Noeske, calls her “a math whiz kid” and a “unique and unusual young lady.”
One of Jeyla’s teachers, Craig Gastauer, struggled to find a way to describe her.
“Exceptional doesn’t even come close, she’s so far above what a normal student would bring to the classroom,” said Gastauer, who teaches biology at Vista High School.
“I’ve been trying to write her a letter of recommendation. It’s the hardest one I’ve ever had to write because I don’t know if I can do her justice,” Gastauer said. “She is by far the most outstanding student I’ve had a chance to work with.”
Principal Anthony Barela said, “Jeyla is a gifted young lady with an incredible drive.”
In early October, Jeyla learned that she is a semi-finalist for a National Merit Scholarship – one of 16,000 chosen from among 1.5 million students nationally who took the Preliminary SAT college entrance exam in October 2014, according to the National Merit Scholarship Program website (http://bit.ly/1FWDrVe).
That will be narrowed to 15,000 finalists in February 2016, with the winning 7,400 merit scholars announced in March 2016.
Speaking with the poise of someone twice her age, Jeyla is confident about her prospects.
“I feel like I should get it,” Jeyla said. Hers is a confidence born of experience.
She was one question away from getting a perfect score on the national test.
She was so far ahead in her classes at Vista Magnet Middle School that she skipped eighth grade and went straight into high school.
Starting in middle school, she took so many online math classes that by the end of her freshman year, she had run through every advanced math class Vista High School had to offer.
As outlined by Noeske in a letter of recommendation, Jeyla again turned to the Internet, completing online courses in calculus and statistics through Florida Virtual School and linear algebra and multivariable calculus through John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.
She also took a course in differential equations at Palomar College and takes classes at the Avid Academy for Gifted Youth in Irvine.
“She has that motivation to learn out of her own curiosity,” Noeske said. “There isn’t an opportunity that Jeyla hasn’t taken advantage of in her passion area.” That passion area is math, and it’s a passion she developed on her own.
“My mom’s terrible at math, terrible,” Jeyla said.
Her father didn’t have any formal math training, but Jeyla said he’s pretty good at figuring things out.
Jeyla said she’s drawn to math because “it has answers.” “It’s very straight forward and it’s challenging,” Jeyla said. “It’s really fundamental. I’m a very mathematical person and I want to know why things work.”
She recently took her love off math beyond the classroom by organizing and directing a weekend math tournament at the high school for students in third through seventh grade.
Although math is tops with Jeyla, she’s also developed a keen interest in the environment.
Last year, she and a friend put on an environmental film festival during Earth Week.
“It was really cool,” Jeyla said. “I think we actually made a difference.”
By the end of the festival, people were being more conscientious about picking up their trash, she said.
Two years ago, Jeyla applied her concern for the environment to her own life and became a vegan.
“Animal farming is the leading cause of global warming,” she said. Her mother is a vegan too, but her father follows a less strict diet as a vegetarian, Jeyla said. Potatoes, except for French fries, are her favorite food, Jeyla said. “Almost anything, if it has potatoes in it, it’s got to be good,” Jeyla said.
She plays classical music on the piano, favoring Bach, listens to National Public Radio and prefers 1960’s and 1970’s rock to more recent bands.
“I’m not very familiar with the modern groups,” Jeyla said.
Her favorite author is Charles Dickens and her favorite book is “Crime and Punishment.”
She is president of the school honors math club and a school environment club.
In her freshman and sophomore years, she played on the school water polo team, but gave that up because it conflicted with her studies.
“I exercise everyday but I get to choose when,” Jeyla said. “I was running for a while but I fractured my foot so I’m taking it easy on that.”
Outside of school, Jeyla has set up a website, (http://theonlinecounselor.weebly.com/), where she offers tips to parents on how to get their children ready for college, starting in the fifth grade.
She also volunteers for things like beach cleanups and a soccer club for athletes with physical or mental handicaps and works part-time as an intern at Palomar Technologies.
Of late, Jeyla has expanded her interests to biology and physics and is considering a career in something like particle physics. “It doesn’t get more fundamental than that,” Jeyla said.
She’s hoping to get into Stanford University and major in engineering and physics.
Jeyla had the chance to skip a grade again this year and start college early, but she decided she wanted to finish her senior year at Vista High School.
“I thought it would really be frustrating to be in college at 15 or 16,” Jeyla said. “I’m really glad I stayed.”