Eighth grader finds his niche attending college

This is the third in a four-part series on how the opportunity to choose another school benefited the academic health of four Idaho families. Published Wednesday: Two generations of homeschooling family continue the legacy. Published Sunday: Cheyenne Anderson nearly dropped out but she found a charter school willing to help. Published Monday: Kuna’s dual language program helps students stay connected with Colombian family.


Analytical, independent and immensely curious, eighth grader Jonah Layton has all the makings of an engineer or scientist.

But preparing to achieve his dream job has required Jonah’s family to navigate a range of school choice options: virtual classes, homeschooling, a charter school, and now attending a pre-algebra class at the College of Western Idaho.

Eighth grader Jonah Layton takes classes at the College of Western Idaho.

It’s not uncommon for a high school student to take an online college course, but a 13-year-old attending college in person is rare. His classmates, though, don’t really notice his age because he’s tall and fits in.

“They’re fine. Everyone’s absorbed in their work, as they should be — it’s college!” Jonah said.

Jonah’s intense curiosity started young. At the age 3, “he would pick up every book and read it — book after book after book,” recalled Jonah’s mom, Sandi.

In the beginning, his parents opted to homeschool Jonah, who has an anxiety disorder and autism, like they did with several of his siblings. But in January, he completed for the first time in his life a full semester at a brick-and-mortar school, Gem Prep in Nampa.

Jonah learns differently than his peers. At a traditional school, Sandi said, teachers won’t allow students to progress at different speeds. The whole class masters a lesson or unit, and then advances together.

“For him, that (structure) does not work, because he loves to learn. He looks up everything and he wants to learn more,” Sandi said.

Having options has allowed Jonah to reach his potential. “I believe Gem Prep is the right choice because they give the option of letting your child be advanced, and they support that with their program,” Sandi said.

Jonah says his learning style is like a sponge. “I just kind of absorb everything that’s given to me,” although everything doesn’t stick, he admitted, so that’s when he takes copious notes.

Having above-average intelligence along with frequent feelings of worry and fear has its downside.

“He needs to learn more or otherwise he gets anxiety,” she said.

And that creates a barrier with new people, but once he’s comfortable, he’s talkative, especially about his favorite subject, math.

“It’s black and white. It’s more of this plus this equals this, and there’s no different possible answer, unless it’s like a square root of a negative or positive. That does not confuse me,” Jonah said.

Even for a high school that wants 100% of its graduates to earn dual college credits, Jonah’s situation at Gem Prep is unusual.

Jonah’s test scores proved his academic capability. So Trudi Beckett, the charter’s college and career counselor, collaborated with his parents and advisors — weighing safety concerns and his maturity — and concluded he was ready for college.

Jonah Layton takes a math exam during his college class.

They opted for in-person so Jonah can continue improving his social skills.

“I think it’s important when choosing a school that you learn what is the best way for them to learn, and then figure out what program works for your child,” Sandi explained.

Jonah’s role models are teachers, but he admires his dad’s charisma, because he’s determined to be more outgoing when he finishes high school.

To learn more about school choice options, visit the state’s charter school website here. To learn more about the types of schools available to Idaho families, visit EdNews here.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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