Jorja Elliott, a Pratt High School sophomore, has become the first PHS student accepted to the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science at Fort Hays State University.

Most high school sophomores don't think about saying goodbye to their family and heading off to college in the fall.

But for Pratt High School sophomore Jorja Elliott, she will be making that transition this summer and attending a very special educational academy at Fort Hays State University this fall.

Elliott will attend the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science at FHSU which is Kansas' premiere early-entry-to-college program for high school juniors and seniors. Their goal is to build the intellectual level of Kansas. This is a chance for these exceptional students to show off, said Jared Cook, KAMS coordinator of marketing and recruitment.

Elliott, who is the first student from PHS to be accepted into the program, was selected after going through a rigorous selection process, Cook said.

Part of that process included getting letters of recommendation from teachers at PHS including: gifted teacher Shari Norman, algebra 2 and pre-calculus teacher Derek Ligget who motivated Elliott to take math and run with it, biology teacher Joy Schmidt and advanced placement teacher Rose Beilman.

"They have all helped me," Elliott said.

Also to get accepted, students have to a minimum 23 on their SAT's, have completed algebra 2 and geometry, submit an essay but it is the teachers evaluations that are respected the most.

Many of the students accepted in the program have not been academically or emotionally challenged during high school like they will be at KAMS. They may have to ask for help or learn how to deal with a grade that is not an A and how to bounce back from a B or C. Students have to study in this program. Students need to learn it's OK to ask for help.

Elliott will be taking all accelerated junior and senior level courses at KAMS over the next two years. When she is finished, she will be at the college freshman level.

Her high school teachers have been very supportive and have helped her excel to meet her high school potential. Attending KAMS will allow her to challenge herself academically to help meet her full potential.

"I'm able to keep going and move forward," Elliott said.

Her education trumps all parts of her life, except her family, said Elliott who is an only child. Her parents, Verlon and Starla Elliott, have been very supportive without too much heartache but it is hard to leave. It's only two hours to the KAMS campus so the family will be able to visit from time to time. Her friends in Pratt have promised to keep in touch.

She hasn't gotten involved in athletics in high school but has always focused on academics.

"My education is the most important thing in my life," Elliott said. "I have very big goals. I love to challenge myself."

On campus, Elliott will live in a KAMS resident hall with other high school juniors and seniors in the program. The KAMS students will attend classes with the regular college student as they continue to complete their high school curriculum.

At the end of the KAMS program, Elliott will be able to graduate with her high school class at Pratt High School. She plans to continue her education in college and eventually wants to get a doctorate degree in psychiatry.

A part of her KAMS education will be covered financially. Her books, tuition and fees will be covered but she will have to pay for her housing. Scholarships are available to help with that expense, Cook said.

The KAMS program is cooperative so her KAMS classes will count towards her required courses to graduate from PHS. Upon graduating from KAMS, she will be considered a college freshman. The KAMS program is 68 credit hours. Once a student has fulfilled all their required high school and KAMS classes, they can take classes of their own choice. They can attend classes but can't participate in competitions such as choir or band. Regents schools will accept all 68 KAMS credits.

The KAMS program accepts 50 students every year with 40 of those coming from Kansas. Students from South Korea and China are also accepted into the program to increase diversity. A similar program is closing in Missouri and KAMS is absorbing those students. Students also come from Nebraska, Cook said.

Because the KAMS students are high school juniors and seniors on a college campus, there are very strict rules. They must maintain a 3.0 GPA. Their have grade checks every four weeks and classes are carefully monitored. If they fall behind, their schedules are examined and they have help available.

They have their own residence hall, Custer Hall, with a 10 p.m. curfew on weekdays and 10:30 p.m. curfew on weekends. Each student has key and swipe pad necessary to get in the building, onto the floor and finally into the room on male and female segregated floors. Besides all that, the campus police station is located in the basement of the building.

The have to sign in and out and have to identify anyone they are with and where they are going. They cannot participate in Greek fraternity or sorority.

On campus, they are considered regular students and most of the college students don't know they are in KAMS, Cook said.

Elliott's journey to KAMS actually started in the seventh grade when her teacher encouraged her to enter a science fair. She took second place then entered another science fair and took first which led her to a regional science fair at Fort Hays State University where she again took first as an eighth grader. She then took first at the state science fair in Wichita then won the KAMS state science fair. Then went to Washington D.C. for the national science fair. This qualified her for admission to the KAMS program.

Besides her education career, Elliott likes to go shopping, has played the piano for nine years, loves art and making pottery and is currently raising six bucket calves.

The KAMS program was established in 2006 and the first KAMS students enrolled in the fall of 2009.

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