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Pepperell Boy Excels in Math

14 Mar

Jimmie Harkins of Pepperell says his favorite subject is math.  Not a surprise for this Applewild School 8th grader who has been taking accelerated math at the school in Fitchburg since second grade. His math teacher and chair of the math department at Applewild, Janet Cowan, says, “Jimmie is a talented mathematician who has gained an exceptionally deep and broad exposure to math in his years here.” All 8th graders at the school take the American Math Competition (AMC-8) sponsored by the Math Association of America. The AMC-8 is a test of problem solving skills and Cowan says that her students enjoy the challenge of this contest. Many of them have had high scores over the years, but Jimmie has been the top AMC-8 scorer for many years. But this year was even better.

Jimmie was invited by the Fitchburg State University math department to take the AMC-10, the next level of the competition. Over 39,000 students worldwide took the AMC-10 in 2014. Jimmie did very well on the exam, better than 97.5% of the test takers. As a result, he has received an invitation to take the prestigious AIME, American Invitational Math Exam. The test comes in the middle of his spring break from school, but Jimmie says he doesn’t mind that at all. Head of Applewild School Christopher Williamson said, “I was introduced to the AIME when working with a senior in Ohio in 1989 who qualified for the exam. …I have the good fortune to have known two (qualifiers) — and Jimmie is only an eighth grader! I am so proud of him and of Janet Cowan, our Mathematics Department Chair, who has mentored Jimmie during his seven years at Applewild.”

Jim and Christine Harkins, Jimmie’s parents, are justifiably proud of his  accomplishments.”It (the AIME) is very prestigious and by invitation only. The test is the first qualifier used to select the ultimate 6-member International Math Olympiad team from the US. It is a 3-hour, 15 question test and approximately 2.5% of students who take the AMC10 qualify for it. Most students who take the test are high school students.”

Jimmie knows what he is facing in this challenge. According to the Mathematics Association of America, “AIME tests mathematical problem solving with arithmetic, algebra, counting, geometry, number theory, and probability and other secondary school math topics. Problems usually require either very creative use of secondary school curriculum, or an understanding of how different areas of math can be used together to investigate and solve a problem.” The test results will bring further challenge and recognition to the brightest math students in the United States. Of the 237 students from Massachusetts who took the AIME in 2013, the vast majority scored 7 or under out of 15. Only the very top scorers are invited to go to the next level, to qualify for the United States of America Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO).

Although he favors math in school, Jimmie also said that he enjoys Latin because he likes to hear words in different languages. To highlight his talents further, Jimmie recently placed second at the central and western Massachusetts regional competition of National History Day. He and his partner Jack Consolo of Leominster created a website entitled, “Rights and Responsibilities of Slaves and Citizens in Ancient Rome.” The boys move on to the state level competition in April at Stoneham High School.

Cowan concluded, “I am proud that (Jimmie) has been invited to take the AIME. I hope the experience will continue to fuel his enthusiasm for math as he moves on to secondary school.”  Jimmie will take the exam on March 19 at Fitchburg State University.

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