Sky’s the limit for high-achieving teen

While many high school students spend their four years partying, finding their identity and dealing with typical teen issues, Tesla Birnbaum, a senior at Arbor View High School, is working to make a difference.

After filling out mounds of paperwork and composing several essays, Birnbaum achieved her goal: She received a $6,000 grant for her school’s Computers and Robotics Club from NASA. With this money, students built a robot that went to a regional competition.

Most of the club’s members are boys, but an increasing amount of girls have been participating.

Birnbaum, 17, said there are many interesting aspects of being a member of the club.

"You never know what may catch your attention. I support science and math. It makes others think more critical on the work of technology," she said.

Birnbaum also has excelled in other areas.

As a member of the National Honor Society, she helped raise money for homeless women and children. This year, she’s the valedictorian of the first graduating class of Arbor View with an overall grade-point average of 4.7.

Some might wonder how Birnbaum survived all that hard work. She was home-schooled through her seventh-grade year, during which she taught herself algebra. She started attending Shadow Ridge High School when she was 13, skipping eighth grade.

At Shadow Ridge, Birnbaum was overwhelmed by the number of advanced placement and honors classes she took.

"After I took AP History in 10th grade, I was way overstressed," she said. "I seriously went to the wrong classroom one day, without realizing it."

Birnbaum transferred to Arbor View at the beginning of her junior year. That year, her parents became concerned with her health, which led them to limit the number of advanced placement classes she could take.

"I wanted her to relax and enjoy the high school experience," said her mother, Laura. "I’m still very proud of her accomplishments. My children in general taught me more than I’ve learned from anyone else."

Birnbaum did end up taking advanced placement tests for Biology II and U.S. History in May of last year. Not only did she pass, but she received the top score on each. During her senior year, she signed up for four advanced placement classes: Literature/Composition, French IV, Calculus and Chemistry II.

This year she has not only maintained good health and outstanding grades, but she is working at Math Nasium, where she tutors those who are struggling with math at school and helps prepare students for the Nevada High School Proficiency Exams.

Math Nasium’s manager, Dan Saposhnik, said Birnbaum has demonstrated drive and responsibility at work.

"Many students request her when they come in for their study session," he said. "I hope she will continue working with us throughout her college years."

Birnbaum is the second of four children. She said having a boyfriend is not yet a priority.

"I spend a lot of time on homework," she said. "My family always teases me; they don’t want me to have a big head."

Birnbaum has decided to enroll at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she plans to receive a bachelor’s degree in physics. She said UNLV has offered her a free semester of study abroad. After UNLV, Birnbaum plans to find a good graduate school to study physics.

Aside from school and college planning, Birnbaum likes listening to music and writing poetry.

"I enjoy being spiritual," she said. "Up until third grade, I wanted to become a writer, but today I’d consider myself more of a poet."

At graduation, Birnbaum will recite her own poem, along with her valedictorian speech.

"I don’t know where I will end up, but I have University of Chicago in mind," she said. "A physicist, Carl Sagan, who inspired me, attended that university."

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