Sharon Huang is pictured with her sons, Lee Chen (right) and his younger brother Yang
Sharon Huang still remembers standing outside her son's fourth grade classroom at Denton's Newton Razor Elementary School, watching him struggle to understand his teacher.
"I would go to the school a few minutes before the class let out for the day, and I'd stand at the door and watch my son during story time," Huang says. "His blank expression would make me cry. He had been doing well in Taiwan, and I wondered what I had done to him by bringing him to America."
Huang watched her oldest son Lee Chen walk across the stage at the graduation ceremony for UNT's Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, a residential early-entry college program, less than 10 years after a UNT center helped him learn English.
Huang, Lee and his younger brother Yang arrived in Denton on Christmas Eve in 2002, so that Huang could pursue a doctoral degree in educational computing at UNT. Lee and Yang grew up in Taiwan and spoke no English.
After their first semester in the Denton school district, Lee and Yang were still struggling to master English and Huang worried that they would have trouble passing the state's standardized tests the following year.
"I was concerned because Lee was required to pass the fifth grade TAKS exam in order to advance to sixth grade, and Yang had to pass the third grade TAKS to advance to fourth grade." Huang says.
While working on her degree, Huang had met Kathleen Mohr, who worked in UNT's Child and Family Resource Clinic. Mohr suggested that Huang bring her boys to the clinic for extra tutoring. Huang also was able to audit one of Mohr's classes so that she could use computer programs to help her sons' English.
Both boys received commended recognition on the TAKS that year, Lee on the math portion and Yang on both the math and reading sections. By the end of sixth grade Lee was removed from his ESL (English as a second language) classes and placed in EXPO, an advanced reading class. Both boys also were able to get ahead in math by testing out of courses and participating in the TAMS Summer Math Institute.
Huang earned her doctoral degree from the College of Education in 2008, but the boys stayed connected to UNT after her graduation. Both boys also participated in the College of Music's String Project, taking violin lessons for several years.
In 2009, Lee applied and was accepted to UNT's TAMS program, a two-year residential program at UNT that allows exceptionally talented students to complete their freshman and sophomore years of college while earning the equivalent of high school diplomas. The average SAT scores for the TAMS class of 2013 are 622 for critical reading, 624 for writing and 692 for the math section.
Lee was inspired to pursue TAMS by his friend Wen Chyan, a TAMS student who participated in Bible study with Lee. Chyan, who graduated in 2009, won a $100,000 scholarship in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology in 2008, and is now studying at MIT.
Lee excelled at TAMS, earning an honorable mention in the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship competition for his computational biology research on heart disease. He graduated from TAMS on May 13 and plans to attend Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, to study molecular biology and biochemistry in the fall. Yang will follow in Lee's footsteps by moving onto the UNT campus in the fall to attend TAMS.
Yang completed a novel while still attending Calhoun Middle School. The book Three Songs of Tianleigh is a fantasy-adventure story about three brothers fighting against an evil warlord. Jaron Hataway, a UNT student edited the book for Yang, and it's now available on Amazon.
"I am thankful to UNT and DISD educators for helping my sons not only catch up in school, but truly excel. I am confident that both boys will be able to make a difference in our society," Huang says.
Alyssa Yancey with UNT News Service can be reached at Alyssa.Yancey@unt.edu.