BY JENNIFER FEEHAN BLADE STAFF WRITER
Learning their son had aced both the SAT and the ACT couldn’t have come as too much of a surprise to Scott and Bobbi Wheelock.
Their only child, Sean, a senior at St. John’s Jesuit High School, learned to tell time as a toddler, begged his mom to buy more plastic letters so that he could make more words, and asked his parents to create pages of math problems for him before he was even in school.
He mastered his multiplication and division facts in kindergarten and took freshman algebra — the highest-level math course at Christ the King School — in sixth grade. The West Toledoan transferred to St. John's Academy in seventh grade so he could take high-school-level courses, and he's now enrolled in Calculus 3 at the University of Toledo.
“He just seems to enjoy everything,” Mrs. Wheelock, a commodity buyer at Owens-Illinois Inc., said. “He just has a gusto for everything. Whatever he gets involved in, he just does it to the max.”
His current GPA is a 4.95 on the grading scale weighted for advanced placement and honors classes, a 4.0 on the unweighted scale. He’s taken eight exams for advanced placement classes at St. John’s and scored a 5 — the highest possible grade — on all eight.
Teachers and school administrators say Sean is not just smart, he’s the total package. He’s on the debate team, and he plays varsity golf and tennis. He’s student body president, a student ambassador, and he’s involved in Christian service.
“Sean is just extremely gifted,” said Brad Bonham, St. John’s principal. “He’s an outstanding student, but he’s one of those guys that’s very mature for his age. He’s respected by a lot of kids in his class, and he’s very, very social. He’s got a lot of friends.”
A tall, slim 18-year-old with a golfer's tan, Sean can't really explain his success other than to say he loves to learn. He has a deep affinity for St. John's and never considered forgoing his senior year to start college early.
“I always want to know why and how,” he said. "I like different things about each subject. I love the interpretation and analysis associated with literature and reading, but I love the problem-solving associated with math and science. I love languages too.”
His former Latin teacher, Jason Huther, now principal at St. Joan of Arc School, said he spent part of the weekend writing recommendation letters for Sean for college.
“In every one, I told the college flat out you better fight for this kid. I don’t care if you’re Harvard, Stanford, or Yale. You better hope he chooses you,” Mr. Huther said, adding, “He’s athletic. He’s social. He’s humble. He’s very religious, and he’s simply a leader. He was born with something special.”
Mrs. Wheelock said she and her husband, who works as Toledo city auditor, read to their son from an early age, but she agreed that he was born with a gift for learning, a gift he has nurtured.
“You can encourage. You can foster, but he works hard and he’s interested in everything,” Mrs. Wheelock said. “He’s working all the time. It’s from himself.”
For his part, Sean said he never really got excited about video games and social media such as Facebook that consume much of his peers’ time. “I’d rather read,” he said. “I’d rather do a student council activity. I’d rather play golf, play tennis, play basketball.”
His achievements on the college entrance exams came a year after he received a perfect score on the PSAT as a sophomore, a rare feat all the way around.
Greg Walker, vice president for the Midwest region of the College Board, which administers the SAT, said that of the 1.66 million test takers in the class of 2012, 360, or 0.022 percent, achieved the top score. For the ACT, just 704 of the 1.6 million students in the class of 2011 who took the test earned a perfect score.
“The opportunities for students that achieve at that level are much greater,” Mr. Walker said.
Sean said he is applying to up to 10 universities. His top three choices are Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame. He plans to major in engineering and pursue a master’s of business administration. Ultimately, he hopes to “come up with some kind of invention” and start his own business.
Sean said he didn’t take any test preparation classes, though he did get the ACT and SAT review books and took “four of five” practice tests. He said he would recommend other students take the practice tests.
“It’s just getting familiar with the test,” he said. “They ask a lot of similar questions with different numbers, so if you know what kinds of questions they ask and you’re prepared for those, that stops you from making silly mistakes and that makes you more relaxed when you’re taking the tests, and that’s key.”
Students can take the ACT and SAT multiple times — using their best scores for college applications — but Sean said he took the tests only once in high school, last spring. With a perfect score, there was no need to repeat them.