Started in 1981 by Carol McCarthy as a multi-district, higher education consortial model, the Academically Talented Youth Program's first class involved 22 middle school students who were enrolled in seven area school districts. Early support from Kalamazoo College, the Harold and Grace Upjohn Foundation, all seven school district superintendents, and dedicated parent advocates created a synergy that worked beyond, and around, local geographic and territorial boundaries. Seeing the larger vision of "how to" offer genuine academic rigor and challenge at nominal cost to an "innovative minority," these leaders wisely identified that an economies of scale approach—sharing all of the community’s academic resources, across traditional boundaries—was far more cost-effective than creating another, separate school.
Students could remain enrolled, and connected, with their local district, while gaining the benefits of an adapted John Hopkins program. Best of all, all students, regardless of their ability to pay, had access to highly accelerated learning during the school day. Contrasted to the option of expensive summer classes, paid by parents who could afford tuition and transportation, Kalamazoo had improved upon a highly regarded model.
In the intervening years, ATYP has enrolled almost 3000 students who were simultaneously enrolled in 60 Southwest Michigan schools. Our increasing number of classes spilled over onto WMU’s campus, and in 1998, the program moved, with the support of administration, to the WMU campus. Each year, these students confirm what the research documents: bright students learn more when they have access to highly accelerated learning and teachers with advanced content expertise. Believing that accountability is basic to education, all ATYP students completing the three-year program are required to write the Advanced Placement exams. This national exam reports that U.S. 11th and 12th graders, typically the most advanced high school students, score an average of 3 (score range of 1–5) on the AP English exam. ATYP students, over the past ten years, have an average score of 4. This is particularly noteworthy, since most ATYP students are ninth and tenth graders when they write the AP exam. During the past two decades, ATYP has been replicated at several sites: Michigan State University, Central Michigan University, Kent Intermediate School District and Hope College. All have been adapted to meet local needs, and continue in operation today.