Enrichment Student Makes the Grade on NBC's "Genius Junior"

May 7, 2018 | Richmond Hill


Lance Kay on left of team on "Genius Junior"

When Lance Kay, of Lafayette, PA (on left), was a pre-K student in his Montessori school, his teachers noticed something unusual. Despite being only five years old, he was successfully answering multiplication and division problems, such as, “If you have five safety pins and each has three beads on it, how many beads do you have?” (15). They alerted his mother, Heather Kay, to his budding math skills.

His parents began challenging him at home with math questions while watching football games, such as, “How could the Eagles get 42 points?” Lance could respond by saying, “six touchdowns,” but might answer instead, “You could also do it with five touchdowns, a field goal, and two safeties.”

By the time Lance was in first grade, it was clear to Heather that the school’s math department couldn’t challenge him the way he needed. She started researching supplemental math education programs, but because Lance is what she calls a “highly kinesthetic learner” (learns best by doing physical activities rather than listening or watching), sitting and doing worksheets wouldn’t have worked for him.

Then a friend who worked at a nearby Mathnasium said, “Go check out Mathnasium. It’s exactly what you want.”

Boy, was that good advice.

“I wanted him to continue to grow and learn. Not to proceed ‘up’ the math levels so much as to value the way that he learns,” said Heather. “Mathnasium found instructors that really ‘got’ Lance and were able to do kinesthetic activities with him. They also played chess part of the time and talked about the strategic thinking.”

“One of the thing that many parents don’t do is capitalize on what their kids are good at. I want to further enhance the things my kids are doing well: to play to their strengths.”

Lance’s experience at Mathnasium was so positive that Heather and her husband, David, enrolled Lance’s older sister, Caroline, when she was in 5th grade. As a result, Caroline was placed into advanced math in 7th grade, where she earned stellar marks and competed at the national level in the MathCounts Competition Series. At the end of 8th grade, she earned the “Advanced Math Award” for her grade.

As for Lance, he competed in 6th grade in his school’s Math Olympiads and was an All-Region Semifinalist in the 24 Challenge math competition.

When Shed Media, producer of the new NBC-TV game show, Genius Junior, contacted Mathnasium locations around the country scouting for “the brightest children in America” to tackle extraordinary brain challenges, including “mental math,” the Kay’s local Mathnasium director suggested Lance.

After auditioning and taking myriad aptitude tests, Lance, now in seventh grade, is competing for what he hopes will be prize money and bragging rights. Lance is part of a three-person team, one of 12 teams that compete by answering brain-teasers about math, memory, logic, spelling, and more. Lance’s experience with Mathnasium gives him an edge in several of these categories and enables him to tackle mind-bending math equations that require a response within seconds.

On the recent April 8 episode, his team (named “99 Problems but Brains Ain’t One”) beat its competition. Lance’s next appearance will be in the semifinals, scheduled to air on May 6.

“Neither my husband nor I are mathematically inclined, and I really believe that my kids are as successful as they are because of Mathnasium,” said Heather. “They learned math the way they needed to learn. They really enjoyed it.”

Heather encourages people to consider Mathnasium for math enrichment in addition to remedial help.

“One of the thing that many parents don’t do is capitalize on what their kids are goodat. I want to further enhance the things my kids are doing well: to play to their strengths. Attending Mathnasium for enrichment was one of the ways Lance gained confidence—the ability to look at math differently, experiment with different ways of thinking, and be successful.”

Lance said he credits Mathnasium with “challenging me to improve and grow and keeping faith in me.” Lance wants to be a NASA engineer and send unmanned missions "to Saturn or the sun so we can explore farther in our universe.”

Because Lance is now so strong in math, that possibility is well within reach. His mother is sure that the confidence and math skills Lance that gained at Mathnasium will last long after the 10-episode show wraps: They’ll last a lifetime.