GHS senior achieves 'Top in the World'


Published: Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 6:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 6:14 p.m.

When exams at the end of the year go well, some students say they feel "on top of the world." But one Gainesville High School student can claim he is "Top in the World."

Jamie Blackband, an 18-year-old GHS senior, received news last month that he scored the highest mark possible on an English Language Cambridge International Examination.

The Cambridge program offers tests for different subjects, but this particular exam requires students to write four essays in two days, according to an email from Bunnie James, the Cambridge Program coordinator at GHS.

Principal David Shelnutt said the exam gives students different levels of recognition, ranging from "Top in the Country" to "Top in the World," depending on how many points they score.

Shelnutt said this is the second year in a row a student from the school's Advanced International Cambridge magnet program has earned "Top in the World" status, but the number of scholars recognized from GHS continues to grow.

Blackband said these accomplishments reflect the school's excellent English program. Two of his teachers, Tiffany Drew and Kathleen Solito, inspired him to sit down, think critically and care about each assignment, he said. He recalls writing 32 essays in Solito's class in 11th grade.

Blackband's mother, Katherine Blackband, 52, said she remembers her son came home from school very excited after the exam. He told her how invested he was in the second essay, in which he was asked to contrast two characters who met in a carriage.

She said it was unusual to hear he had fun taking a test, and her son agreed.

"It's very rare that that happens," he said. "I remember feeling really happy after I had written the essay. It's nice to be able to have a break and write something creative for a test rather than having to worry about using academic language. I was able to let my voice come out."

Blackband and his family said that when they were notified that he had earned the "Top in the World" mark, they were all a little surprised.

"I've never considered myself a writer," he said. "But when I learned about my score, I rethought how much I enjoyed English. I realized it probably is my strongest subject."

Beyond improved verbal ability, analytical writing and organizational skills, Blackband insists he gained more than an impressive title.

"The Cambridge curriculum as a whole is oriented around creating better-thinking people," he said. "It's really helped me to become a creative, inventive, tolerable and well-balanced human being."

Blackband said he will utilize these skills when he attends the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts and later in his career, when he hopes to pursue directing. Like English, he discovered his enthusiasm for film at GHS when a counselor learned he experimented with stop motion animation and recommended he join the school's TV production class.

Since then, his love for the arts has flourished. He has been active in his school's drama program, including a performance in "Sweeney Todd" as the lead role, he writes music and frequently plays the guitar and ukulele.

But his true calling is behind the camera, he said.

"It was right from the start," he said. "I don't really have a choice. It's what I want to do, it's what I'm good at doing, it's something I'm passionate about."

He attributes his exploration of this interest to Antonio Martinez-Malo, his TV production teacher of four years. Malo, whom Blackband considers a role model, friend and mentor of life lessons, allowed his students to take creative risks.

Blackband said his teacher taught him about his flair for film, and it is reflected in his writing.

"It comes down to storytelling," he said. "Film is all about storytelling. So is writing."

Above all, he said, it is more important to be proud of personal accomplishments regardless of grades.

"A score's a score, but a passion's a passion," he said. "And if you get the score, but not the passion, what's the point?"

Blackband said the Cambridge curriculum and his experiences at GHS have helped him realize his love for film and English, but there is one key aspect of his education most people overlook.

"I've discovered myself," he said.

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