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TV show possible for gifted Trussville student

By Gary Lloyd

TRUSSVILLE — Maya Viikinsalo’s intelligence could be seen in a bucket of basic building blocks when she was 2.

She’d place the blocks one on top of the other on a coffee table in her parent’s living room until she couldn’t reach any higher. Viikinsalo was able to stack them so high that her parents would stand her on the coffee table and hold her up to place the last piece on top.

She had an “innate concept” of the center of balance at an early age, her mother, Kristen, said.

“They usually wouldn’t fall until I got bored with it and just knocked it over,” Maya said.

Maya is a fifth-grader at Paine Intermediate School in Trussville. But she’s 9 years old, nearly two years younger than her classmates in Monica Bramlett’s class. While attending the Harris Early Learning Center in Birmingham, a preschool that maintains a research mission and is designed to maximize opportunities to conduct developmental research on children and their families, Maya tested “way off the charts,” Kristen said.

Maya Viikinsalo reads “Divergent” in her living room last week.
photo by Gary Lloyd

During the summer before Maya’s first-grade year at Paine Primary School, Kristen contacted Trussville City Schools to find out about the Gifted and Talented Education program, for which students are screened in second grade and again when SAT scores are released in the fourth through sixth grades. A day or two after Maya began the first grade, Kristen received a call telling her about the GaTE program. It was suggested, after Maya took a day and a half of tests, including an IQ test, that she skip ahead to second grade.

When the results of her IQ test were presented, it was revealed Maya was in the 99.99th percentile. Maya’s IQ is between 157 and 159. She was moved ahead to the second grade. When graduation comes for Maya, she’ll be 16, a month away from her 17th birthday in seven years.

Maya said it doesn’t feel weird being the youngest in her class. She uses it to her advantage in four square. If someone gets her out of the game, she’ll say, “I’m just a little girl.” She said this works on the older kids most of the time.

In February, Maya was accepted into American Mensa, a large group of people who have tested in the 99th percentile on the IQ test.

“We were pretty excited,” said Kristen, who’s been working to hopefully earn scholarship money for Maya on a fast track since she’ll graduate at such a young age.

A television documentary series may help. Last month, Kristen received an email from American Mensa, notifying the family that Shed Media US is casting gifted children ages 8 to 12 and their families for a new documentary series that aims to offer a deep insight into the extraordinary world of America’s most gifted children and their families. Kristen and Maya have both been interviewed by casting producers via Skype. They’ll soon know if Maya has been chosen for the TV show.

“I believe things happen for a reason,” Kristen said.

If chosen for the series, a crew will film Maya’s day to day life in Trussville in June. Near the end of June and early July, Maya and her family would be flown to Los Angeles to film the first couple episodes of the show, which will likely be on a major cable network such as TLC. The show will also feature a rigorous academic competition for the children.

Maya Viikinsalo
submitted photo

Maya is a “human scanner,” Kristen said, absorbing information after looking at it just once. She uses time signatures in written music to simplify fractions. She does the same with the numbers on a clock before she goes to bed.

“This is just what she does,” Kristen said.

She’s also an accomplished singer at a young age. She was in the Birmingham Girls Choir for four years, has been on ABC 33/40 singing with Taylor Hicks and has taken private voice lessons at UAB ArtPlay for about two years. She’ll sing the National Anthem at the Birmingham Barons game against the Jackson Generals on June 7 at 6:30 p.m.

Maya is a typical 9-year-old, though. She likes to draw, play with dogs and cats, play on iPad apps and build homes on “The Sims 3” game. She watches the movie “Frozen” about once per week. She wants to eat snacks and watch TV after school, but is “intensely focused” when she works on her homework, Kristen said. She’s never had a B on a report card and the slang word “ain’t” drives her crazy.

Maya wants to be an architect when she grows up, no doubt a dream that can be traced back to when she piled building blocks up on that coffee table. She’s obsessed with iPad games that involve building.

“I just think it’s really cool to make things,” Maya said.

Kristen wants to do all she can to help make Maya’s future dreams come true.

“That’s my job,” Kristen said. “That’s my mission.”

Maya’s stepsister, Amanda, graduated from Hewitt-Trussville High School with a 4.4 GPA. She’s on scholarship and in the Honors Program at UAB. She’s already studied abroad in France.

“They never stop working hard,” Kristen said. “They just never do.”

Contact Gary Lloyd at news@trussvilletribune.com and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.

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