By ADRIAN FORD
Most 11-year-olds are just starting middle school. A few are thinking about college, and even fewer are actually in college. Brooklynn Bluto is one of those select few.
Bluto is currently enrolled in Japanese 101 at Pima Community College Downtown Campus. The sixth grader also attends Sahuarita Middle School.
“I chose Japanese because when I am older I plan to go to college at Tokyo University,” Bluto said.
She wanted to take a college course because other options weren’t viable.
“Online classes were not very effective, and my school only offers Spanish classes,” she said. “Originally, I spent a lot of my own money on stuff that did not even work.”
One failed online effort was attempting to learn a Japanese writing system called Hiragana. “It took forever, because the websites were super misleading,” Bluto said.
Chris Sandy, Bluto’s stepfather, originally had doubts about Bluto attending college.
“Concerns I had with Brooklynn taking a college course were mostly related to ensuring she did not get overwhelmed or tired of learning,” he said.
Bluto formalized her request.
“When Brooklynn came to my wife and I saying she wanted to take Japanese, she did it via email,” Sandy said. “The proposal included a permission slip, course information, cost and her plea.”
After reading the proposal, they changed their minds. They also saw she truly wanted to learn Japanese.
“We knew Brooklynn was ready because of her dedication to teach herself Japanese in her free time and her dedication to her violin,” Sandy said.
“We were confident that it was our responsibility to encourage her learning and monitor her stress rather than tell her no,” he added.
In addition, Bluto’s parents realized she wasn’t living up to her full potential with middle school classes. “Brooklynn is typically very bored in public school at Sahuarita Middle,” Sandy said.
Sandy drives Bluto to Downtown Campus on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and waits outside the classroom until she is done.
Before she enrolled, Bluto worried her age might create a barrier between her and other students in the class. But after experiencing college first-hand, Bluto said she had no problem fitting in.
“I do not think age holds me back in any way,” she said. “Sometimes I do not understand some words, but context makes it pretty easy.”
Instructor Bridget Wilde also had initial doubts.
“I was very worried, both for her ability to keep up and for my ability to teach her without affecting the class experience for my older students,” she said. “Japanese is extremely difficult to learn as a second language.”
Bluto was always confident in her ability.
“I thought I could comprehend the level of a college course because of how I was taught by my dad,” she said. “He spoke to me like an adult, teaching me a wide vocabulary and how to use context to understand.”
Bluto’s parents saw they had nothing to worry about as long as she kept up her love for learning.
Wilde also realized Bluto is not your average 11-year-old.
“Of course I cannot discuss her grade but I have found her very bright and thoughtful, and willing to ask questions,” Wilde said. “I am fortunate as a rule that my class is always full of students who genuinely wish to learn, and I think Ms. Bluto embodies that spirit wonderfully.”
After learning Japanese, Bluto plans to take more classes through PCC.
“I am probably going to take a course in math, and then a class in computer coding,” she said.
She also has plans for her academic future.
“If everything goes well, I am going to take high school credit classes during middle school to graduate early,” she said.
She’s considering a major in computer science when she attends Tokyo University.
When Bluto isn’t at school, she fills her free time with many different activities.
“We have been enrolling her in anything she asks, like violin lessons or the Tucson Junior Symphony,” Sandy said.
Bluto has taken such a liking to violin that “she has a rash on her neck because she loves playing it so much,” he said.
She also enjoys “beating the other students at chess,” Bluto said.
Bluto’s parents are enjoying her success.
“She’s been carrying on like a well-conditioned mental athlete” Sandy said.