Finding the Root of Freshman Sabreen Alam’s STEM Skills


Julia Kim

Sabreen studies for her AP Physics 1 class in the Student Union, working hard to maintain her demanding workload. In her free time, she also manages a Scratch program intended for third and sixth graders at Ardent Academy.

Julia Kim and Tiffany Wu

Within the horde of frantic juniors cramming for upcoming tests in office hours sits doe-eyed and fresh-faced freshman Sabreen Alam. She carries a passion for the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), an interest developed at a young age. Her passions mesh with her talents, and, as a result, Sabreen currently takes AP Physics 1, AP Biology and AP Calculus AB.

From kindergarten until the third grade, Sabreen took part in a Montessori method of education, which offers students more freedom than traditional schools with mixed age classrooms, allowing the birth and development of thought and discovery in the minds of differently aged children.

“The Montessori program was an important catalyst for my academic pathway. I also took programs that incited my interest in Biology,” Alam said. “Both of these and the interactive and advanced way math was taught in the Montessori program led to me taking advanced courses later on.”

This program taught math in an advanced and interactive way through introducing polynomials and factoring in 3rd grade using tiles and numbered blocks, and implemented a growth mindset, which views intellectual challenges and difficulties as exciting and stimulating.

“In seventh grade, although she liked her science class, Sabreen did not learn anything,”Alam’s mom Farhana Islam said. “In addition, Sabreen had already studied the eighth grade science book from cover to cover in order to prepare for the Science Olympiad qualification test in sixth grade. She is also truly well versed on both the scientific method and the engineering method.”

Alam’s academic track, though best suited to her academic demands, can appear daunting to her fellow classmates. However, most unexpectedly, it has also faced backlash from her teachers prior to Alam’s sixth grade education.

“This one teacher I had a long time ago told me I was going to ‘be like a candle that burns too fast,’ and I had a ‘weak foundation and would come crashing down one day’ because I was advancing too fast,” Alam said. “I didn’t realize it was a bad thing for [the teacher] to say back then because I was super young.”

Though there has been mild controversy over the fast pace of Alam’s education, she truly enjoys the learning process and relishes her time spent at school. As such, taking part in advanced classes does not affect Alam negatively, and she has found a solid balance between activities like Science Olympiad and Science Fair and school.

“I am used to taking advanced classes that require a strong work ethic and deal with difficult topics, so managing my classes is really not that hard for me,” Alam said. “Like any other class, I just need to make sure to listen carefully, practice on my own time, ask for help when I need it and multitask whenever possible. I also take time to de-stress by occasionally listening to music, watching movies, spending time with family and friends and playing with my younger brothers.”