Junior Chris Sapinski puzzled by challenge of finding harder classes to take


Jacqueline Barba

Junior Chris Sapinski works through one of his Calculus homework problems.

By Jacqueline Barba, Downers Grove South High School

For most juniors and seniors, finding space in their schedule for every class they’d like to take is like doing a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, but for junior Chris Sapinski, the struggle is different. He’s running out of pieces to choose. His puzzle of high school credits is almost finished.

Having received all of his high school math credits by sophomore year, Sapinski now takes college-level math courses at College of Dupage every Tuesday and Thursday.

Sapinski began his education at the Avery Coonley School in preschool at the age of three. The private school provides schooling to “academically gifted students.” Sapinski was one of 30 people in his class.

“It was really weird because I went from a class of 30 to around a thousand, so that’s like a 30 times increase. It was also a good experience because it helped me learn more social skills … there [are] so many kids I don’t know and haven’t known since they were toddlers,” Sapinski said.

Often times, Sapinski was the youngest person in his classes. This made each end of the year both awkward and a little lonely.

“It feels like every year, people I’m in my classes with sort of just disappear because they graduate. Also, it’s sort of strange to be in a class with the teacher alone for two weeks because all of the seniors have already graduated,” Sapinski said.

Sometimes, Sapinski felt disconnected from the other students in his classes because of their age difference. He also struggles with missing out on the genuine senior experience.

“A lot of things they talk about in senior classes are sort of weird because I don’t understand any of them. They’re all seniors and I’m sitting over here like, ‘I will do that in two years’. I feel like I lose a lot of novelty about learning about senior things because I already know them all,” Sapinski said.

More often than not, Sapinski finds that his classmates are strangers, rather than his friends. Frequently, Sapinski finds that making friends becomes difficult due to his coursework.

“I have a limited group of people that I know because I’m not in a lot of classes with people [my age]. The few people that I want to be in classes with I’m never in classes with because my schedule doesn’t work out the same way that their’s does,” Sapinski said.

Sapinski is currently taking Calculus and Analytic Geometry, a 12-week course offered at College of Dupage. At the end of the semester, he will begin another four-week class called Additional Topics in Vector Calculus. Though most students would find this daunting, Sapinski’s former math teacher, Christopher Klaeren, believes Sapinski is ready for the challenge.

“In his math element he seems comfortable and outgoing. He came into my pre-calc class as a freshman. There’s not usually a lot of freshman in pre-calc honors. It’s maybe one every couple few years,” Klaeren said.

Junior Lestin Kandakudy, Sapinski’s friend, believes that Sapinski has been waiting for a class that challenges him.

“I’ve known him since freshman year, and I could always tell that he was eager for a new challenge, that all of his classes were too easy for him, that he [was] looking for that extra level of complexity and challenge in his courses. I feel like him going to COD is where he’s going to be in an environment where he’s going to be challenged … and an environment where he’s going to thrive as well,” Kandakudy said.

Andrew Kaim, Sapinski’s sophomore year math teacher, trusts that Sapinski is well-prepared for his classes at College of Dupage.

“Chris was very ahead of the game. He was a sophomore in Calculus BC. The course that he took with me is a college-level math class, and it’s equivalent to two semesters of calculus in college,” Kaim said.

“He’s already in the third semester of college calculus. He’s well prepared,” Kaim said.

Jacqueline Barba
Sapinski is running out of math classes to take at DGS.

For Sapinski’s parents, Patrick and Minh, the most important thing about their son is not simply his academic success but his compassion for others.

“We find that he has a compassionate heart that enables him to view situations from another person’s point of view. As Christopher’s parents, we are most definitely proud of what he has accomplished in school. We are even more proud of his willingness to help other students,” Patrick Sapinski said.

Sapinski’s willingness to help others made him popular in his math classes, where Klaeren says other students called him “God Chris.” Kaim also noticed Sapinski’s efforts to help others grasp math concepts as well as he did.

“He was very helpful in terms of helping students out in Math Resource Center. He was a math peer tutor. I really appreciated the fact that he [was] willing to work with others and kind of share his knowledge with them,” Kaim said.

Sapinski is now trying to find the balance between taking challenging classes and still getting the high school experience.

“I don’t want to go to college for everything. I still want to be in high school, but I’m looking for classes for over the summer and trying to further my education that way,” Sapinski said.

This effort has been supported by his parents, who encourage Sapinski to take as many courses as he can over the summer. In fact, the summer before entering DGS, he took Chemistry Honors at Northwestern University in order to take AP Chemistry at DGS his freshman year.

“Christopher is beyond our ability to academically support him in his studies.  Where we do provide support is in identifying and providing opportunities to push him beyond his limits,” Minh Sapinski said.

Next summer, Sapinski plans to participate in a computer science program at Carnegie Mellon. The program includes living on campus for six weeks while attending classes taught by college professors.

“I’ll be able to take a computer science class for those six weeks and understand what a real college class with professors of that level is like. That’s [the coursework] I’m looking for right now,” Sapinski said.

In the future Sapinski hopes to attend his dream school, Carnegie Mellon, as a Computer Science major.

This story was originally published on Blueprint on October 16, 2019.