SAN MARCOS — To say that Claire Lewis isn’t your average 13-year-old is a gross understatement.
She could perform classical piano pieces three months after touching the ivory keys at age 6. She recently aced Calculus 3 — a feat many college students struggle to accomplish.
And last Friday, the San Marcos girl with a love of classical piano and Gustavo Dudamel walked the stage with her fellow graduates — from Palomar College.
What started three years ago as her parents’ search to satisfy her homeschooling math requirements climaxed with Claire receiving her Associates Degree, the youngest person in the school’s 70-year history to receive a degree.
For Claire, an aspiring orchestral conductor and classically trained pianist, and her family, the journey was rewarding.
“I feel really happy I was able to do this, I’m so happy I had this option,” said Claire, who plans to take the next year to apply to musical conservatories. “I just wasn’t getting challenged in regular school, so this was a perfect fit.”
Her father, Tim Lewis, and mother, Simone de Bruyne-Lewis, are software engineers. Both said they were happy to be able to help their daughter pursue her dreams.
“My feeling is one of excitement and gratitude,” Tim Lewis said. “I’m just grateful we were able to support her pursue her goals.”
Tim and Simone said they recognized from an early age that Claire was innately more curious and driven than your average child.
That curiosity and drive manifested itself most notably when she discovered her love for music. She started playing the piano at 6, and after three months had outstripped her father, a musician of 30 years, and was playing Bach minuets.
“I remember when the crossover occurred, I would play the minuets and make tiny mistakes and have to go back,” Tim Lewis said. “One day she played it, and moved right on.”
Almost immediately, her parents said, she gravitated not just to playing instruments, but directing them.
When listening to classical symphonies, she would mimic a conductor’s motions with uncanny precision, her parents said.
She knew what she wanted to be when she grew up at that moment, and hasn’t wavered.
“When I was a child, if someone asked me what I wanted to do, I probably said a doctor,” Lewis said. “But did it change in a year? Probably so.
“But she seems to be steadfast in that goal, and bravo to her,” Lewis said. “I think it’s fantastic that she has that certainty.”
De Bruyne-Lewis said by fourth grade, Claire was begging to be homeschooled so she could devote more time to music. She currently is a member of the San Diego Civic Youth Orchestra.
The parents made her finish elementary school first, and then started exploring homeschool options that would allow her to be in a classroom setting and satisfy her accelerated learning rate.
“She would go through the books faster than I was able to teach her,” de Bruyne-Lewis said. “We searched and found that Palomar offered courses, and we asked about them, and learned she needed to take an assessment to see if she could take the college-level courses.”
That was in 2014, and Claire tested into beginning algebra. But with each class, Claire’s curiosity increased and she wanted to take more courses, before long she was carrying the workload of a regular student.
And these were not online courses: Claire was in class with college-age students.
“At first they were confused about why this little kid was in class,” Claire said. “But after a few classes they got used to it.”
Tim Lewis said he and his wife initially had reservations, but they quickly melted away.
“What started as ‘How do we get this (homeschooling) done?’ turned into this amazing experience, and our initial trepidation quickly gave way to, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool,’” he said.
Her favorite courses? Math, Claire said without hesitation.
“It was easy for me to understand,” she said. “I got an A in Calc 3, and I got a perfect score on one of the tests.”
Now, Claire said she will take the next step to narrow her list of prospective conservatories and begin the involved process of applying and auditioning for one of the precious spots.
“There are a lot of good conservatories so I’m looking forward to applying to them,” she said.