Northeast Philly fourth-grader is math champion

Josephine Nguyen
Josephine Nguyen
Posted: June 29, 2012

Faculty and students of St. William's School, in Lawncrest, haven't had much to cheer about lately.

The Archdiocese decided to close the small school and send its pupils to St. Cecilia's, in Fox Chase.

But a ray of sunshine lit up flagging spirits this spring when a shy 10-year-old girl named Josephine Nguyen won first-place honors out of 1.4 million students who competed in the nationwide "First in Math" competition.

When it appeared that Josephine was going to prevail, a sign went up in front of the school, at Rising Sun Avenue and Devereaux Street, to let the world know, and faculty and fellow fourth-grade students had something to cheer.

Sister Catherine Clark, the school's principal, said that Josephine was so shy that when she received her trophy and other honors for her accomplishment early in June, she didn't bring any of the swag to school.

At her principal's urging, she finally did, and then, smiling and glowing as only a 10-year-old can, took it from class to class. She was showered with cheers and applause.

After all, she proved to be the smartest kid her age in the country in math.

Josephine herself was hesitant to express her pleasure when interviewed by a reporter, but she talked about how her father, Joseph Nguyen, helped her with her homework, and said she wants to "make medicine" when she grows up.

Both parents — her mother, Kim, works in a nail salon — are from Vietnam. They shared the excitement of the school and expressed their pride in their daughter's accomplishment.

"First in Math" is an online program developed in 1988 to help children learn math through online games. Josephine started in the competition with a serious handicap: Her family had no computer.

So she and her father went to the Lawncrest Library Branch, where she could spend a half-hour on the computer.

That was hardly enough time, so they went to other libraries.

Robert Sun, whose company, Suntex International, created the competition and is headquartered in Easton, came to Philadelphia to have lunch with Josephine at the Four Seasons and presented her with an iPod Touch, as well as a trophy with a gold star and other gifts.

Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 or morrisj@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @johnfmorrison.

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