Payson Math Whiz Wins State Competition

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Quick. What's 17 plus 8?

"Twenty-five."

All right. What's five times seven?

"Thirty-five."

How about seven times 17?

"One-hundred and nineteen."

No doubt about it. Gery DebonJnie is a mathematics whiz.

But don't go by the correct and lightning-fast answers he proffered during the pop quiz quoted above. There is other compelling evidence to indicate that this 18-year-old Payson High School foreign exchange student has mastered the art of numbers.

Last weekend, for starters, DebonJnie (pronounced dee-bone-ay) won the gold medal in technical mathematics at the VICA Skills Arizona Championships' competition an annual competition presented by the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America.

Not only that, but in VICA's four-year history, DebonJnie is the very first Payson student to bring home the gold in his category.

William Maher, DebonJnie's PHS drafting instructor and math booster, compares VICA with clubs such as the Future Farmers of America, but designed for vocational students of all stripes.

The statewide contest began with a regional competition, Maher said, in which DebonJnie competed and won in computer-aided drafting.

"But for the state, Gery wanted to try math," Maher said. "I was glad to hear that, because I figured he'd win. I've seen what he's done. When he was a sophomore he won the Belgium Mathematics Olympics, a national contest. And he spent two years at a mathematics camp after that. So Gery has very high skills in math."

"I never studied for one test in Belgium," DebonJnie said, "because I already knew all the answers," he added modestly. He's not boasting, just stating a fact.

DebonJnie was drawn toward his country's foreign-exchange student program purely for career reasons, he said.

"I always wanted to be a scientist or an engineer, and I knew how important it would be to be able to speak English. I could read it, but when someone would speak to me, I couldn't understand. They talked so fast. So I applied to become an exchange student on the first day of my senior year ... and they selected me. I arrived here two days after school started this year.

"I had never been to the United States before," DebonJnie said. "I expected to be living in a big city with a big school. The only thing I knew about Arizona was the Grand Canyon."

When he arrived at PHS, he brought a sizable advantage with him, Maher said.

"The later years of Belgium high school are more like our junior colleges. They're just way more advanced, from what I know of what he studied. So he came here with an advantage ... except for his English. But he's doing so well at that, too. And he's just started learning Spanish, too."

Although DebonJnie is a senior, he won't be graduating this month ... because he already graduated from high school in Belgium last year. When he returns home in mid-August, he'll start preparing for college.

"It's so easy to get into college there," he said. "It's very cheap. It will cost me $500 for one year. I can work for one week and pay for one year of college!"

Obviously, this teenager has done the math.

And speaking of that, what is it about mathematics the school subject most American students love to hate that DebonJnie so enjoys?

"I don't understand why anyone could not like math," he said. "In biology, if you don't know the name of something, there is no way you can figure it out on your own, in your mind. But math is logic. If I don't know how to find an answer one way, I can try another way, another way and another way.

"The more I learn, the more of what I have already learned makes sense. Everything connects together. That's what I like about it."

VICA winners

The VICA Skills Arizona Championships were attended by 11 PHS students nine seniors and two juniors. In addition to Gery DebonJnie, the winners were Gold medalist Josh Weinland for block masonry; and silver medalists Tom Cotton (job skill demo A) and Matt Johnson (auto service technology). Other entrants were Bret Struthers, Brian Haddad, Steven Meyers, Alicia Meadows, Carrie Johnson, and juniors Danny Malloy and Tony Beeler.

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