Top student from Woodbury delays Harvard to tutor kids in Queens

Akash Nandi, second from left, tutors from left: Akash Nandi, second from left, tutors from left: Naijah Debose-Vann, Brianna Aguila, Melissa Acosta, and Tahmel Keys, during an after school program at P.S. 112 Dutch Kills in Queens on Tuesday, May 06, 2014. Nandi, 17, a Woodbury resident, who attended St. Anthony's High School and graduated early, spent a year as a City Year New York volunteer before attending Harvard University in the fall. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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A St. Anthony's High School student who scored a perfect 2400 on the SATs and is headed to Harvard University in the fall is spending what would have been his senior year in an unusual place -- tutoring disadvantaged students in Queens.

Akash Nandi, 18, of Woodbury, finished high school by the end of his junior year and even had time to take college-level math courses at Stony Brook University while still at St. Anthony's.

But instead of starting full-time college early, he joined an AmeriCorps organization to offer a year of national service by helping students in the Long Island City neighborhood.

He leaves home at 5:25 a.m. on weekdays and returns by 7:30 p.m. He calls it the toughest, but most satisfying, year of his young life.

"It's a powerful experience," Nandi said. "It's harder than going to school. It's a completely different ballgame."

Nandi is the youngest volunteer in City Year New York, which this year has 294 members between 18 and 24 years old serving as full-time tutors, mentors and role models in 22 public schools. They receive a $1,100 monthly stipend for 11-hour work days.

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St. Anthony's officials say Nandi is the type of student the South Huntington Catholic school aims to produce.

"Akash is one of those rare individuals who has been inspired early to seek deeper truths," said Brother Gary Cregan, the school's principal. "It is joyful to have a young man like Akash in our school. We know he will do great things in the future."

Nandi says racking up a perfect SAT score was surprisingly easy. He nailed it the first time he took the test his junior year. He did almost no prep, he said. He simply took a few practice tests a week or so before.

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"I thought I really knew what I was doing through the whole thing. I really didn't have to guess or anything," he said.

Among 2013 high school graduates nationwide, just 494 of the 1,660,047 who took the SAT got a perfect score, according to the College Board, which administers the test. Nandi was so advanced in his math classes at St. Anthony's that he completed the highest levels the school had to offer -- and then went to Stony Brook in the late afternoons to take courses there during his junior year.

In January, he was named a semifinalist in the Intel nationwide science talent search competition. He did his project, about adolescent behavior and risk taking, in his spare time this academic year, he said.

He could have gone to college a year early but he was looking for some out-of-school work experience first. Last spring, he heard about City Year and applied a short time later. The nonprofit, founded in Boston in 1988, now operates in 25 cities and 242 schools, with 2,700 members assisting 150,000 students.

Nandi is volunteering at PS 112Q, an elementary school where every student qualifies for a free lunch. The school is 46 percent Latino; 24 percent Asian and 23 percent black, records show.

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There are a number of immigrants from Bangladesh enrolled, and there Nandi has an advantage. He speaks Bengali, a language learned from his Indian grandmother. His mother is a physician; his father an information technology specialist.

Nandi tutors fifth-graders in math and other subjects, provides "behavior coaching" during lunch, calls parents if a student fails to show up and helps with homework after school.

He also plays sports with them, another of his strengths. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he played on football and basketball teams until an ankle injury sidelined him in 10th grade.

Nandi says college can wait. The volunteer work has been enriching.

"I really love it," he said. "It's affecting another person."

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