The wonder twins

Ananth and Divya Shyamal ’21 are most known for their acceleration in academic courses and success in math competitions, but their interests range beyond the academic scene. Violin, Animal Planet and graphic design are just a few of their hobbies that many may not know about.

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The wonder twins

Towering at around five feet tall, these two students have dominated the academic atmosphere. You may have seen them in your AP US History class, holding sparkly trophies at math competitions or gracing the stage at orchestra concerts. Though they seem inseparable, wonder twins Ananth and Divya Shyamal ’21 are just as different as they are similar.

Known for taking difficult classes at a young age, the two sophomores are accelerated in multiple subjects. They took AP Calculus BC as eighth graders, Linear Algebra and Calculus III as freshmen and are currently taking Abstract Algebra at the University of Iowa. Besides excelling in math, the two took AP Economics as freshmen and are currently taking AP Spanish and AP Chemistry.

Their academic prowess started in third grade. They talked to the school district to test out of math classes and aced the sixth grade test to get accelerated two levels.  

“Math class was just kind of boring,” Ananth said. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we take more tests since we know a lot of math?’”

They were studious, they were diligent, they were focused and they were earnest in their desire to learn. From a teacher perspective, each one was an individual.”

— James Kirpes

They acquired their math knowledge initially through reading, but soon had a solid math foundation and gained further skills by working through math problems, focusing especially on old practice tests for competition math.

From there, they went on to take Pre-Calculus in seventh grade and started courses at the University of Iowa as high school freshmen. By taking Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) courses at the university, the twins have received the opportunity to try different subjects at the college level, like physics and computer science.

Ananth believes that these courses have helped expose him to career fields he wants to pursue. He’s especially interested in engineering, computer science and physics.

Meanwhile, Divya found a passion for computer science through taking Algorithms at the University of Iowa.

“[Computer science is] kind of like problem solving, and it’s kind of related to math, but I feel like it’s more interesting,” Divya said. “In math, sometimes there’s a lot of repetition, but in computer science, every problem is new.”

Although Ananth and Divya learned much through their academic advancement, they believe there are drawbacks as well. At times, they find it isolating not having classes with friends.

“The first time we were in advanced classes, we were doing geometry in sixth grade,” Ananth said. “The first couple of weeks were intimidating, but [math teacher] Mr. Norton was really nice, and we kind of fit in with everyone.”

Even though being the youngest in many classes may elicit stares from peers, math teacher James Kirpes treated them as he would any other student, impressed with their qualities from a young age.

“They were studious, they were diligent, they were focused and they were earnest in their desire to learn. From a teacher perspective, each one was an individual,” Kirpes said.

If we’re studying for a test and get super stressed, then we just pick up our violins and practice. Also, playing the violin kind of gets out your emotions.”

— Ananth Shyamal '21

Although Ananth and Divya are outstanding in their advancement in academics, they have plenty of other interests and hobbies as well. They both started playing violin in kindergarten and currently participate in the West High Symphonic Orchestra and study at the Preucil School of Music.

“It helps us get away from academics,” Ananth said. “If we’re studying for a test and get super stressed, then we just pick up our violins and practice. Also, playing the violin kind of gets out your emotions.”

Ananth and Divya both took part in the Preucil orchestra up until eighth grade. The two had the opportunity to travel to the Baltics with this orchestra.

“It was the first time we’ve ever been to Europe. We went to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and it was different, but it was really nice,” Divya said.

Even though Ananth and Divya both play violin, they have differing hobbies as well.

Ananth, for example, is fascinated by animals and likes to watch Animal Planet during his free time. He received an animal encyclopedia for his sixth birthday and used to always read through it.

“When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a zookeeper, but then I realized that, after watching shows, I like watching animals, but I’m kind of scared of them,” Ananth said. “I generally like science, like biology. I just find it interesting how all of these animals and organisms interact.”

He also likes trivia and combining his knowledge of different subjects to answer questions.

“At Northwest, we were involved in Knowledge Masters,” Ananth said. “It’s basically knowing stuff from different subjects. I like that, because I like science. I like math. I somewhat like history. I got to use all my skills in one club.”

I like biking, especially in the summer. Sometimes, on a route, there’s a really hard hill to climb, and I just like seeing if I can do that. It feels good to have done something physically exerting.”

— Divya Shyamal '21

Divya, on the other hand, enjoys graphic design. She usually competes in the Doodle4Google competition.

“I like drawing in general, but I like doing it digitally, rather than on paper, just because it’s easier on an app. In sixth grade, my dad got an app for it, and I have just been using that ever since.”

Divya also enjoys biking, especially with her family. She likes the physical challenge that this activity can bring.

“I like biking, especially in the summer. Sometimes, on a route, there’s a really hard hill to climb, and I just like seeing if I can do that. It feels good to have done something physically exerting,” Divya said.

Outside of school, Ananth and Divya participate in many math-related activities. Besides being part of West High’s math club and participating in statewide math competitions, they also created their own math get-togethers. Over the summer they formed a math circle, which they organized with friend Reece Yang ’21 at the public library. They discussed math problems of varying difficulty to junior high students who participated in math competitions or just came for fun. Ananth believes that organizing this group helped him gain valuable social skills.

“Both me and my sister are very reserved, but in the math circle, we presented our solutions and kind of directed everyone,” Ananth said. “It definitely helped our leadership skills and our public speaking skills.”

Kirpes has noticed their growth of leadership skills along with their mathematical skills throughout his relationship knowing Ananth and Divya.

We’re really close. We do almost the same things, so we’re always there for each other.”

— Ananth Shyamal '21

“I’ve seen them kind of mature as individuals, … to see how they’ve become more understanding from a social perspective to communicate in a more thoughtful way,” Kirpes said. “I’ve been pleased to see the social growth along with the mathematical growth.”

Even though Ananth and Divya have their differences, they have gone through many experiences together and their relationship has strengthened as a result.

“We’re really close,” Ananth said. “We do almost the same things, so we’re always there for each other.”

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