Student Feature: Herbert Huachaca—A Clifton Math Prodigy


Clifton High School's Herbert Huachaca is not your average high school student. Although born in North Carolina, Herbert grew up in New Jersey in a household where his parents, both teachers, had emigrated from Peru to start a new life in America. Huachaca is currently a senior at Clifton High School, a remarkable young man who has done so much in such a short time.

Thanks to the faculty at Clifton High, Huachaca developed a love for the subtle art of mathematical expressions. When Herbert transferred to CHS during his junior year, he recalls, "My AP [Advanced Placement] Calculus teacher Mr. Klenetsky had our class take the Math League contest for extra credit. I took a liking to them and would score pretty well. I like the contests because I think they do a much better job with testing your creativity and intuition, and the topics span all of what we learn in the typical high school curriculum and more."

Aside from his fondness for math, Huachaca has several hobbies that he enjoys. He is an avid reader, continuously informed about current events. As exercise, he enjoys running and playing volleyball with his sisters at nearby parks. He has also enjoyed learning to type without looking at the keyboard and loves playing typing games during his downtime.

When asked about how he balances his academics, extracurricular activities, and personal life, Huachaca responded, "I honestly think that students, and society in general, place too much emphasis on balancing things that ultimately aren't as fulfilling or purposeful in the long run, and not enough on introspecting and evaluating what your priorities are and should be in the first place." As an underclassman, Huachaca enrolled himself in various, "time-sucking" classes and "didn't spend as much time on [his] interests and personal development as [he] would have liked." However, during his upperclassman years, Huachaca "decided to moderate [his] courseload and spend more time on the things [he] really enjoyed; building skills that'd last beyond high school." 

In ninth grade, Huachaca's first experience at the American Mathematics Competition (AMC) left him with a deflated ego. "I don't think I got any more than four questions right out of the 25 on the exam," he reflects. Until then, he had grown complacent with his math skills and knowledge. But as Huachaca matured, he learned to study effectively and holistically. In preparing for the following year's AMC, he developed a practical and deep intuitive understanding of the topics.

Through hard work and dedication, Huachaca has become CHS' highest scorer in the Math League contests and has finished joint third in the state region with 33/36 points. He is currently joint first in the state region on this year's Math League contests (29/30 points) and has one competition left. He placed in the top 5% of the AMC in his junior and senior years, qualifying for the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME) both times. He scored in the top 25% of all AIME takers in his senior year and saw himself as a growing disciple of creative mathematical thought. Although Huachaca has an increasing passion for mathematics, he deems the current standard of mathematical schooling in need of a lot of work. 

Huachaca sees math, more than anything, as a creative art like music and the visual arts. Unfortunately, "You'll find a neutered, watered-down version in schools today that prepares students for topical tests whose contents are forgotten about in a week or so." Huachaca continues, saying, "Not only is this robbing students of a chance for creative expression, but it's preventing them from seeking out real mathematics on their own." Huachaca believes that educators should focus on developing meaningful lessons and empowering environments that instill a love for learning and thinking. 

As Huachaca recounts his journey of acquiring knowledge and new world outlooks, he inevitably examines his experience with one of Clifton High's finest faculty members, Honors US History teacher Mr. Rogers. During Huachaca's junior year, he remembers a particular lesson that Mr. Rogers taught: the etymology of the word radical. According to Huachaca, "The gist of the lesson was that all it means to be radical is to look at the root cause of whatever issue or problem you're dealing with and consider how that affects the symptoms or issues that crop up today." From this lesson, Huachaca now bypasses searching for temporary solutions and instead seeks to address the root causes of personal and social issues, hoping to manifest more permanent solutions. 

As Huachaca prepares to graduate from Clifton High, he is confident about his future. He announced, "I'll be studying pure mathematics at Rutgers University. Ideally, I'd love to be a research mathematician and spend my life on creative work and the discovery of new ideas and solutions to long-standing problems." He believes his passion for math and his love of learning will take him far. 

Looking back on his high school years, Huachaca feels grateful for the support he has received from his family, friends, and teachers. He knows he would not be where he is today without their encouragement and guidance. Huachaca is a perfect example of how hard work and dedication can lead to outstanding achievements. His positive attitude, combined with his intelligence, has helped him to excel at his passions and achieve his goals. He is enthusiastic about the opportunities ahead and is determined to positively impact the world. He believes his education will provide him with the means to solve complex problems and people's lives. We wish Herbert Huachaca the best in his future endeavors and are glad to call him a fellow Cliftonite!

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