An Oakland 9-year-old whose parents teach at a Berkeley music school has led a team to victory in a nationwide contest of knowledge and mental acuity.
Emile Serper and four of his friends won an annual contest sponsored by Mensa International, a group that defines itself as a society for those with exceptionally high IQs.
Emile -- a prodigy in music and academics -- and teammates Charlotte Peale, William Peale, Gavin Williams, all of Berkeley and Grant Griffin of Oakland took a 90-minute Mensa test administered to all age groups on April 29. The results were released in August.
The team answered 42 out of 272 questions correctly, enough to take first place in the Culture Quest Future Generation Division for kids 18 and under.
Emile, the team captain, has been a Mensa member since age 5 and fulfilled the requirement of having at least one Mensa member on the squad.
"The fact that they won with 42 correct answers shows how hard the test is," said Laura Serper, Emile's mother.
A sample question: "What does the word 'trombone' mean in French? Answer: "Paperclip."
One could answer the question through a knowledge of French or by deducing it from what a trombone looks like, illustrating Mensa's emphasis on mental acuity as well as academic learning.
There were questions about music, math, geography, literature, history and other subjects on the test, according to Laura Serper and her husband Arkadi Serper.
"If they had to do things over again, I think (the team) would have strategized the test better, with each team member taking questions about the subjects they know the best," Laura Serper said.
Instead, they tackled all the questions they had time for as a group, she said.
The Serpers said Emile has shown superior intelligence from a young age. He is considered to be "profoundly gifted," meaning his IQ is believed to be above 170, Laura Serper said.
He was accepted in the young scholar program by the Reno, Nev.-based Davidson Institute for Young Scholars on the basis of his performance on the institute's test. Later, the couple placed him in Mensa, where he scored in the 99.9th percentile on the its qualifying test.
One of Emile's strongest subjects is math. During an interview, he successfully squared several randomly selected double and triple digit numbers.
Emile is also talented in languages, Laura Serper said. He has picked up a good command of Modern Greek from his maternal grandmother and from lessons he took from a Greek teacher. He is also improving his Russian with the help from Arkadi Serper, a native of Ukraine.
"Emile was my ears and mouth when we took a trip to Greece last year," Arkadi Serper said.
Emile said his knowledge of Greek has helped him improve his vocabulary since many English words are derived from Greek. He cited arachnophobia, a fear of spiders, and appropriate for Halloween, as his favorite example and named his Mensa team "Gnosis," which means "knowledge" in Greek.
Emile receives some home-schooling from Laura Serper and takes academic classes at Tilden Preparatory High School in Albany, and cello and piano lessons at Crowden School in Berkeley, where his mother is the choral music director and Arkadi Serper is a piano and composition instructor.
Emile also plays -- and his parents winced a little about this -- the drums.
"He is thriving with a special blend of home school and acceptance of his ability to grow at his own rate," Laura Serper said.
The Serpers are thinking about enrolling Emile in college well before he's 18 since he is taking high school-level courses now, including algebra and geometry. But, the Serpers feel that interacting socially with college-age students could be a problem for any 9-year-old.
"We value children being children," she said. "We don't feel like we want him to miss that."