Jordan Benn said he didn't have a chance to goof off when it came to school work: The two people he lives with – his mother and grandmother –were both teachers.
“If one didn't get me, than the other one would,” he said with a laugh. “They accepted no excuses when it came to homework, and they would not slack off until I did it.”
That enforced diligence in the homework department paid off. Benn has recently been accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the first graduate of York Comprehensive High School in recent history to attend MIT.
Benn has been accepted at six other schools, including Cornell and the University of Chicago.
He has never visited MIT, a prestigious Boston college that has seven Nobel Prize winners on the faculty and a 12.5 percent acceptance rate. The 18-year-old plans to major in mechanical engineering and become a professor.
His academic roots were planted early. His mother, Deloris Benn, is the beginning band director at York's Harold C. Johnson Middle School. Her band students are required to practice 100 minutes at home a week – no excuses.
Benn, who plays the baritone saxophone, says that's a long time, particularly to a busy middle-schooler.
“You had to get a parent to sign a note saying that you had practiced that long, and she would never back off,” he said. “One hundred minutes is one hundred minutes, even if your mom is the band director.”
His grandmother, Dorothy Williams, taught English and worked as a librarian for 34 years. She says she rarely met a good student who didn't love to read.
For her grandson, it started with the newspaper.
“Reading the paper was just something we did everyday in our house, and I would read it out loud and he would kneel beside me and follow the words,” she said.
She also would clip articles. When Jordan got home, they would discuss them.
She remembers how he became obsessed with dinosaurs when he was in elementary school – not only could he identify a tyrannosaurus from a stegosaurus and a triceratops, but he could spell the creatures' names.
“Oh, and he knew which were carnivores and omnivores, and we got him a dinosaur book and he went absolutely crazy about all those animals,” she said. “And when he was good and deserved a reward, well there was no question where he wanted to spend the day: at Discovery Place.”
She said Jordan was equally devoted to the hundreds of Marvel comic books inherited from his uncles.
“What we learned early on with Jordan was if you wanted to get his attention, make it a learning experience,” she said. “That child has always been hungry for knowledge.”
Jordan says the two women have been like two mothers.
“My mother is the strict disciplinarian, the iron rod, but my Grandma is my guiding hand,” he said. “They've both told me I could accomplish about anything I wanted to.
“I understand now why they were so hard on me about my homework.”