Sheila Joy-Martin said her daughter Lauryn’s desire for knowledge was a product of design. (Courtesy photo)

School is winding down but it’s never too late to learn a few things. Today’s topic: How to raise a “gifted” child, taught by Sheila Joy-Martin.

Joy-Martin, along with her husband, Larry Martin, are the parents of Memphis’ new “2-million-dollar girl,” Lauryn Martin.

Lauryn snagged more than $2 million in scholarship money from colleges all over the country, thanks to her academic superpowers. She is also the 2018 salutatorian of Whitehaven High School.

Joy-Martin said her family is grateful for being so blessed, but creating a desire for knowledge and building an innate curiosity in Lauryn was all by design.

“We came from a family who valued education as far back as my great-great-grandfather,” said Joy-Martin. “So from the very beginning, I wanted to do everything I could to instill in Lauryn the value of education. I wanted to do all the things for her that my mother did for me.”

From the time Lauryn was in the womb, Joy-Martin would sit in the nursery rocking chair and read to her baby every day.

“My husband would always laugh at me because I read to Lauryn every day in vitro,” said Joy-Martin, a retired Shelby County Schools educator. “I remember the first book I ever read to her was, ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go’ by Dr. Seuss.”

Joy-Martin herself was taught to value education because of the stories she heard about “her mother’s people.” It was a family saga that reached all the way back to slavery.

‘My parents gave me every advantage, and I am grateful. I know that I am ‘gifted,’ but it was the stimulating environment for learning in our house that helped me so much. I want to pass that down to my children.’
— Lauryn Martin, who earned more than $2 million in college scholarships

“My great-great-grandfather was a slave in Augusta, Ga. He was a mulatto man, the son of his master and a house servant. By the end of the Civil War, he was in Tennessee in the Whiteville area. At that time, he had enough money to buy 100 acres of land which he farmed. We don’t know where the money came from. It could have been from his father, or he may have worked and amassed this money.

“He could read by the time he got to Tennessee. It was unlawful for a slave to read [but] literacy was important from way back. We kept the farm for more than a century. I was born right there on that same farm.”

The ex-slave’s son went all the way to the eighth grade. There were no high schools around Whiteville for African-Americans, and many black children worked in the fields and did not have much schooling.

“My mother taught me little things when I was still very young,” Joy-Martin said, “and that was my goal — to teach my child while she was still very young.”

Lauryn understands that she has been classified as “gifted,” but learning is just a natural part of growing up for her.

“My parents gave me every advantage, and I am grateful. I know that I am ‘gifted’ but it was the stimulating environment for learning in our house that helped me so much. I want to pass that down to my children.”

When Lauren was three months old, Joy-Martin taught her how to turn the light switch on and off.

“I would take her little, fat hand and put it on the light switch,” she said. “It was important to teach her little things like that.”

At that time, Lauryn was being cared for by Gwen Bell, whom Joy-Martin said was a “wonderful lady.”

“Ms. Bell would prop those children up with pillows at only a few months old, and teach them the alphabet. By the time Lauryn was two, she could recognize different words,” Joy-Martin said. “I enrolled her in Kinder Music where she was taught to dance and play little instruments along with the music.

She learned motor skills, listening skills and how to follow directions.”

When Lauryn was old enough for kindergarten, she was enrolled in John P. Freeman Optional School, an advanced college preparatory school in the Whitehaven community. Students must score high on a test to attend Shelby County Schools’ full optional program.

“I wanted Lauryn to be challenged in the classroom,” Joy-Martin said. “Also from K-8th grades, Lauryn took ballet for discipline. From grades 5 through 9, she played violin in her school orchestra.

But very early, she was interested in the medical field. We would buy her doctor and nurse kits because she liked playing with the instruments.”

After a standout performance at a school of exceptional and gifted children, Lauryn went to Whitehaven High School, with a dual enrollment at East High School for biomedical engineering. East High’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program was designed to stimulate interest and nurture the demonstrated “giftedness” of students who excel in those areas.

In addition to her academic achievements, Lauryn pursued volunteer and internship opportunities that made her an appealing prospective student for colleges.

Lauryn is president of the Key and Lock Club, a community organization that involves students in serving and volunteerism. Joy-Martin, a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, believes community service is a responsibility every young person must learn, she said.

Her summer internship for her junior year was at the Choates Rosemary Hall – a school attended by the Kennedys – for civics and public policy. The summer internship leading into her senior year was spent at Methodist South maternity wing.

All of her efforts led to offers for full scholarships from several colleges, adding up to a whopping $2 million. Lauryn, who aspires to be an OB/GYN, visited Xavier, Dillard, Alabama State and Tennessee State – to name just a few – before choosing Alcorn State University, a school with an exceptional program in biomedical engineering.