HOLLYWOOD — A video of Jenna Billie at only 16 months old identifying letters of the alphabet could have been perceived as an awesome learning fluke – until three months later when she recited the alphabet in Spanish and sounded out each letter.
Fast forward to last month when Jenna, at age 4 and 1 month, was accepted into Mensa International, an organization for the top 2 percent most intelligent people in the world.
Her parents, Jennifer and Jonah Billie, of Hollywood, were not surprised – they were convinced.
“When she was a baby, she was learning to speak while learning the ABCs in English and Spanish. We knew there was something special about her,” Jennifer Billie said.
Around age 2, Jenna began connecting the letters and sounding out words.
By 3, enrolled in her first preschool, Jenna was so intellectually advanced that teachers told her parents their little girl did not fit in – she had already taught herself to read.
“Jenna qualified for VPK (voluntary prekindergarten) and we were so excited, but even the teacher there said Jenna knew more than she could teach her,” Jennifer Billie said.
A teacher suggested that Jenna undergo an intelligence test so better school choices could be made for her future. At the office of Pembroke Pines clinical psychologist Dr. David A. Lustig, Jenna tested above the 99.6 percentile of her age group.
“The doctor sat us down and told us that not only is she gifted, but in a typical classroom of gifted children, Jenna would probably be the most gifted,” Jennifer Billie said.
Mensa International membership came next for the little girl with the irresistible smile who takes ballet and gymnastics lessons every Wednesday and Thursday.
According to the Mensa website, the organization boasts 120,000 members globally who range from age 2 through 100 years and older. Most are between the ages of 20 and 60.
Acceptance into Mensa is granted after a person proves he or she has scored within the upper 2 percent of the general world population in an approved and supervised intelligence test (IQ test). Because some actual individual scores can vary depending on the many IQ tests allowed by Mensa, the organization uses population averages to qualify applicants.
Some tests are not valid for children younger than 16. Intelligently gifted children can be accepted after appropriate testing at school or through a private psychologist.
Now, two months past her fourth birthday, Jenna attends prekindergarten at Apple Tree Montessori School in Southwest Ranches.
The school follows the Montessori practice of encouraging children to learn independently at their own pace. Teachers provide learning environments rich with academic and experiential opportunities in language arts, mathematics, geography, computers and science.
When she is not in school, Jenna rips through store-bought workbooks for first-graders and asks grown-ups a million questions, retaining all the answers. On a recent Saturday, because she likes planets, Jenna crafted a revolving model of the solar system for a school show and tell.
“We always have to find new challenges for her,” Jennifer Billie said.
Jennifer and Jonah Billie admit they sometimes forget that Jenna is only 4. Her questions are constant and her conversation is dynamic.
Other times, she acts her age – like during a photo shoot when she picked up a fistful of dirt and tossed it over a neighbor’s fence.
So what does a pint-sized genius who loves monkeys and bananas, books about bugs and chocolate ice cream dream about becoming when she grows up? Jennifer Billie said her daughter can be anything she wants, from a ballerina to a doctor to an astronaut.
Jenna wants to be a princess.
“You are already a princess,” her mother said.
But a Mensa child knows her limits – for now.
“No, mommy, I’m still just a little girl,” Jenna said.