This is the first year Nigel Applewhite's mother has worked as a nurse full time.

When the children were younger, she worked part time so she could stay at home more and help them with their homework.

Before Nigel was 5, she was teaching him how to read the calender. She used to write for him simple words with similar endings and sounds, such as "cat" and "sat" and "bat," and teach him the alphabet so he would learn to read.

When Nigel started school at Ardmore Elementary School in Landover, he was already reading portions of the Bible. After moving to Burtonsville, in Montgomery County's rural east, he became an outstanding student.

Nigel Applewhite, a black 13-year-old, has had many of what educators consider the things most essential to being able to read: a stable home life, parents who spent time with him, books to read and experiences outside Burtonsville -- experiences denied many other minority students for lack for money or parental interst. And his parents expect him to do well.

"I expect As and Bs in his coursework," says his mother. "I always picture him in an engineering environment, where mathematics are involved. Maybe computers."

Nigel's parents are both from the West Indies. Every year he has flown there to visit relatives. He has seen many of the islands and has traveled to New York often to visit cousins. In summer the family takes trips to Lake Fairfax and occasionally to West Virginia. With his mother, he has visited the National Gallery of Art and the National Portrait Gallery.

Nigel will say, "I don't like reading that much. Every once in a while I'll pick up a good book. My mother's always telling me to read when I can't get to sleep." He hates his piano lessons (hoping his clarinet playing will lead to the saxaphone). And his grades have begun to slip since starting at Banneker Junior High. Even so, he is unable to stifle his own intelligence.

In the fifth grade, Nigel had already acquired an eighth grade vocabulary. His reading was in the 80th percentile. In math he is among an elite group in the country: his test scores place him in the top 5 percent. On the state functional reading test, he scored 95 percent.

Nigel is bored.

"I like brain ticklers," he says. "Right now we're dong things we did in the fifth grade . . . We do English compositions. But I'd like to do more."

What he would really like to do is weld -- like his father, who is an auto body mechanic at Manhattan Auto in Bethesda -- and travel around the country visiting the big amusement parks.

Says his counsellor, Oscar L. Walden: "He can go anywhere he wants."