Gifted Education back in the day: so much better then--nearly ten years ago--than now

This time we have a morning Blogapalooz challenge. Our topic is: "Write about a period or moment in your life when you were at your best." We were given one hour to write and then we had to post. Below is the result:

I quit a job I loved at the top of my game. Was I at my very best? I don’t know, but I'd like to believe I was close. And I was happy. I started the school year off thinking that it doesn’t get much better. My own kids were successfully attending college so I could concentrate the bulk of my time at my suburban elementary school collaborating with great students and families.

The year was 2008-9. I was working with highly gifted and talented students as a gifted resource teacher for a principal I liked and respected. My old boss in the district (a phenomenal educator and still a pal) was helping me design enrichment curriculum. I’ll call her Peggy. Peggy had shepherded a program geared at identifying and meeting the needs of the highly gifted in 2001, and since then, that previously underserved population had been soaring at every elementary school in our district.

I, with Peggy at times, met with these forty plus students (who exceeded expectations on the ISAT) during an intervention block period. As a gifted resource teacher, I was a facilitator. I modeled how to use higher order thinking in written and oral responses. Students chose the fiction or non-fiction works or topics they wanted to present to our intervention block, and sometimes, if classroom teachers were open to the idea, to their classrooms. The students had a fair amount of control over the process and their individual products. On their own, they selected complex materials, and the novelty of the intervention block process hooked them (they even loved jiving to the music that announced the intervention block). It was a joy to watch the students’ process reading materials (district wide goal first term), It was a joy to witness their collaboration and creativity as they presented top-notch products to their peers: dioramas about Roman battles, a website on the 2008 presidential election, and speeches as Roman Emperors. It was a joy to see them win top honors for a letter they wrote to President Obama on the eve of his first inauguration.

Other classes looked at whether there was life on Mars (that was a question back then), worked on Algebra, studied the works of Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. By now, my area of interest, climate change, had become a school wide project, with every grade working on projects. A parent nominated me to participate in an international climate change mission to Antarctica and our superintendent permitted to miss school and participate. When I returned from Antarctica, I presented to over five hundred students in the District. And, as part of the second intervention block focusing on math, the students researched countries around the world and outlined their positions on climate change, and made suggestions on how countries might more aggressively fight this problem. Parents watched with pride.

At that time, I had a heavy heart. I knew I was leaving. I had quit my job that February, about a month before I left for Antarctica. The handwriting was on the wall. The District was revising gifted and talented identification processes, and Peggy’s programming supporting the highly gifted was watered down.

Those who championed interventions that met the needs of the highly gifted, like Peggy and I, have either retired or raised their voices in other ways. As Peggy said, we worked in the Golden Era of Gifted Education.

Top of my game? I don’t know. But, these students and my colleagues are deeply embedded in my heart.

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