Race to the Pool
The first grader completed her six-week Saturday program at William and Mary’s Center for Gifted Education. She and her classmates designed a community swimming pool. Everything was measured and built to scale. On the last Saturday all of the children presented their work to their parents and other adults, explaining how they had learned to measure, to find perimeter, to work to scale.
This has been a rough year for this six-year-old in her regular public school class. Her reading and math skills are far above those of the average student in her class, which is big for first grade – 22 or 23 students. It isn’t the number of students as much as it is the range of ability that frazzles her teacher. One day as the child was working in her Junie B book, making up and writing down new names for people she knew, her teacher was renamed “Mrs. Yelling.” Every morning the little girl dallies getting dressed before school, does her homework on the bus, and is ecstatic when school is cancelled or delayed. She likes the special classes best – music, art, phys ed.
On the other hand, she loved the Saturday program. She couldn’t wait to get there. She didn’t want to be late. Her Saturday teacher said she was immersed in the project, asked good questions, created interesting answers to problems.
Her regular teacher says the child doesn’t like the additional work the teacher gives her to fill her time, and she talks to her friends a little too much.
So I said to her, “What’s the difference between the Saturday program and regular school?” She looked at me as if I were joking. “Well,” she said finally, “we get to do things on Saturday. Nothing happens at regular school.”
I’m not so sure a child has to be gifted to feel that way. It seems as if every child has a right to be challenged, to be excited about learning, to have fun. I’m back to wishing that every child in elementary school had an Individual Education Plan – especially in first grade. The Race to the Top politics of education doesn’t seem to have the same appeal to first graders as “Everyone into the pool!” In the end, it’s about teachers good enough to interest kids in learning.