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Into the Gifted Classroom

April 9, 2018

“It’s too hard!”

My daughter, Claire, was having a meltdown over math again. She hated math, but I knew it wasn’t too hard for her. She did extremely well in it and her only competition was a boy in her class.

“When you say it is hard, do you mean it is boring?”

“Yes, it is boring!”

“Why is it boring?”

“I already know it!!!”

This was true. She had a natural knack for understanding math, even though she struggled with learning her multiplication tables. In our math discussions at dinner (yes, we are nerds), she held her own quite well against her sisters three and five years older than her, who are no math slouches.

Some people think gifted students are thrilled with easy schoolwork and homework. What’s not to love about getting straight As without effort? Instead, most gifted students are frustrated at the missed opportunities for learning. It is when they have given up on school that gaming the system to get As becomes the most thrilling part of education.

What to do? Well, after so many promises about differentiation, a full year’s growth, Multi-Tier Systems of Support for high ability students, curriculum that would challenge all students, and other help for gifted learners, we knew that our school district would never provide what our gifted daughters needed. Either they don’t understand gifted learners or they are unwilling to make the changes to meet their needs.

It was time for something drastic. It was time to break from our district to start a program.

gifted_24-7We first explored a charter school, but we had neither the money ($250,000) nor expertise to start one. We began to look around at districts to partner with to create a school. We were immediately attracted to Avondale. Avondale offered innovative leadership, a diverse population, and an excellent location. Innovative leadership was vital as even great districts can get stuck in a rut and only be willing to do minor tweaks; this was major. A diverse population was important to us as we don’t believe gifted education should only be for wealthier white families, a problem that often occurs nationally. Located at the intersection of two highways meant easy travel for School of Choice students, who would make this program feasible for the district.

But how would Avondale respond? We came out of our first meeting absolutely astonished! After years of being told “no”, “wait”, “we don’t see a need”, or “we have no money” or just given the cold shoulder in our district, we were warmly welcomed, they recognized the need, and they wanted to explore moving forward with a gifted program. As we walked to the parking lot we were shocked and jubilant!

In the fall of 2017, the Avondale Gifted Magnet Program opened and we enrolled our youngest daughter in third grade there. Even though I had been involved in starting the program, I was nervous. I knew the administration at Avondale had done a tremendous amount of work, studied giftedness, and found excellent teachers, but what would it be like? Would the teachers differentiate well or would we still have to push? Would it be just a standard classroom filled with really smart kids, as honors and AP classes often are? And what the heck was this Project-Based Learning that they kept talking about?

Astonishing. Breathtaking. Miraculous. It exceeded our expectations by leaps and bounds.

The teachers tested the kids to find out where they should be. Our third grader was placed in fourth grade math and started on eighth grade level books  with kids of similar ability. A few weeks later, our daughter’s teacher contacted us about moving her up to fifth grade math. We were a bit dumbfounded! This never happened in our home district! She’s been doing great in fifth grade math, but now when she says “It’s too hard!”, it means that she actually has to put in effort to succeed. Yes! Sadly, her friend in her prior class has not received the acceleration he needs.

Science appears to be a subject she really enjoys. She also enjoys coming home and asking her older sisters in seventh and eighth grade if they know the science she was taught that day. Xylem and phloem were unknown to them and their science teachers said they were too difficult of concepts for their middle school students. For some students they may be, but this just shows what kids are missing when differentiation does not take place.

Project Based Learning has been intriguing to watch. Students usually get to choose a subject they are interested in learning about. They research and investigate it, create a report on it, and present to the class, sharing the knowledge. One student presented on dark matter, a concept foreign to most students of any age. My daughter’s latest project is joining a living wax museum as Maria Mayer. “Who???” was collective question at our dinner table. Maria Mayer came up with the electron shell model of the atom and replaced Niels Bohr’s incorrect model. OK, now she’s learning stuff we didn’t know. Not sure I’m ready for that!

The Avondale Gifted Program has been extremely successful. In fall 2018, it will likely triple in size and in fall 2019, it becomes the Avondale Gifted School, outgrowing being housed at Woodland Elementary. Parents and students are excited and coming from outside the county to join, as anyone in Michigan is eligible. Starting as only third and fourth grades, it will be second through fifth grades this fall and expanding up through eighth grade. Could there be a gifted high school too? I’m not sure.

To find out more information about this great program, please join us on Thursday, April 12 from 6 PM to 7:30 PM at Woodland Elementary for an information session followed by time to meet the teachers and explore the classrooms. See Avondale Gifted & Talented or contact program director Hillary Olance at hillary.olance@avondale.k12.mi.us with any questions. Applications are accepted from April 9 to May 9. I hope to see you Thursday, even if you are just curious!

Avondale Gifted & Talented Program Parent Information Session
Thursday, April 12, 6 PM to 7:30 PM
Woodland Elementary
6465 Livernois Rd.
Troy, MI
Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE. Together we will make a difference for gifted learners!

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