Monday, June 09, 2008

History of School: Up to Grade 7

Ages ago, my friend Jackie and her friend Tom had some interesting conversations going about gifted children. As someone tagged early on as gifted, and as the mom to a child who professionals have "warned" me is gifted, I thought I would put in my two cents as well, and started a review of my schooling career. I never finished the post, so that I would resurrect it.

Here is History of School: Up to Grade 7

My early elementary school years (until 4th grade) were in a good county public school. I always did very well in school and I liked it a lot, I think primarily because I was (and am) a social person--the academics were not the main point for me. The schooling wasn't hard but it wasn't boring either. I didn't "stick out" as a gifted kid, except when any standardized testing happened. I remember bringing home my Iowa test scores which apparently were stunningly high. I think this is when my parents "got" that I was actually truly smart, and they weren't making it up. I had been reading since age 4, when my paternal grandmother (a former teacher) taught me very quickly with old Dick & Jane books, but my dad read early too, so it was never thought to be a big deal.

(Side note: My father's family is HIGHLY competitive. He held the title in his family of Smartest Person, which he stole from his own mother, until his younger brother scored a perfect score on the math section of the SAT. I then captured the title from Uncle John, only to be surpassed by my brillant and gorgeous cousin Julia (John's daughter) when, a few years back, she got a perfect score on the Massachusetts State academic test.)

In 4th grade, when I went to live with my maternal grandparents full time, I transferred to a city public school in a depressed working-class area. This is where they really did not know what to do with me. I was ahead of every kid in the school. I spent part of my day initially with the 6th graders, which frankly was terrifying, as their extracurricular activities included smoking and having sex and beating each other up. Not to mention they were all really tall! They barely tolerated me. I begged my grandmother to get me out of the 6th grade class, and after many consultations with the principal and teachers, they instead put me in a Gifted and Talented classroom for part of every day. This I liked, as the teacher was wonderful and the kids were less scary. Our work in the GATE program was more focused on creativity and critical thought--we did news writing projects, studied and wrote poetry, etc. My teacher was instrumental in convincing me to attend my next school, where I started in 7th grade. She also sparked my confidence to get into theater work, which I did over the next several years, studying at MD Center for the Arts camps and Center Stage Conservatory--never ceasing to amaze my family that I could go up cold on a stage and audition for a roomful of adults. Even with the GATE class, I still had to do math separately from my class, using SRA materials to teach myself several-grades ahead math with two other kids (a skill that came handy in college, when I got the flu and had to teach myself two weeks' worth of stats with just the copies of my teacher's transparencies from class).

In 7th grade I moved onto a city-wide public junior high school with an excellent reputation. I wasn't psyched to go there, but to please Mrs. Camp, both my friend Kenya and I agreed to try it for one quarter. The sections (12 in all) were sorted by "smarts"--smartest in 701, next smartest in 702, etc. (Isn't that a terribly intimidating and polarizing system??) Kenya's older sister Noelle went to the school and LOVED it; she was very proud to have been in 708. So when the assignments came in the mail, Noelle and Kenya were beside themselves with pride because Kenya had been assigned to 705. They called me to ask what section I was in and--unaware of the heirarchy--I opened my envelope and casually reported I was in 701. I thought Noelle was going to die on the phone. You may as well have said that my homeroom teacher was Rick Springfield. (Previous close encounter with this school: in the summer before 6th grade, while I was at theater camp, someone from the school system contacted my mom--they wanted me to be one of about 6 students city-wide to pilot starting at the city-wide segment of the school in 6th grade instead of 7th. I didn't go because I was panicked and tearful at the thought of leaving my comfort zone a year early. Only several years later did I learn from my mom that they actually wanted ME to be the SINGLE PILOTED CHILD to go directly into 7th grade--skipping 6th altogether. Good thing she didn't tell me--I would have lost my little anxious mind!)

To be continued....


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