Two Palo Alto campuses test 'inclusion' programs this fall Schools & Kids, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Dec 2, 2011 at 10:34 am
Every month, parents at Barron Park Elementary School in Palo Alto are invited to an "inclusion coffee" to share their thoughts about a new pilot program at the school -- taking the inclusion of some special-education students to a significant new level.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, December 2, 2011, 8:44 AM
Posted by KP, a resident of the South of Midtown neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2011 at 10:34 am
We have been trying to get this done for our HIGH functioning, non behavioral issue, understandable speech, developmentally delayed daughter for the past 10 years. NOW they want to figure out how well it can work for students on both sides of the issue!!
The biggest benefit is that "normal" students can get an understanding of others "not so normal", and the students with the disabilities can see how the REAL world works and continues to function. They can see what they are going to be dealing with AFTER school is over.
I am so over dealing with the school districts on this issue.
I am just happy that, finally, students with and without disabilities will see how they need to deal with people of all abilities in the real world later in life.
Posted by different opinion, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2011 at 10:58 am
My opinion will not please some people. I am choosing to remain anonymous because being publicly against full inclusion is not accepted and could be detrimental to my career. I work in PAUSD elementary classrooms.
While the IDEA of full inclusion sounds wonderful, in reality in a world where resources are limited, which means the real world, the more time, energy, attention, accommodations that a seriously special needs student requires from the teacher and the school then the less there is of these things available for the other twenty or so students in the class.
Some may refute this, but I have seen it in action. Classroom teachers feel unable to complain about this for fear of seeming inflexible, uncompassionate, etc. The school day and the school year do not become longer. The expected curriculum for the grade level does not change (and it shouldn’t). BUT the number of classroom minutes spent trying to get things on track definitely increases. So we are asking teachers once again to do more with less.
When we worry about remaining competitive in this country, we need to consider the vast resources that are expended on special needs situations. Because we don’t have unlimited resources, the average, well-behaved students are given the short end of the stick. There is much talk in this district about differentiated learning - that every student is served individually. Sadly, this is just not true. Certainly higher level students in elementary school are not individually challenged. And many of the quiet, middle-of-the-class, students are almost ignored as teachers have to deal with many students with emotional and behavioral issues not severe enough to warrant being pulled out to a separate class but certainly creating daily interruptions within the classroom. And the class sizes continue to creep up, so there are more and more disruptive children within each class. Adding students with severe needs to this mix is a huge stress on regular classroom teachers.
There are teachers who are drawn to working with special needs children. These individuals are saints. But if we now expect every classroom teacher to take that on as well, it will become even harder to train and retain all the teachers we need to educate our society’s children.
I am not critiquing anyone’s motivations, the best of intentions are involved. But I think there is a dangerous disconnect between the IDEAL and REALITY. Yes, students may learn empathy, tolerance, and compassion for differences. These are lovely goals. But what about all the other things we consider the schools’ PRIMARY responsibility to teach. That job now becomes much harder.
Posted by Concur, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2011 at 11:20 am
I concur with the "different opinion." We either have to apply more resources to the schools where these programs are being tried or we need to find a different way to balance inclusion with the academic (and social) requirements today's society is placing on our children. The bottom line is, we don't have unlimited resources and need to make choices.
I've seen inclusion work but I have also seen the incredible strain it places on the system. The fact that some group of children usually ends up being ignored (more often than not the "average" children) is a price that I, as a parent of average kids, is not willing to pay.
Posted by catmeow, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2011 at 11:43 am
I assume the PAUSD teacher from above is not having a special need student in her/his class, because I do not think she/he has a sense of how inclusion is actually working in the district. Inclusion is all about providing the resource needed for every child to succeed. If you visit any of the inclusion class at Barron Park, you will find that NONE of them have only ONE teacher in the classroom. The school district has done very well in providing the resources that a child needs to be included in a particular classroom. Every single classroom with special need student(s) has additional staff (very well trained staff who knows the special need students for years. A number of them even have all the teacher credentials). They belong to the classroom, in other words, the head teacher could ask them to do whatever they are beneficial to the entire class. Also because they are so well trained, they not only handle the special need student very well to relieve the stress from the teachers, but also help the other students in the classroom. There is also inclusion specialist and other specialists on site for the necessary support.
In summary, I agree that inclusion has to be done with enough support and resources. But so far, I think PAUSD is doing a great job with inclusion at Barron Park.
Posted by Mom, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2011 at 2:25 pm
My child's second grade class was disrupted on a daily basis by a student on the autism spectrum who struggled with impulse control and emotional instability. The student swore at parent volunteers, yelled out during lessons, pushed other students and threw school supplies when frustrated.
My child was terrified of this student, and learned significantly less that year than she should have because the class was so chaotic.
Posted by Parent of Kid in that Classroom, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2011 at 2:47 pm
I am a parent of one of the kids in the pics, the folks who are objecting to this program are just dead wrong. Our child has been at Palo Alto Family for 2 years now one year without 'Inclusion' kids and this year with.
As a parent I am always concerned with the types of classmates our child has (inclusion kids or otherwise) All I can say is that this experience has been seamless and delightful. Our child is just as happy about their Palo Alto Family Pre-School experience this year as last. No one is being shortchanged in any way and all the kids have an opportunity to meet an even more diverse set of classmates this year.
My child is being given the example that kids with developmental or cognitive abilities outside the norm are not 'the other'. I have observed first hand these kids can function in a more traditional classroom setting with surprisingly little extra resources. Most folks I think could go observe and would be hard pressed to find anything different about this classroom of 4 year olds compared to any classroom of 4 year olds.
As for the resource argument, it is more cost effective to integrate kids as much as possible. It doesn't matter the type of learners so much as keeping student:teacher ratios as low as possible, ensure that teachers have the training and the tools to deal with all their students.
As for 'vast resources being spent on special needs kids' that is just an absurd proposition or you just don't know the meaning of the word vast. All kids deserve our compassion and the best we have to offer. I would happily pay more taxes to do so.
Posted by Too-Much-Social-Engineering-At-PAUSD, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2011 at 2:58 pm
Anyone who has been around someone with Turrets Syndrome will probably say that this person is disruptive, and it's not their fault. True, but disruptive is disruptive. Having more than one such person in a class room would easily bring normal instruction to a halt. With 10% of the student body supposedly termed "special needs", that would make 2 such children per class of 20 the norm. And as class size increases, so would the number of of these "special needs" kids.
Are all PAUSD teachers trained to deal with them? Or does this mean that in addition to the teacher, the aides, there will now be some number of "special needs" personnel in the class room too?
And what provisions are being made for parents/students to identify problems in the classroom, if/when they should arise? The School Board is more likely than not to ignore any complaints until there is a parents' revolt at hand. So, how will parents who feel that "inclusion" is simply too disruptive be able to make their views known to the schools in an official way?
Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2011 at 3:21 pm
I concur with the statements made by 'different opininon'. His/her analysis is right on. While we need to be supportive of special needs children, "inclusion" does not appear to be the optimal approach for these children or for the regular class. A better solution would be to make sure that all children are provided resources to develop at their individual rates. There is too big of a gap in needs between the special needs children and the rest. I can see some "inclusive" social interaction as being helpful but just dumping these students in a regular classroom seems like a low cost "punt" that's not good for anyone.
Posted by Neal Aronson, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2011 at 3:27 pm
It is shameful that people in this community hide behind the Internet's veil to argue against integrating one of the last segregated classes of citizens in our society. I take solace in the historical fact that our country has consistently, albeit painfully at times, exposed these shallow and fear mongering arguments for what they really are.
Inclusion is a right for these kids and as others have said, the benefits are far reaching for everyone, while the costs will in the longer term be negligible. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Posted by district teacher, a resident of Woodside, on Dec 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm
PAUSD needs to join not the 21st century, but the 20th century when it comes to inclusion. The inclusion model is the norm in a lot of states in the country. I worked in this model for eleven years and it was a wonderful experience. Students, in general, were kinder to and more patient with each other (and less elitist?) regardless of a student being 'regular' or special ed. I find the marginalization of students with special needs (ranging from dyslexia to Down's syndrome...) in PAUSD shocking and shameful.
Maybe it was just semantics in a comment above, but any teacher who is expected to or expects to 'deal' with students of any ilk has no business being in the classroom. Teachers should be working with, not dealing with students.
Posted by catmeow, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2011 at 7:33 pm
There are a couple things to be clarified:
1. Not every special need student can be/will benefit from 100% inclusion. In Barron park elementary, the special need students are included from 20%-100% in a general education class. We have to keep in mind that a lot of these students need 1:1 instruction to learns some essential skills. But by law, every student is entitled for full access to the general education if they can be successful with needed support.
2. I do not think that 10% of population is considered to be 'small'. If a 'proposed' public education system abandons 10% of its students, is it even considered 'public'? No one thinks their kids deserve less comparing to the top 10% IQ students, right?
Posted by Not-So-New, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2011 at 8:06 pm
Back in the early 90's when I was a teacher at Juana Briones my classroom roster included multiple children with severe disabilities, all day every day. Each year, every year. It was not a ground breaking, newspaper worthy event. It was a remarkable time. The students in my class learned together and played together. There was no credit due, there was no large group district employee classroom observations, it just was what it was; a classroom full of happy kids. And sometimes, some kids needed more than I could educationally offer. Sometimes some kids needed a specialist who knew how to teach to, or around the disability. Denying these students this specialized educational opportunity would have been criminal. It's funny how now, this "inclusion" idea is being presented as new and as cutting edge. It's not. As you read, been there done that. There was a reason SDC's were created. One size does not fit all.
Posted by Kiddo, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2011 at 8:08 pm
I also agree with "different opinion," above. My son goes to Preschool Family (one of the inclusion programs at the Greendell Campus), and though the administrators laud it a wonderful success, on the playground it's a totally different story. The caregivers of the special needs students don't watch out carefully enough over their charges, resulting in harm in some cases. I saw one disabled child run over with a tricycle-- her walker literally flew 5 feet away from her. Some of the disabled also have impulse control issues, and are physically violent and uncontrollable, and get away with the behavior because they are disabled. What message does that send to the normal students? The parents of the non-disabled are also apprehensive about the inclusion, considering the class sizes are already much larger than they've been in the past, and that the teachers don't have enough time to spend with each student or resources to deal with the ones they have. When parents bring up these issues with the administrators, they are completely blown off. I am completely disappointed in the inclusion, and the fact that none of the currently parents were consulted about it before the implementation. We were even told by Sharon Keplinger that inclusion was always part of the master plan, which is complete b.s. I bet it has something to do with funding.
Posted by PSF for 4 years, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2011 at 9:20 pm
My daughter was in Preschool Family for 4 years from 2006 - 2010. We didn't have the inclusion programs during that time. At least I didn't see the special needs students mixed with the normal class regularly. I could image the chaotic situation in playground and classrooms that kiddo mentioned above. I don't think PAUSD has enough resources to deal the inclusion program. Please take care of the basic problems first(increasing class sizes, budget cuts..........) before starting another problem. PIE can't ask parents keep donating and PAUSD just waste the resources.
Posted by Another parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Dec 2, 2011 at 10:39 pm
I also agree with "different opinion". As it is, even without the Special Needs kids in the classroom, teachers are completely bogged down trying to "leave no child behind". I feel most sorry for the higher performing students who are often bored out of their minds while the teacher must teach and re-teach concepts.
Many of the higher performing students know to keep a good book close at hand. Whenever they've finished their work, usually in a fraction of the time it takes many of the students, they pick up their book and read. Of course, reading is a great thing. I think it's so unfortunate that at the end of the day for many of our elementary school kids, they haven't learned one NEW thing. Think about it! There is so much we could be offering these kids. They are our future and they're left to quietly bide their time while the teachers slog on.
Posted by North PA mom, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 3, 2011 at 7:11 am
I'm so glad to see that my assessment of the prejudices of Palo Alto parents was correct. My special needs child attends a private school because I knew Palo Alto parents would not welcome him in THEIR classrooms. Shame on you.
Posted by Rachel Matta, a resident of Menlo Park, on Dec 3, 2011 at 7:42 am
It is great to see that Palo Alto is implementing inclusive programs in its schools, and is committing the necessary resources to make the transition successful. As a parent of a child with Down syndrome who is being included all day in a typical kindergarten in Menlo Park, I have been so pleased with the great gains he has made in his motivation and ability to write, his increased attention span and ability to follow directions, his continued love of books, and his desire to communicate verbally with his typical peers, which has made such a difference in his struggle to learn to talk. The children in his class are so friendly with him, his teacher has welcomed him, and his paraeducator, therapists, and inclusion specialist have worked together to make what has been a very happy transition for him.
Though full inclusion, or even part-time mainstreaming, is not perhaps for everyone, the law requires that children be educated in the least restrictive environment appropriate to their individual needs. Though inclusion may not always be the road taken, it should always be one of the options, and kudos to Palo Alto for bringing it to their schools. I grew up attending Palo Alto schools, and this action on their part makes me happier to be a graduate.
Posted by Mom of 3, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 3, 2011 at 9:34 am
Other high-performing school districts in other parts of the country have been following this model for years. It's remarkable to me that that a number of people in Palo Alto don't seem to know this yet. In fact, providing the necessary supports for an inclusive academic environment is actually the law (a civil rights law), and has been for more than 20 years. It does not mean that every student is included 100% of the time in a general ed class, but it does mean less reliance on special day classes. In the Northeast part of the country, at least, this is old news. It is essential to provide enough support for teachers, and to have good collaboration between the family and school, as part of the program. It is also important for teachers who haven't been supported in the past, to be willing to consider the possibility that the child they are sure can't be included, actually might be very successfully included with the right supports. It can actually turn out to be a great experience for everyone. Been there.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 3, 2011 at 9:35 am
I am really surprised reading this forum at the number of parents who are opposed to full inclusion, or even modified inclusion. I am even more surprised at the reasons for that opposition, which seem to focus on a zero-sum achievement oriented theory, to quote "different opinion" that "Certainly higher level students in elementary school are not individually challenged" because teachers are spending time with low achievers and special ed kids.
First of all, my son is a fifth grader at Barron Park and has been there since kindergarten. Although we have had five kids who fell all across the spectrum in terms of their ability and orientation to education, this particular child is very "high achieving," probably one of two or three kids at the very high end of that group at Barron Park. Ordinarily I would not talk about my kids' abilities or whatever because it could sound like bragging and we have enough of that around here. In this case it is relevant because I do not agree in any way with the parents who state that inclusion is bad for high achieving kids.
My son has has had a fantastic experience at Barron Park school. He has had wonderful teachers (his kinder teacher Jeff Morris was the best teacher that any of our kids ever had anywhere and must be one of the best teachers in the district), great friends, and has loved elementary school. We bought in the neighborhood because the school is racially and economically integrated, and we wanted to have a community that reflected America's diversity. When he has wanted a little extra challenge we have found ways to provide it. Frankly there is plenty of time for that later.
There are a lot of kids at Barron Park who behind grade level in some part of the curriculum. I have never felt that my son was getting shortchanged by teachers and that kind of thinking is really wrongheaded. My son is part of a community where the needs of all the people have to be taken into account. The kids who struggle need more than he does and it is more important to serve the kids who have needs than the kids who were born lucky like my son. Part of what he is learning in elementary school is social skills, getting along with people of all types and abilities, and working in a group. Part of what he is learning is appreciation of diversity. Part of what he is learning is how to be a member of a community.
I do not think we need tracking in the elementary schools either. The kids who finish work first know how to help others who may be falling behind when they are done with their work, rather than just "reading a book" as one of the other parents on this forum mentioned. Our son has learned how to work as part of a team (something that his dad has to do at Google every day, so it seems to be a good skill to have in life. I am pretty sure if Ken just picked up a book and started reading when an engineer on his team got stuck he would not do well at the company).
I would not want my son to learn the values exhibited by some of the parents in this forum, which seem to be drawn from Herbert Spencer rather than John Dewey.
Every child has a right legally and ethically to be educated in the least restrictive environment. A reasonable basis to oppose inclusion would be if it seemed that the district was cynically plopping the disabled kids into the regular classes in order to cut funding for special day programs and the disabled children were not receiving an education in the least restrictive environment but were being dumped in a corner of a regular classroom and ignored. As a Barron Park parent I can tell you that that that is NOT what is happening here.
I am proud of my school, proud of Barron Park community. I would rather be here than anywhere else in the district.
Posted by Greg Kosanovich, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 3, 2011 at 9:44 am
I am thoroughly disgusted at the number of people who are willing to anonymously post their bigotry, indecency and elitism. So we are clear, the position many of you have taken is: kids that are 'different' don't deserve the same education experience as my kid. I guess I was naive to think that the level of enlightenment in Palo Alto, California was somewhere above Pulaski, Tennessee (As my Mom would say, look it up).
You are hiding behind internet anonymity and couching your bigotry in 'concern for your child'. The truth is you don't care about your child, if you did you would not be setting the poor example of zero willingness to learn and understand those who are a little different. Also if you were really concerned for your kid you wouldn't have to do so anonymously.
The most disruptions in that class are no more due to the 'special needs' kids than the 'normal' kids; and there is nothing special about the disruptions, they are just like any group of 4 year olds.
As for incidents in the playground, I've got news for you; stuff happens in every playground in the world since the begining of playgrounds, you can either roll with it or teach you kid to make a big deal out of everything so they never learn any life coping skills.
As parents we are the examples we set for our children, I know I could explain this posting to my kids without shame.
Posted by Dixie McDaniel, a resident of another community, on Dec 3, 2011 at 9:45 am
I am the grandmother of one of the special needs students at Barron Park. He has mild cerebral palsy. I have 5 other main stream grandchildren. During the primary and secondary educations of my 2 children, programs of this nature had not evolved. Understanding, however, the need for my children to be accepting and tolerant of "all" I chose to expose my children to the fact that not everyone was as fortunate as they were. Regularly we went to Camp Costanoan in the Stevens Creek foothills and the 3 of us helped during their summer camp programs (raising money, helping in the kitchen, cleaning the grounds and a host of other things). Tolerance, acceptance and compassion were given a face; my children are better adults for this exposure and education. Naturally I lean toward and want the success of the program that I applaud the PAUSC is implementing There are facts to be said for both sides; no one side is "absolutely" correct. I urge the parents of the students of Barron Park School to collaborate and meet in the middle on this issue. Step back, look at what all levels of our government have done/are doing; no one will attempt to compromise/collaborate . Their heads are stuck in the sand and you, your families and this nation suffer. Do not let this happen at Barron Park; allow for compromise and resolution to meet the needs of everyone. Set an example for certainly the community, perhaps the state or even the nation to show how this can be done with success for both sides. Parents (and members of their immeidate families) step up ...help out in the classroom, donate money (and I'm not talking hundreds of dollars---$10, $15) for the purchase of school supplies, and organize fund raisers. I don't live in your community, but I'd support this type of progress, this type of example which will allow some of our "diverse" populations (our children/our future) to come together in a harmonious and thoughtful process. Stop the discord and find resolution; you're the adults and these children will follow in your steps. Do the right thing. I'll step up and I don't live in your community. I'll set an example of doing the right thing...anyone care to join me?
Posted by BarronPark Parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm
@Dixie, Thank you for your perspective, but I wanted to clarify something about Barron Park School. I am a mother of 2 students that attend Barron Park and we are by far one of the most amazing communities that I have had the privilege to be part of.
The school feels more like a family and people are always watching out and helping each other. There are so many amazing parents that are volunteering in the classroom. Last year there were too many parents in my son’s class to volunteer than there were needed.
For some reason I think that you have the understanding that it is Barron Park parents that are commenting negatively about the inclusion program, and that is not accurate. In fact on this post, the Barron Park parents are the ones talking about the amazing opportunities that are available with this program. Both “typical” students and students in the inclusion program are exposed to new challenges and have learned ways to grow. I have had more conversations with my children about their experiences this year because this program has opened up dialogs that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
Barron Park School is allowing all students to be part of the real world and I am confident my children will be better students and members of the community for it.
Posted by Stephanie Frazier, a resident of another community, on Dec 4, 2011 at 8:06 am
I have already posted but wanted to add one more thing. I believe that the issue of being for or against inclusion is not the true problem at hand. It is easy to make it one when the real problems is the state of our education system. With the budget cuts, reduction in school funding and the unrealistic standards being placed on our students/teachers, this is the true source of the problem which curbs the creativity of excellent teaching and education not whether students with various needs should have the opportuntiy to participate in a typical classroom. When done well, inclusion has the potential to enhance the learning and character of all students! By not having this particiapation we are again taking away one more very important life skill and lesson from our schools.
Posted by Teacher, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Dec 4, 2011 at 9:15 am
Inclusion has been going on in PAUSD elementary campuses for YEARS (full or part-time)at the benefit of all students. I'm glad to see that we have expanded those opportunities for the students at Barron Park and created them for our preschoolers.
Posted by BP Parent, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 4, 2011 at 11:41 am
The plan, according to Holly Wade and PAUSD, is that full-inclusion will begin at every elementary school in PAUSD, but it may take a few years to implement it at each campus. I'm hoping that means that special-needs kids will get to go to their neighborhood school, thus creating a better sense of community at every school, for every child and parent. Not sure how that will include Ohlone and Hoover, but we'll see, I suppose.
The other Barron Park Parent helped explain that some of the non-support for Inclusion comments are coming from non-BP folks. And to address your other concern: many, many parents at BP already donate money and school supplies, and time in the classroom and library, and work on fundraisers until they practically drop. If you'd like to pitch in sometime, I'm sure the PTA would love to have the "grandparent generation" helping out. You can get more contact info on the school's website.
There is also Grandparents Day coming up on Dec 16th. Please contact the school to find out more.
Posted by confused, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 5, 2011 at 8:34 pm
I'm confused as to the tone of this article and some of the comments. In my kids' school, inclusion has been the norm for years. It is not new to every school site in Palo Alto. Why were all the special ed students moved from neighborhood schools to just a few? I suppose this "new" policy is trying to equal out the discrepency to some degree. It's about time!
Children who can do well in a regular classroom setting should absolutely be given accomodations and support in their neighborhood schools. However, children who do not do well in a regular classroom setting need to be placed in an environment where they can be successful and have their more serious needs addressed. There should be a balance.
The district should also be more transparent about the level of support they will provide in classrooms with children who have serious issues. There have been children in my kids' rooms (often without aide support) who have daily outbursts, hit, kick, throw things, cuss at other students, dart out of the classroom--and the other students are told to try to ignore it. Learning should not take a back seat to classroom management, but it's sometimes all the teacher can do to control the chaos.
Posted by consider, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on Dec 6, 2011 at 8:49 am
@Confused, you make some very good points here. And to those who see no problems: Treating those who raise concerns about this policy with dismissive comments doesn't add up. In an ideal world, inclusion would always work. But it is all in how it is implemented.
@Michelle, your comments are very idealistic. It is great you have a son that learns so quickly you see no downside to his being always ready to help/teach other students. You even chastise a parent for suggesting that when a more able student finish the work early pick up a book to read as too selfish. That student should go help someone else you strongly urge. But that means the very gifted students are so well-developed that they have no needs? That they are like adults, no matter what, must act like professionals and be ready to help/teach? How well do other students teach their peers? Is there a problem for some students always being on the receiving end of other students' "help" good or bad?
What if a young child doesn't feel like helping? Are they being shamed if they don't? What would be the reward in finishing early if the gifted student will "have" to do more work?
But maybe most important, gifted students are getting shortchanged. They are children -- not fully formed adults.
Posted by Michele Dauber, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Dec 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm
First of all, I do not believe in the idea of calling some children "gifted," and speaking as the survivor of so-called "gifted" education I must say that it didn't do much for my social adjustment to be told that I was gifted all the time and I have resisted that characterization of my kids. I also do not like "gifted" programs and I think that in Palo Alto the very idea of "gifted" programs in which 80% or more of the kids in the school are "gifted" is absurd. What is the non-participating child to make of the idea of a "gifted" designation? Sorry, you are not "gifted". You're "non-gifted." It's ridiculous. All children have gifts and talents. All are equally worthy. I reject the idea and the category, especially in elementary school.
The question of whether there be some "tracking" in elementary schools, particularly in math is one that people disagree passionately about. I believe that a teacher should be able to teach to a broad range of abilities.
All I can tell you is that my child is not suffering some educational neglect by being someone who learns more easily. I think being a part of a community is an opportunity for personal development not a negative.
Posted by concerned, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on Dec 7, 2011 at 9:20 am
@Michelle -- My point was that some children do finish their work more rapidly than others and I think being able to pick up a book and read is an excellent use of their time. I used the word "gifted" as a shortcut expression to talk about those children who can learn the material quickly (maybe that's just math for one child or reading for another but not necessarily all subjects). I think that to demand that child be ready to aid/teach/help other children is to treat children like adults and not to tune into their needs or just to allow them to develop at their own pace. And it can lead to dumbing down the curriculum and holding back students who are ready to move on.
Your response about gifted programs is worth an entirely new thread all of its own. And, while gifted programs may not have worked for you, that does not mean that all gifted programs are bad.
Posted by confused, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 7, 2011 at 10:38 am
@Michelle--How can you dismiss the notion of giftedness? Some students are gifted in sports, others music, some math, some reading, writing, dance, art. All children have gifts just as all children have needs. Most are at levels that are addressed in a regular classroom setting and others require additional support and assistance at BOTH ends of the range.
Posted by gifted, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Dec 7, 2011 at 11:56 am
I suppose the definition of "gifted" can be turned to the liking of anyone who uses the term, but when I was in public school it had a specific meaning.
It meant someone who had ability to learn and perform far beyond their years in a specific area. Someone who somehow got the core framework of a subject right in their mind so that they could cut through the crap everyone else had to deal with and get right to it.
Although I was an irresponsible asshole and had personality problems beyond even that, I was gifted in both math and music.
That meant that I usually could understand things literally faster than my teachers could communicate them. Often before they tried.
I could immediately generalize and create new examples once I learned something, and this impressed those around me ("creating such original things!" "I didn't teach him that - how does he do it?")
But normally, rather than advancing, I would run circles around my teachers and the things they were teaching, showing how clever and able I was. As a result, I did not really develop my "gifts."
I now have impressive educational attainment in math and music relative to 99% of the students, but I don't especially like either one (although I know deep down I have the potential to love both) and haven't done anything professionally in these fields.
There was an MGM program in California when I was in school that tried to allocate money to help make the most of the gifted. It didn't really do that in our schools. It tried to provide more freedom for the better students to guide their own development.
In Palo Alto, the notion is probably not so useful. Many, many students have such good environments, preparation, and general cognitive horsepower that they can learn all kinds of things fairly easily and so it's not really an issue of being "gifted" in a specific area.