This the continuing story of my experiences growing up with the “gifted” label. My first installment can be found here.
In 1973, my family and I moved to a different area and a different school district. I was put into an “Open Classroom” which was a mix of 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students, and two teachers.
This school district’s gifted program was called HAPP. (High Academic Performance Program). Unlike the Mentally Gifted Minors program that I was involved with in 2nd grade, students didn’t go into HAPP until 4th grade. I remember feeling as though I had been treated unjustly when I would watch some of the 4th and 5th graders from my class getting called away to do their HAPP activities. I asked my older classmates how I could get in the program, since I had already been in a gifted program at my old school. When they explained I had to wait till 4th grade, I wasn’t having any of it. I went to my teacher. Surely, she would listen to reason. I explained that I had already been in the gifted program at my old school and this was 2nd grade, so of course, I should be put in the gifted program here, now that I am a grade older. My teacher explained that the HAPP program was for 4th – 6th grade. I tried to explain that even though I was technically in the 3rd grade, I should still get to go since I had already been tested and qualified for that program. She said I would still have to wait till 4th grade. I walked away deciding adults were just stupid. I was seven-years-old.
I was sure my “giftedness” would wither away and die like an unused muscle if I didn’t get into that program somehow. I expressed my concerns to my mom. She said that when she was registering me for school, she explained that I had been in the gifted program at my old school, and that was why I was put in this open classroom. I was one of several third graders in a class also populated by fourth and fifth graders. The classroom environment was intended to give me the mental stimulation I might have otherwise missed out on in a traditional classroom.
In addition to the classroom being the size of two classrooms, and the students varying in ages from seven-years-old (at the beginning of the school year) to eleven-years-old. Instead of desks, there were tables and chairs, and couches and recliners. There were clipboards available if we needed a hard surface to do our assignments. Every couple of months, we would split into groups of our choosing and make “Centers.” These were little educational centers around the classroom that we would decorate with colorful butcher paper, construction paper, corrugated trim and our own artwork. We had to display at least one book from the library that had to do with our subject (chosen by us, approved by a teacher). We had to have several educational activities available for the other students to do. Once we all finished building our centers, we would go around the classroom to each center and we had to complete a certain number of activities from a certain number of centers by the end of the week (or end of the month?)
As I am writing this, I am starting to remember the checklists. We still had to do regular classwork for math, reading, spelling, etc. Sometimes we would meet around a table at a scheduled time in a small group with a teacher. For other assignments, we could choose which ones to do first as long as they were all done and checked off the list by the end of the week.
I also remember Suzy, who was one of my best friends and a fourth grader in the same classroom. Sometime during the school year, her mother, who happened to be a 4th grade teacher, had her moved to a traditional classroom because she didn’t think Suzy was being taught what she needed to learn for 4th grade (this was Suzy’s explanation. I didn’t bother to question her mother at the time. I doubted she would feel the need to explain her decision to a 3rd grader). I felt sorry for Suzy because I thought her life was going to quickly become very boring. the next year, when I entered 4th grade in a traditional classroom, I somehow managed to be in all the highest math, spelling and reading groups, so I must’ve learned something in that open classroom environment!
Looking back on this now as an adult, I would have to agree 100%. I remember the 3rd grade as being the most creatively stimulating year of my school career I think it was a shame that most schools ended their “Open Classroom” programs just a few years later.
I will continue with my experiences about how being labeled “gifted” affected me later in school, in adulthood, and finally with raising three very different children, all who have been labeled as “gifted.”
You can read my regular blog at Manic Meanderings