Re the June 9 story Miami-Dade’s gifted student population is booming: The question is not what can be done with students fortunate enough to wear the mantle of “gifted.” The question is: What can be done with the students who are the “left behinds,” who failed to make the grade and must often remain apart?
When I was a fifth grade science teacher at Highland Oaks Elementary School, from 1965 to 1997, my concern was more for those students. What could I do with them? For four years, with the help of some parents, I managed to turn our library into a space ship and have my students dress as aliens — no monsters allowed. We wrote a peace accord that all the planets of all the stars in our system were obligated to follow.
Then, as a gift, the students who agreed to take part received a magnificently bound directory with everyone’s alien picture and their life stories as alien emissaries to “The First Gathering of the Federation of Sovereign Planets.” It included sudents from North Miami Beach’s drama department, who joined us as rogue emissaries and caused some controlled chaos. The gathering included a coming-of-age rite as well as an alien wedding.
This also included an alien lunch where each “visitor” had to bring in a lunch made of food native to their home planet to share at a huge lunch spread.
Another year, with the help of a grandfather, my “nongifted” students designed and built a spaceship that was sent to a New York science museum for display.
In my home, I have the “Oscar” that my students won in 1993. It says: “Highland Oaks Elementary, 1st Place, Elementary Division for Best Stuff Reel Video Award, given by Universal Studios.”
In my early years I had a student who refused to do her math homework, challenging me to find a way for her to turn something in. When I discovered that her father was a long-haul truck driver and was in communication with her via ham radio — there were no cell phones — she began to show the class his daily route, using a National Geographic map of the United States and several strings of colored yarn, calculating how much fuel used, how much he needed and his daily, weekly and monthly costs.
For the most part I’ve always felt that gifted students are not only self-motivated but can be put on self-auto to work.
Last, we not only put Galileo on trial, but visited several local schools to talk about gun control, leaving behind lesson plans for the teachers.
And when I was asked about going whale watching for my class on oceanography, I said, “Why not?” and off to Massachusetts we went for the recreation of the Battle of Lexington held during Patriots’ Week. I miss those illustrious days of being in the classroom.
Arnold I. Pakula, Pembroke Pines