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Gifted and Talented, Briefly

Memories of the Gifted And Talented Education programs in local elementary schools.

I don’t remember an educational hierarchy in early elementary school.

I knew that some kids could draw better, some kids could run faster, and some kids could make the others laugh longer. Honestly, those were the skills that I wished I possessed, but I was the kid who read ahead in his readers, “One To Grow On” or “Pocketful Of Sunshine” and raised my hand to answer the questions a little bit too often.

I preferred button-down shirts to t-shirts, I was pretty much a little nerd, but it was elementary school, no one really cared.

Then in third grade we were tested, I don’t think they told us what they were testing for, just pencils and papers and standardized tests. It was the GATE testing — Gifted And Talented Education — and it was supposed to weed out the smarter kids.

I didn’t pass.

But I didn’t fail either. Instead my results put me in some weird educational purgatory. The educators did not know if I was gifted or talented, so they sent in a specialist to retest me. I remember sitting in the Strobridge Elementary library, the same library that my sister had her Brownie meetings in, with a strange woman as she quizzed me on vocabulary. She asked me to define words like "minotaur." For a chatty kid who owned The Dungeon Masters Handbook, this was a cake walk. I became gifted.

The next year I was sent to a different school, to a special class for gifted and talented students, where I proceeded to excel in English and Social Studies, proceed tolerably in penmanship and conduct, and fail completely in mathematics. It turns out that although I could read Madeleine L'Engle or define a druid I couldn’t memorize my times tables. 

It was decided that I probably shouldn't continue at that school. The following year I returned to Strobridge where a bunch of us kids were shipped to Lawrence Livermore Lab weekly, we got to play with these newfangled things called computers.

I still liked button down shirts, I still liked the sound of my own voice, and I could still explain the difference between a mage and a wizard, but the label of gifted was not as important. I was allowed to succeed and to fail as my abilities dictated.

This week on CVLegends I asked about other people’s experience with accelerated classes. Below you will find some of the responses:

Michael Joseph Kusiak- In my elementary school in Anaheim, the gifted and talented kids had their own special set of classrooms. Since I was almost held back after first and second grand, I wasn't going anywhere near those classrooms. In Virginia, where I attended middle and high school, looking back it was pretty appalling how access to honors and AP courses played out in terms of race. I don’t begrudge my teachers or the quality of my AP and honors courses... they were tough, I learned how to write, I was able to avoid a lot of basic courses once I got to college. But given that my high school and school district shut down for a few years in the 1960s to avoid integration, like many districts in Virginia did, the fact that I saw very few African-Americans in my classes during high school says something about what motivated the creation of exclusive educational tracks.

Jennifer Sceili Morse- I have one of those kids, but I'm not interested in the "label". I agree that it may over inflate the egos of the kids, but more so the egos of the parents.

Donna Lee McDaniel-Walko- Hmmm, afraid to answer here now. I don't think it was called GATE back when I was in the program. I do think it "enhanced" my education, but I really wish it would have been more individualized back then. All us "gifted" kids were lumped together, but we were "gifted" in many differing ways. No one ever talked to me about my own goals, needs, desires, for my education. I didn't fit into their mold, so it didn't help me as it should have. (I don't believe it inflated my ego at all because I almost failed the "gifted" math class.) But I think it was better than not having ANY opportunity to be challenged.

Jessica Sagun Ruybal- I was in GATE, great grades but hated school. In elementary school us GATE kids were made fun of which didn't help. I didn't like the pressure of AP classes in HS or being "labeled" or the social hierarchy of CVHS so I tested out in 11th grade... It is such a relief to see how much my kids LOVE school. They have ALFA now where the kids break off into separate groups at different times during the week, although my kids have been in the advanced group they don't make it as obvious as they did with GATE and I like that. I am proud of their good grades but in all honesty it doesn't matter that much to me. I just want them to enjoy school and be happy because life gets much harder the older you get.

Danielle Parker Shaw- I was in the program here in CV. About 6 of us would get picked up from CVE every other Thursday and bussed up to Vannoy school. We studied new and exciting subjects and did fun projects. Some of the topics I remember are calligraphy, Greek mythology, Egyptian pyramids, and more. It was never just reading and writing, it was all hands on projects which I loved. Once we moved on to middle school, the program didn't exist and although I was a smart kid, I got lazy and did not try as hard. I wonder if I still had the fun GATE classes if I'd have cared a little more?

Heather Mellon- Wow, I guess I'm one of the few who enjoyed GATE! I mostly remember the math classes - they were very hands on, which helped me tremendously. I always thought it was interesting and fun. Never felt stigmatized or like it was a waste of my time.

Kristina Haavisto Fisher- How weird that CV Schools bused you to classes...Hayward Unified sent us to an entirely different school (East Ave). Ms. Brain was a fantastic teacher, classes were fun...and then we started fibbing so I could attend Castro Valley schools

Sam Moore- I was in the program. I agree with Robert, it was just more work. I don't think it DID anything for me. If I had stayed in class and continued with my hard work, it may have opened some college doors, but by the end of jr high, I had started down the path of the dark side. Most of my college prep courses in high school began to get over my head. I don't regret being in GATE, but wish that someone had seen me veering off the path and helped.

Jennifer Oswald- I agree with Heather, I thoroughly enjoyed my GATE classes! Our teachers were fantastic and the curriculum was well ahead of what we were working on in our "regular" class. I remember that time and those classes so vividly and have always said that the logic skills I learned there changed my thinking entirely. We did language and culture studies, engineering projects, speech projects, and botany.

I had advanced reading and math starting in 2nd grade, so it wasn't a big deal because it wasn't a new thing to me, or anyone in my grade level/school.
Bob Weisman- My daughter was in GATE. The main thing she got out of it was being bussed to Palomares and going on the slide. She would come home with logic problems she had no interest in but would force me and her mother to complete before the next class. I felt she was bright but not necessarily gifted. But most of her friends got on the bus so she wanted to as well. As far as her friends I only thought one was gifted but their mothers were all sure. She now has two masters degrees and works for The University of Washington so I guess there was something there.

Julie Farrington-Sheetz- I don't think it was called the "GATE" program when I was in elementary school, but I do remember two girls from my 3rd grade class--Debbie Wong and Robyn Risden--being in a special program for smart kids. They never told us what they did, but they both seemed to enjoy it. I thought I was smart because I was a "late bird" for Reading (kids who could read well came to school later and stayed later), I guess I wasn't as smart as I thought I was, LOL!


Chris Schaeffler- I was in GATE and accelerated classes until I took my GED junior year, all they did was increase my ego, every teacher going on and on about how I was smarter than "this place", I cut often and if I could go back, would have tried a lot harder, as I look at a lot of people now that were in the same classes, quite a few of us didn't/haven't lived up to the "potential" we had.

Colleen Charles- Back in my day it was called the MGM (mentally gifted minors) program. I was a part of it and as it did then, it still has me say "seriously?"

Linda Staack Edwards- Yeah, it was called MGM in my day too and I was placed in it in 4th grade. The only things I really remember about it were: being a 13 yr old 9th grader placed in an English class with seniors (& being so nervous I'd throw up before class each day) & a couple of times a year we'd go to SF to see a play. We had several hours of free time beforehand (totally unsupervised) to eat lunch, roam the city & do "whatever". Can you imagine that happening today?!? Aww, the 70's..

Lisa Marie Fabella Arens- Wasn't called GATE for me either but it was a TREMENDOUS benefit. Especially growing up in SF. Didn't have the CV/small town/suburbia style of schooling so the "gifted" program exposed us to many things "City" kids didn't often experience. I remember so much from my elementary classrooms and how the learning materials were always new & interesting. In addition to having smaller classes (with other students who were there to LEARN), it gave us the opportunity to choose our schools. That choice made ALL the difference in the world depending on what neighborhood you lived in. Had I gone to my "assigned" junior high or high school, who knows if I'd be alive to tell about it. lol.

As always, if you would like to read more responses or join in the conversation you can find us at www.facebook.com/CVLegends. Thank you and good day.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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