Let kids learn from each other

By From page A6 | January 22, 2013

Recent letters to the editor regarding our GATE program illustrate the strong feelings elicited when parents speak of meeting children’s needs in the classroom. Teachers love your children and want them to have every opportunity as they move through school and life.

It is also apparent that labeling can be a distancing phenomenon. In labeling a particular group, we attribute characteristics, real or perceived, to those in the group. I wonder when this happens if we miss seeing each student as a whole person with varied strengths and challenges.

Teaching third grade for 10 years, I saw many reactions to test results determining who received the GATE label. Parents were afraid their child might not have opportunities in later grades if they did not qualify. Children, both in and out of GATE, became anxious about being separated from friends or stressed about their performance.

Despite efforts to minimize the results, children talk and wonder about this GATE label. Either result can become part of their self-concept. Some GATE students feel a need to always appear smart. Some who don’t qualify question why they don’t measure up. Many express uncertainty about why they are or are not in a separate class. Is this really necessary?

This year in fourth grade, I am privileged to teach a diverse group of 35 students. There are children for whom English is a second language, full inclusion students, GATE-identified students and other bright, curious, sometimes-struggling fourth-graders interacting with one another.

With the wealth of teaching experience and community resources in our district, I believe we can meet the needs of the vast majority of our students in their neighborhood schools. There are many ways besides self-contained classrooms to provide services for GATE students.

We should not minimize how much children learn from one another — especially those different from themselves. Let us reaffirm our values of inclusiveness, equity and diversity as we take an honest look at our current GATE model. What better way is there to give our children every opportunity to learn about themselves and their world?

Laura S. Anderson


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