Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Consider students’ best interests

By Aquacena Lopez

I have been reading with interest the coverage in The Enterprise about the pro and cons of self-contained GATE classes in Davis and wanted to offer a unique vantage point, having experienced private school, public school in another district and self-contained GATE classes in Davis.

While the opponents offer good arguments about the name of the program and how it divides classes, one element they do not seem to fully grasp is the difference between a bright, creative and motivated student, which most of our students are or ought to be, and the intended population of the program. GATE is not for everyone, it is intended to serve a unique population that is not well served in a regular classroom. I don’t think I would have understood the difference either were it not for my youngest daughter.

I have two daughters in the school district; both are GATE-identified. Although the elder would have been fine in any classroom, the younger one is the poster child for GATE, as I understand it. She can solve a Rubik’s cube in 29 seconds and has memorized pi to the 130th decimal place. Like some have said, these students are not necessarily self-motivated and she needs direction and prompting to finish her assignments on time. Socially, she would rather discuss Harry Potter (she’s read the entire series 30 times through) and Dr. Who than Vampire Diaries and One Direction.

She started kindergarten in a private school in Oakland that professed to teach to all learning styles. They gave her extra math sheets and more difficult books to read, but she was never truly challenged. In fourth grade we moved her to the local public school, a high-performing school in the Oakland hills. There she was GATE-identified and while the school received money for each GATE student, it pumped it back into all the classrooms for enrichment and teacher training, but school was still too easy and boring for her.

When we moved to Davis and she entered self-contained GATE classes, she came home so excited. She said they explained how GATE students don’t learn linearly: A, B, C, D, E, then the student realizes F, but more like A, B, C, then F; at least that’s how she explained it. She got it. She knows the difference. The sad part is that not only will these students lose interest through D and E in a regular classroom, but they will never get to G, H or beyond.

Yes, the name is wrong. By labeling some “gifted and talented” it presumes others aren’t, and there are many gifts and talents besides extremely high IQ. Also, there are some students in GATE who are only there because of ambitious parents. This not only does the student a disservice because they will fall to the bottom of the class, but also holds back GATE classes. One remedy may be to raise the bar for self-contained classes to the MENSA standard of the 98th percentile in IQ and use the rest of the money for enrichment, teacher training and special programs in the classroom.

Since we moved here, we have heard about the problems with GATE. I wanted to offer our own experience because for our younger daughter, it has been a life-saver to support her unique learning style. She is now engaged and challenged with a group of like-minded peers instead of a misfit, bored and unmotivated. I would hate for this to end for her and others like her due to misunderstanding.

I believe we can all learn how to improve the program if we can listen to one another for the purpose of advancing the best interests of our students.

— Aquacena Lopez is a Davis resident.

Special to The Enterprise


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