(This is a guest post by Dana Kaplan. Dana has her MA in Early Childhood Education with an additional certification in Gifted Education. Dana joined PS 33, Chelsea Prep for the 2006-2007 school year. During Dana’s tenure at PS 33, she taught Pre-K for two years, launched the ICT-Kindergarten class, and independently created, piloted, and launched PS 33’s Gifted and Talented Program. Dana recently launched her personal business, Developing Empathetic Education with Dana (D.E.E.D.), where she consults with schools and parents on the critical needs for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) as well as gifted and talented and “all things school related.” Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
When the words GIFTED and TALENTED are uttered, I quickly coil! My thoughts spiral…
- Am I smart enough?
- Am I knowledgeable enough?
- Are my skills above everyone else’s?
- How do I compare to others?
And then, in a moment’s time, I breathe and remind myself I AM the UNSTOPPABLE, STEADFAST HUMAN that created one of the most coveted programs in NYC!
I believe sharing about my imperfections, anxieties, trepidations, and elations serve more than we care to credit. To put all in perspective, as educators, it’s easy for us to smile and teach from the curriculum or texts given to us. However, for me, following someone’s curriculum and staying in a box has always felt claustrophobic. When I was asked to pilot PS 33, Chelsea Prep’s Gifted and Talented Program, I knew the opportunity was one of a lifetime! Not only would I be building a program from the ground up, endless possibilities awaited as I envisioned how I wanted and hoped to ignite curiosity and a thirst for learning under zero constraints! The box was removed, a curriculum didn’t exist, and all I saw was a white canvas itching for color!
As I prepared for September 2009, plans were designed, bringing life to a new program. With every idea, though, twists and turns may occur, and to my chagrin, a huge curveball was tossed… I would be teaching a bridge-class of kindergarteners and first graders instead of solely kindergartners. The anxiety rose quickly, and I wondered if parents would pull their kids from a program that had yet to take off. Fortunately, the parents met me with grace, and in that moment, I knew the unimaginable was ready to actualize!
When I was a child, the vision of what gifted and talented people looked or sounded like was easily defined by extraordinary traits that hit the teacher or parent in the face. However, I often wondered about the learners that were too scared to show their greatness, that hid their brilliance. As I designed the pilot, I promised to honor every child’s visible and invisible gifts and talents because we all deserve the chance to discover what we’re too scared to show the world! Each day, I walked into our learning world knowing our treasure box was overflowing as we explored, discovered, and learned.
While the learners expanded with knowledge and wonder, my job as an educator was even grander than I realized. Teaching children who think and approach learning differently is seen in every classroom and mastery of skills occurs through differentiation. Teaching children their positively powerful voice is the most critical tool they each inherently own is a philosophy that I adopted during student teaching and continue to employ today. Little did I know, my belief was considered avant-garde! Parents were astonished to hear their child speak in public, presenting personal narratives and articulating processes for solving mathematical equations. Learners communicated their needs to strengthen skills in and out of the classroom, effectively letting others know how they felt and where the feelings came from. Best of all, learners taught their parents that having a voice means equity and equality for all!
With over a decade in the making, PS 33, Chelsea Prep has been a legacy I hold dear. As virtual tours are experienced, questions and answers are sought, and decisions are made, below are points to consider as you help your child unlock the extraordinary doors that stand before all of us!
- How will my child receive individualized attention to support growth in areas that need support while enriching areas of strength?
- What is the school’s philosophy on differentiation and excelling students that have mastered grade level curriculum?
- What options are available for students that show clear mastery for “new” or “untaught” material?
- How do teachers model skills and strategies for parents to support continuity between home and school?
- What is the school’s philosophy on communication and including parents in their child’s learning journey?
- What specific interests does your child gravitate towards, and will the prospective school enrich your child’s areas of interest?
- What is the schools’ philosophy on social and emotional learning?
- How is social and emotional learning infused throughout the entire school day?
- How is the school’s philosophy seen, felt, and heard universally throughout the school, regardless of grade or class?
More on how to select a school without being able to tour, here.