Sunday, November 30, 2014

Discovering their gifts

Giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences.”
– Annemarie Roeper, 2000

What does it mean to be “gifted?” We are often uncomfortable with that word and unsure what it means. Parents of young children who come to visit Seabury often tell me that they are not sure their child is really “gifted” but they can see that their child is developing differently – more quickly in many areas – than other children of the same age and they are concerned about what that will mean when it’s time for school. They’ve read the list of characteristics of giftedness and recognize their child in many of them, but what does that really mean for schooling, for parenting and for life?

On Wednesday after our annual Seabury Thanksgiving feast was over and everyone had gone home, I was locking up the lower school building when I saw a family wander into the parking lot. I walked over and introduced myself. As it turned out, it was a Seabury alum, out for a walk with his mom and a friend. He attended Seabury from kindergarten through eighth grade and was eager to share his memories and tell me about what he is up to now. He is working as a French chef, building on an interest in the culture that was sparked in Mme. Olliphant’s French class. We talked about classmates who have become video game creators, who design high tech security systems, who have make successful phone apps, and one who is an indie rock star. He said that Seabury was the place where he and his friends felt safe being who they were, pursuing their interests, learning at a rate that was appropriate for them, and developing the confidence that would allow him and others to pursue their passions as they moved beyond Seabury.

This week, we will be hosting several of our more recent graduates who are currently in high school. Again, as we look at our graduates, we see them finding success in art schools, technical and science schools, AP and IB programs, and sometimes creating their own paths through Running Start and other forms of early entrance to college. We hear them tell us that Seabury supported their love of learning, encouraged them to seek out those who challenged and supported them, and gave them the confidence to pursue the things they loved doing. They tell us often that at Seabury they found what learning looks like, and they seek that for themselves.

When people ask me to describe gifted children, I often say that the biggest thing they have in common is that they are all so unique. Our students come to us with a wide range of gifts. Some are incredible readers who develop insights that are deep and highly perceptive. Others love numbers and patterns, and shine best when they can model an idea in three dimensions or through a mathematical function or equation. Some are incredibly creative, constantly asking, “Why can’t we do it this way?” whenever they are given a task – always seeing new ways to put ideas or objects together.

At Seabury, we are committed to helping these highly aware, highly sensitive, highly perceptive students develop their passions. We are not a school that is out to produce cookie cutter students – each one looking the same as all the others. We are a school that is designed to support students as they discover their unique gifts and talents. We give them opportunities throughout their education to connect with adults who are passionate about what they do, so they can recognize that passion when they experience it for themselves. We are a school where kids are engaged, inspired, encouraged to ask great questions and explore possibilities. We are a school that teaches to students’ strengths, whatever they might be, and uses those strengths to address areas for growth.

Our eighth graders are spending the school year working on capstone projects that combine their individual passions, the middle school focus on service and Seabury's continued commitment to exploration and discovery. One student with a passion for geography is working with teachers to design a curriculum that he'll try out on our lower school students. Another eighth grader, who is a gifted ukelele player and songwriter, will create an extended play recording. A third is working to learn Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop so that he can offer graphic design services. An eighth grade girl, interested in medicine, will shadow a doctor at a local hospital. Another girl, a talented artist, is submitting a mural proposal to the city.

At the lower school, we see passions emerge early. There's a fifth grader who has checked out a thick book called The Elements and a fat field guide on North American birds several times a year since he was in second grade. In fact, that bird field guide is one of the most popular books in the library. We have a kindergarten student who holds geography as one of his passions. In pre-k as the class was brainstorming words that started with the letter B, he offered "Belarus." He also could draw an accurate map of the United States on a white board from memory. Last year's kindergarten class became passionate about writing and publishing books. One boy started his own book blog, which he still contributes to as a first grader.

If you know me, then you’ve probably heard me quote theologian Frederick Buechner’s definition of vocation. “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need.” Our goal at Seabury is to provide our students with skills and experiences that will help them discover where their “deep gladness” is – whether it’s in scientific discovery or the creation of art or music or serving others. It is to encourage our students’ ingenuity so that they can continue to reinvent themselves in a world of every changing technology and opportunities. It is the reason that our alums can be found in such a wide range of vocations, having attended everything from Ivy League schools to apprenticeships and trade programs. They are creating new ideas, technologies and works of art that are making our world a better place.

It’s a privilege to be in the position I’m in. I get to see our students, from our youngest entrepreneursdeveloping a pretend latte/pumpkin stand in the pre-k room to our alums who are attorneys, chefs, artists, writers and rocket scientists finding what it is they truly love and developing the skills and abilities they will need to pursue those interests. It’s one of the things I am most thankful for!

– Sandi Wollum

No comments:

Post a Comment