Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ben's Story

“Teaching gifted kids to self-advocate won’t work because they’ll ask for something we can’t offer.”

Ben loved science.   As a preschooler his TV preferences were PBS science shows and even before he could read he began paging through Popular Science.  In grade school, he was good at every subject, but he was passionate about science and eager for secondary school classes that would stretch his mind.

Middle school general science was disappointing, however.  Although Ben liked helping other kids with experiments he’d already done on his own at home, he wanted more, much more.  

In the spring Ben approached me with an idea:  Could he skip the next year of science and take a high school course, Integrated Physical Science (IPS) instead?

But the science department said, “We can’t offer IPS to students until they’ve completed the 8th grade curriculum.”

Ben’s response?  “If I take the 8th grade text home over the summer, do all the chapter questions, and pass the final exam, can I take physical science next year?”

The science teachers agreed to the plan but were pretty sure it wouldn’t work.  What kid would spend his summer independently working his way through the 8th grade curriculum???  Ben would . . . and did.  And of course he passed the exam with flying colors.  And at the end of the next year the IPS teachers honored him with their Excellent Student Award!

But the story doesn’t stop there.  What Ben began expanded since he had demonstrated to teachers that some students are ready for a faster pace and greater depth.  It wasn’t long before they compacted two years of middle school general science into one year for identified students.  And eventually accelerated students were given the choice of IPS and/or Biology, both for high school credit but taught in the middle school.

What had been seen as something “we can’t offer” became something we did offer.  And through Ben’s self-advocacy, scores of other students have benefited from something that now seems common place . . . subject acceleration and early access to high school courses.

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