I’ve always been one of “those” kids. The kids who disappear for a little while each day. The kids who never give a real answer as to where they go, just shrug and change the subject. The kids who get done with their math packets and use the rest of class to solve Rubix cubes.
The kids who write five pages when asked for two. The kids who don’t study for tests. The kids who don’t need to. The kids who, according to some number from some test, are more gifted and more talented than their peers. In elementary school it was called Horizons. When it was time, we’d signal to our teacher and then go around to the other classrooms and round up the rest of the gang.
We had a secret code for it: sun over the hill. When we didn’t feel like talking, we’d just make a curve with one hand and use the other to put a circle over it. To this day that makes me smile, as do many of the memories I made in Mrs. Peters’ room. We solved red herrings, wrote short stories, played word games, made solar houses, fiddled with puzzles. I constructed a model of the Brooklyn Bridge that was on my bookshelf until I cleaned out my room last summer.
It was fun; and from what I heard from other kids, it was a lot better than what we missed back in the “regular” classroom. When I got to middle school there was no Horizons program, but since I had stood out even amongst “those” kids they practically created one around me. Every Tuesday and Thursday I would make the terrifying walk from the fifth grade wing through the eighth grade hallway to the seventh grade wing where the Advanced classes were. I’d tiptoe into Ms. Seibert’s room, which scared the living daylights out of me because I swear you could have heard a pin drop in there (little did I know that, a mere two years later, I would be heartbroken to find out Ms. Seibert was retiring).
After I grabbed a laptop, preferably one that wasn’t dead, I would shuffle down the hallway to Ms. Friesland’s room. I’d set myself up at table in the back, log onto a website I have since forgotten, and start pecking away at a new story. Sometimes Ms. Friesland, who seemed so stern and intimidating (little did I know that she would, over the course of the next four years, become my absolute favorite teacher), would call me over and ask to read what I’d written. I must admit I was glad when the hour was up, but I dreaded having to answer everyone’s “Where have you been?”s and “Where do you always go?”s.
From sixth through eighth grade I was placed in the so-called Advanced classes for math and language arts and pretty much traveled with the same group of “those” kids throughout the day. Not surprisingly, we all got to know each other pretty well. If you’d asked me at any point during those years if I would rather be in the “regular” classes with the other ninety percent of my grade, I would have shaken my head vehemently and inwardly scoffed at the idea. Since I was nine it had been made quite obvious to me that “those” kids had no business being in the same learning environment as everybody else. “Those” kids didn’t need that kind of structure.
“Those” kids needed a space to be themselves, to reach their full potential. “Those” kids needed to be encouraged and poked and prodded and applauded so that they got it through their big brains that they were special, that they needn’t be bored any longer. But if you asked me now, nearly at the end of my freshman year of high school, if I would go back and do everything differently given the chance, I would take the opportunity in a heartbeat. Sure, I’d hate to lose all those memories. I would miss out on a few truly exceptional teachers.
I would probably get average grades and average comments on my report cards. I almost certainly would not be who and where I am today. That’s the point. I don’t want anything to do with a system that has the potential to completely dictate what kind of person I am and how the rest of the world perceives me. I’m no longer one of “those” kids. No, after six years of special treatment I am now a lucky member of whole new species: I’m one of Those kids.
The only reason my peers talk to me is to ask about 6b on the homework or see if I’ve made a Quizlet for chapter ten vocabulary or check their understanding of convection in the mantle. If they want to know when Adele’s next album comes out or share a funny story about Mr. Kinney or go hiking next Saturday, they’ll always turn to someone else. The past two essays I’ve written for history have been returned with all fours circled on the rubric and the only comment “I couldn’t find a flaw”, even though I wrote them way too late at night and didn’t even proofread. Last week I used the wrong data to write my Claim, Evidence, Reasoning in science and I got a one hundred. I’m losing my grip and motivation, and it is a long and slippery slope from here.
So now I beg the question that you must have seen coming: are these gifted and talented programs really worth it? Should “those” kids be plucked out of their comfortable nest of “regulars” as soon as they can take a standardized test, only to be dumped back in the melting pot six years later as Those kids, ostracized and confused? No, no they should not. According to my report cards and teachers and relatives, I’m on track to be valedictorian in three years. According to my heart, I’m lonely and longing for the friends I might have made instead of a model of the Brooklyn Bridge.