Often in education, special programs and opportunities are available to those who fall at each end of the learning spectrum. Special needs are addressed with additional resources and staffing as they should be. Additional programs, extracurricular activities and classes are often available to those who are considered gifted. If you fall in between, there are a lot of opportunities you miss out on. And the majority of students are in that middle range.
I am a big believer in finding a child's strengths and building on those skills or seeking out what their interests are and making their lessons more enticing by relating them to what kids want to learn about. Schools do little to apply this to individuals and for average learners there way fewer opportunities to pursue their learning passions.
I recall when my son was in 3rd grade, which was the grade when honor roll is first recognized and enrichment classes are first offered. My son had been on straight A honor roll and I'd heard about the enrichment program from another mom who had a son in it - she told me that they spent time in school doing special projects and had the opportunity to go on educational field trips. I had never received any kind of information about it or even knew it was available until that point. It sounded like something I thought my child would enjoy and benefit from. He often complained he was bored in class and I thought the change of scenery would be good for him and was excited about the possibility of him having a chance to go on more field trips. I asked the teacher and was told kids were eligible based on test scores and my son's test scores must not have been high enough. I mentioned him being on straight A honor roll and asked if current grades were taken into consideration. I asked my son's teacher to check into it. It was relayed back to me that my son was considered too shy and that group discussion was mandatory. I was disappointed. Just because he didn't score in the 95th percentile - and because he wasn't very talkative - didn't mean he wouldn't benefit from this type of instruction. If anything, it might have helped to improve his test scores and perhaps been a small group that he would have felt more comfortable talking in front of. But the answer was no.
One year my teenager asked if he could take a summer class -- just because he wanted to. He thought he could perhaps take a social studies class that was required for graduation and get it out of the way or maybe take an available elective. He just wanted to take a summer class. It caught me off guard that he would voluntarily take additional classes in the summer months when he didn't have to. I was also proud that he was taking the initiative at taking advantage of an educational opportunity.
I remembered that when I was in school I had wanted to take a summer class one year, but we simply didn't have the extra money for me to do so. The high school I attended offered many electives in the summer - foreign languages, art, music, theatre, business and various social studies, science and literature classes.
I contacted my son's high school to find out how to sign him up for summer school. I was told that he COULD NOT take a summer class just because he wanted to. Summer school was only for students who had failed classes. It was only for make-up to help kids who were behind get credits to graduate on time. "We don't have any summer enrichment" the administrator told me. Again - an average learner who had been passing classes was passed over. The spots were only for failing kids. I was upset. I still am - if you couldn't tell.
My latest brush with this topic came last week when my middle schooler came home from school and voluntarily told me he was very disappointed. He's not the kind of kid who comes home and tells me all about his day, so when he does come home and start talking, I know I need to listen. He was upset because he wouldn't be able to take art class at all this year. I asked why and he explained that the block class schedule had changed and classes ran more weeks than they had previously, which had eliminated art for his grade. He mentioned an "Advanced Art" class, but that he couldn't take it.
My son said that his grade last year had been high enough for advanced art, but that he didn't get in the class. So, I called the school to see what I could find out. An administrator did explain that the change in schedule meant that it wasn't available to everyone. Most 6th graders got it, but those who didn't could stay after school for some art instruction. 8th graders got to take it. 7th graders (my son's grade) didn't get to take it at all....except for about 20 who were hand picked by the art teacher to be in an advanced art class. It equates to less than 10 percent of the 7th grade class. The adminstrator explained that the selection process was done by the art teacher choosing those gifted students that she thought had the highest artistic ability. My son is no Normal Rockwell, but he is artistic. He can draw. And he LOVES it. He's not crazy about school, but he loves art. The happiest day I recall from 6th grade was when he brought home a ceramic bowl he made in art class. He was so proud of it. It crushes me that the subject he loves the most, he isn't able to take because he doesn't fall into that gifted category. I asked if there was any way to get him into that class. It doesn't sound promising. It just doesn't sit well that there are many more opportunities for those kids at the top of the heap to be raised even higher, but little effort to take the average learners and help propel them to a higher level.
Before hanging up I asked about foriegn language offerings. I'd seen in the newspaper that the district was adding Spanish to the curriculum. That made me so happy. I'm am so for teaching foriegn language to children at a young age. I've written articles on the topic in the past. I remember writing years ago about how pleased I was to see that an area school was introducing Spanish to kindergarteners -- at the optimum time to learn a new language. My oldest took language class at the local college at age 8. Another son took a summer class that introduced him to the Spanish language and culture at the same age. So I asked the administrator when children would be learning Spanish. I didn't expect the answer I got -- it's only for that top 10 percent or so, based on their test scores. So, if you fall below that, you're out of luck. Another kick to those who want to learn more, but are pushed back to help the top of the class achieve more. It makes me so sad. And I'm sure there are kids out there who are very bright and very capable, but don't score well on tests. Because all of these programs for the gifted bunch are based on test scores, some kids who really should be eligible aren't because they didn't do well on a standardized test. I've always wanted my kids to be well-rounded individuals....learn a foriegn language, learn to play an instrument, take opportunities to go places and learn from experiences outside of the classroom. I feel as if the education system my kids are in view it as if there's less value or no value in giving these opportunities to the average kids.
There are countless celebrities, business executives, etc. who have confessed that they were not the best students. There are many who have made it far and been highly successful even without having been valedictorian. Perhaps we should put more value in the average learner and afford them more opportunities. It's often a little nudge and an invitaiton for inclusion that can propel them to great things.