When I made my way to Carroll Gardens to visit PS 32 last week I wondered, "has the DOE just placed a G&T classroom in a school that has room or have they found a fit in a school that can support the special needs of gifted and talented learners?"
I came away excited and energized by what I saw. Gifted and Talented programs should be more than just accelerated environments that keep bright kids from being bored. These learners are at the far end of the special needs spectrum and they have their own issues. A child reading at a fourth grade level in kindergarten is all good right?! But that forth grade book is dealing with themes far beyond the social development of the kindergartner. What about the child who has the ability to comprehend and write far above grade level but doesn't have the finger strength or fine motor control to actually do it? What about the child with extraordinary ability with numbers who is struggling with reading?
Currently there are a wide variety of learners at PS 32 but with the introduction of the NEST program (serving students with Autism Spectrum Disorders - many of whom are operating far above grade level) at the school nearly 10 years ago the staff has dealt regularly with extremely gifted learners and the special needs that come with them. The first students to enter this program have reached 8th grade this year and the school is very proud that many of them have been offered seats at Stuy and Tech.
PS 32 has the benefit of a core group of extraordinary specials teachers and they have a well developed school wide Enrichment Model (Renzulli). Their librarian has spear-headed very successful fundraising to expand their lovely library to encompass a brand new media lab and to incorporate the tech enrichment into the classroom in very fundamental and creative ways. The art teacher thinks big and regularly makes the art curriculum concrete by creating school wide permanent art pieces throughout the building (mosaic murals and this year a permanent solar system above students heads in the science room). The music teacher has a full keyboard lab and when I asked him what curriculum he used he said, "Let's call it 'My Grandmother's Music Program'". The students learn not only to read music and play but they are city champions in the amazing Riverside Symphony Music Memory Competition. This is a sophisticated competition where the kids have to identify pieces of music played by a live orchestra after hearing only a small portion of pieces that they have studied. Not only that - they have to identify composers from other fragments of pieces that they have not studied!
Maybe the most telling story that the teachers related was about their math curriculum. They are using the city mandated 'Everyday Math' and supplementing with 'Singapore Math', but when a teacher became excited about the possibilities of using Montessori manipulatives to help struggling learners as well as kids on the upper end of the class she prepared a thorough presentation of the proposed benefits for the principal. She made her case, the Principal agreed, and they are rolling out a Montessori math unit school wide for kindergarten. This is a workplace where teachers are encouraged to seek creative ways to meet their unique students' needs.
My take away was that even though this is a new program, it is located in a school that has been hoping and preparing to add a G&T program for a long time and the program will be a seamless fit into the school as a whole.