Gifted and … wired to learn!
Gifted students look quite different from each other but they share a common personality trait—a deep internal drive and inquisitiveness that makes them uniquely wired to learn, lending them the potential to excel in the subjects that interest them most.
Although giftedness manifests in many unique ways, curiosity is the common driver that makes for a gifted mind. Where most children may have one or two ideas about something new they are learning, gifted children often have 10 – or maybe even 1,000! This is why its so important for them to have peers that equally love to explore new questions and ideas.
Giftedness can show up in expected ways – with early verbal abilities, strong interest in math or reading. But it can also show up in more subtle ways, such as abundant imagination, unique perceptiveness, emotional intensity, high energy, or precocious interest in puzzles, calendars, drawing and art. Some develop deep knowledge on topics of interest.
One thing is for certain: When a gifted child is nurtured and inspired, the gift blossoms into a unique genius all its own.
Spoiler alert: parenting adolescents isn’t any easier than walking the floor at midnight with a newborn. The belief that parents are able to worry less as their children age washes away as parents witness their child go through adolescence—a period of change rivaling that of birth to age three. Adolescence can provide a wild ride […]
Spoiler alert: parenting adolescents isn’t any easier than walking the floor at midnight with a newborn. The belief that parents are able to worry less as their children age washes away as parents witness their child go through adolescence—a period of change rivaling that of birth to age three. Adolescence can provide a wild ride at home, and parents depend on a school setting that provides a stabilizing, nurturing, and inspiring platform for growth—a safe place to take risks, make mistakes, and to learn from those mistakes. Being armed with the knowledge of which middle school setting can best provide that experience can go a long way to reduce stress and anxiety for all involved.
One of the most critical misconceptions of middle school is that its primary purpose is to prepare teenagers for high school. That belief fails to consider that middle school should be wholly focused on what middle school students need most at that crucial stage of development. The developmental milestones of sixth, seventh, and eighth grades are specific, numerous, and important. People rarely say “First grade’s primary focus is to prepare children for second grade,” yet parents of early adolescents see the specter of high school bearing down and can lose focus of the needs of adolescents. A K-8 school environment can provide that important focus on the needs of middle-schoolers.
According to a recent article from NPR, “A large body of research suggests that students who go to middle school or junior high do worse academically, socially and emotionally, compared to the young teenagers who get to be the oldest students at schools with grades K-8.” Mackintosh Academy strives to maximize the elements we believe make the K-8 model the ideal model for middle school students.
The first element is continuing to develop and nurture strong relationships amongst peers and teachers—to provide the circumstances under which students can feel seen and known. At Mackintosh Academy, teachers and students in all grades interact and get to know one another on the playground, in Explorations, at whole school Gatherings and Morning Meetings, etc. Students have the same teachers for PE, Visual Arts, Performing Arts, Design, Library, and Spanish from kindergarten on up. In Mack’s middle school, we continue grade level homerooms (which oftentimes cease after 5th grade in the traditional stand-alone middle school), and we have developed 6th-8th connections via our “House System” advisory groups. Adolescent children can exhibit negativity, can struggle with judgment in respect to the risks and consequences of their actions, and can develop low self-esteem—these traits can present challenges when large groups of 6th-8th graders are educated in isolation, such as in a traditional, stand-alone middle school. When you see 8th graders at Mackintosh Academy leading community games for all ages at recess, and witness older students sitting with their younger buddies during all-school Morning Meetings, you begin to understand the incredible benefits of keeping middle-schoolers in a K-8 setting. When middle school students start to experience the “sturm and drang” of adolescence, having the support of teachers who have known them throughout their childhood is invaluable—teachers who have witnessed their growth, their challenges, and know how to leverage their strengths to help the students reach their full potential.
The second element of the Mackintosh Academy K-8 model is the strength of our International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (IB MYP), taught by passionate, skilled, and interested teachers. The MYP program provides our teachers a strong academic framework upon which to design creative and experiential units of study. Mackintosh middle-schoolers learn to go deep and connect concepts in all areas of study, including our rich “specials” program. Teachers who lead our middle school are carefully chosen for their love and dedication to this developmental age group, and for their skills and interest in teaching a wide breadth of interconnected subject areas. We pride ourselves on our team that cares about adolescents and is dedicated to developing learners both academically and socially.
The third important element of our model is encouraging and providing mentoring and leadership opportunities. Middle-schoolers are uniquely situated in our K-8 model to see themselves and be seen as leaders. Like most sought-after qualities in learners, leadership is usually not innate—it takes modeling, practice, and direct coaching. As students navigate through 6th-8th grades, they are given opportunities ranging from low-stress options such as serving as a buddy to a K-5th student, to opportunities that take additional courage and mentoring such as completing our 8th grade Community Projects.
The culmination of leadership and mentoring support unfolds in 8th grade in our new Leadership class. In these weekly classes, our students are given freedom to design ways to make our school and community a better place. For example, 8th graders have been designing and leading weekly recess games for K-5, as mentioned above. They’ve also taken over the Pizza Friday sale as a fundraiser for their spring trip to Washington, D.C. As the year progresses, middle-schoolers will have more leadership opportunities unique to a K-8 environment, such as running all-school meetings. The students are more likely to take these risks because “in the K-8 schools, those tweens and young teens (are) the “top dogs” — the oldest, the most comfortable and familiar with the school,” as opposed to starting over in sixth grade at a traditional middle school as the “bottom dogs.”
The fourth element of our model is the intentional focus on the development of social-emotional learning (SEL). Since Mackintosh Academy’s founding 40 years ago, SEL has never been a “fad” or “add on”—rather, it is at the core of everything we do. Evidence of our commitment includes our school psychologist teaching SEL classes to every grade level every week, including 6-8th grades. Sustaining focus on SEL throughout our K-8 model is critically important especially in light of the boundless changes adolescents experience. As peer relationships become more important in adolescence, having this targeted support for students as they figure out who they want to be and how they fit in with others is essential. One former Mackintosh Academy parent whose child is now in high school said, “In one sense, you worry about the “greenhouse flower” effect. Your child has grown and thrived in this special environment, but once out in the “real world,” they will wilt and won’t be able to withstand pressure. What we found, however, is that being at Mack in this supportive, nurturing environment for as long as he could, where he was known and understood, where he could experiment and take risks in a low-stakes situation, he grew very sturdy, secure roots. Now out in the harsher climate of high school, he is staying true to himself and what his values are. He’s secure and knows how to advocate for himself because he was able to learn those skills and use them effectively in the “safe” environment of the K-8 experience. He was able to gain confidence at a time when most middle school kids are having their confidence crushed.”
If you gather a group of parents together and ask them to reflect on their middle school experiences, the vast majority of them speak negatively of their experience. Middle school is typically not revered as a time of “self-worth” and “happiness” and “success.” At Mackintosh Academy, we seek to break that trend by carefully balancing the developmental needs of our students. From a biological and neurodevelopmental standpoint, middle-schoolers are designed to push back on boundaries and limits. They are testing the ones who love them to see how far and deep the love will go. With Mackintosh Academy’s K-8 environment, we are positioned to teach “both the child who is leaving childhood behind, as well as the young adult who is looking forward to the challenges of independence.”
Mack Littleton’s campus population more than doubled on the Friday before Thanksgiving break when we were joined by a gaggle of grands and a flurry of friends! The students were thrilled to welcome their grandparents and “grandfriends” into their classrooms for hands-on collaborative activities that included craft projects, art creations and design thinking challenges. Grands got to experience Mack’s inquiry-based approach, and kids basked in the loving glow that only grands can bring.
Head of School Diane Dunne took the grands through a “walk down memory lane” with a trivia quiz focusing on life in 1977, when Mackintosh Academy was founded. A surprising number of Mack grands have first-hand experience with leisure suits and Farrah Fawcett haircuts! Taking a poll of what grandparents are called, we found that along with the traditional Grandma and Grandpa, we had Grannies, Omas, and Abus in our midst.
Mack grands Ann Newton and Curt Eckhardt spoke about the joys (expected and unexpected) of grandparenting and gave heartfelt statements about what the Mackintosh community has meant to them and their grandchildren. To cap off the morning. each class performed a song or two under the direction of Performing Arts teacher Kelly Kates. The 7th and 8th graders showed off their Shakespearean acting chops, and show choir wrapped up the show with a rousing performance that ensured a toe-tapping good time.
The day wrapped up with our Mack Marketplace. Parents, students and grands perused our vendors. Mack parents peddled their wares of homemade empanadas, papercrafts and cards, beaded yoga malas and wooden handicrafts. The 7-8 class sold homegrown greens from our greenhouse. And the parent community provided a bounty of homemade baked goods – cookies, pies, cakes, and more – for the bake sale. Two food trucks, Saucy Buns BBQ and WeChef Kitchen kept the crowd nourished.
This event has grown over the years from a casual gathering to what is truly a Grand Event for connecting the generations! We look forward to seeing our grands and grandfriends on campus again next fall!
Imagine being able to reconnect today with someone you helped through service twenty years ago. Better still, imagine that not only has that person grown to be an amazing adult, but that he is also living a life of service to others? Former Mack parent, Mara Rose, recently had that experience. Mara said, “In the late ’90s, I ran an organization called Playing to Win. We housed a second organization called HarlemLive (see a short description below). The man who ran HarlemLive, Richard Calton, decided to have a mini HarlemLive reunion at my house recently, so he and four of his former students (two of whom I worked with as well) spent the weekend in Boulder. They have all gone on to do amazing things and be amazing people, and they all credit HarlemLive for helping to put them on the right path.” One of the former students is Clifton Taylor. Mara was kind enough to bring Mr. Taylor to Mack-Boulder to meet with the 8th graders while he was in Boulder.
The Mack-Boulder 8th graders have the opportunity to live “Keen Minds, Compassionate Hearts, Global Action” to its fullest this year in the form of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program Community Project.
“The aims of the MYP projects are to encourage and enable students to:
- participate in a sustained, self-directed inquiry within a global context
- generate creative new insights and develop deeper understandings through in-depth investigation
- demonstrate the skills, attitudes and knowledge required to complete a project over an extended period of time
- communicate effectively in a variety of situations
- demonstrate responsible action through, or as a result of, learning
- appreciate the process of learning and take pride in their accomplishments.”
Having the opportunity to meet with someone who not only benefited from the service of others but who also has makes service a big part of his own life was inspirational for the 8th graders. Clifton Taylor has been a member of the Oklahoma City police department for two years, and he’s been a medic in the National Guard for around six years. He was born in Jamaica, moved to New York City when he was around 9, and grew up in Harlem. He’s now 32 years old, and he loves all things technology and service. He recently returned from a 6-month training mission in the Ukraine where he and his colleagues trained members of the Ukrainian military. Mr. Taylor especially enjoys doing outreach with groups of students.
Mr. Taylor spoke with the 8th graders about a range of topics, but the main messages the students came away with were: treating all people with respect and love and as equals is paramount; helping through service can make a real and lasting difference in the lives of others; living a life of service benefits you as much as the people you help.
As the 8th graders embark on their Community Projects, hearing those messages from Clifton Taylor helped them feel their projects can truly have a meaningful impact. Maybe in twenty years, they, like Mara Rose, will have the opportunity to see evidence of the lasting good their service helped create.
HarlemLive introduces young people to journalism and computer technology in order to build their skills and introduce them to resources in the communications field. Its goal is to develop “leading-edge activists who care deeply about the communities in which they live and who are trained to play pivotal leadership roles as 21st century communicators.”
HarlemLive provides media resources and experiences to help young people become more successful while increasing their communication skills. The program combines training and hands-on experience in journalism, photography, video, and computer technology for young people, ages 13 to 21, and trains them to produce and manage an on-line magazine about the Harlem community called “HarlemLive.” Teenagers run every aspect of the publication and are assigned positions such as editor-in-chief, managing editor, photo editor, reporters, layout designers, administrators and technicians. They are responsible for editorial content, production schedules and community outreach.