Rather than responding argumentatively, I would like to share some stories from my life.
Several weeks ago, my parents came to visit us, to see our newly purchased house and help us work on it. My mom had seen the place before, but it was my dad's first time seeing our house. He was very proud of us. He told us how happy he was to see that the neighborhood is starting to do better, because when he lived and worked here in the past, it was not. He told us about how he lived in an apartment on 14th Street as a kid. The apartment had no bathtub. When they needed to bathe, they would take water from the kitchen faucet to fill up a metal basin which sat in the kitchen. Once, after a hard day of working out in the heat in the junkyard, his father took him to the public bath house on Saint Louis Avenue to shower, because they knew the kitchen basin would not be enough. Dad commented that as a kid he knew they didn't have a lot of money, but when he remembers things like that, he knows that they were really, really poor. After a quiet pause, he said "Everything that has happened in my life happened because of the gifted program. College. Jobs. Everything happened because someone labelled me a smart kid and put me in gifted."
I now live in the neighborhood where my dad used to live when he was a little kid, going through extreme poverty. I live exactly one block from Ames School, where he later worked as a teacher after completing college thanks to the background he got in the gifted program. Sitting here, close to these two sites, I am almost frozen with fear over what the SLPS will be like without gifted, and what that will mean for all the kids who would have gotten that important extra educational push.
Peter Downs notes that the statewide cutting of gifted and ESL mimics cuts in the St. Louis Public Schools. What really stands out to me is that at Euclid and Washington Montessori Schools, fourth and fifth grade students were taken off the Montessori program this year. They were reorganized as standard classrooms.
I went to Washington Montessori from kindergarten to third grade, and I went to Euclid Montessori from fourth to fifth grade. Though I faced many typical SLPS nightmares there (ranging from small things like bad, nutritionless lunchroom food to big things like a friend ending up in a coma due to construction workers' negligence, and a bunch of us getting shot at on the playground during gym), overall the education I got there was outstanding. My first to third grade teacher, Mrs. Saputo, and my fourth to fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Debaun, were probably the best teachers I've had in my entire life. The Montessori method of using concrete objects to express abstract ideas was wonderful. To this day, when I'm trying to remember what part of speech a word is, I picture the big red circle for verbs, the giant black triangle for nouns, and so on. When I am tutoring a kid in complex multiplication problems, I help myself understand how to break down the problem by picturing the beads we used in my Montessori classes to represent large numbers.
But Montessori went beyond regular math and grammar lessons. Because of its fluid structure, teachers were able to give us individual instruction based on our own needs. When I was in second grade, Mrs. Saputo was able to give troubled readers their own lesson for their level, give a different lesson to average readers, and let dorky little me make up my own spelling words (Because of her class, I was one of six winners of the city spelling bee in fourth grade.). Outside of the traditional curriculum, we had other great lessons. Mrs. Debaun brought in a botanist, and my class worked with him to restore and plant small raised flowerbeds around the school (which previously had been solidly overgrown with weeds). She had people bring in live chickens to our class. Presenters came in and burned incense and taught us about Native American culture. Mrs. Debaun herself told us about her vacation to China and taught us to make Chinese papercuts. We visited a local home for babies born to crack-addicted mothers, and stitched together a quilt to donate to the home. We weren't just learning about the three R's, but about the larger world beyond ourselves. We learned very tangibly how to plant a seed and nurture it into a vegetable, how to sew something and share it--pure Montessori.
Also significant is that because of the structure of the classrom, we children were able to learn to do our work on our own, which is a very, very important lesson. We were also encouraged to sit and work together, which I partially credit for the fact that my best friend from third grade and I are still close to this day.
I still learn by the Montessori method. I remain less interested in sitting in a lecture hall than in going out and working in my community. I don't have a college degree yet, but from my Montessorian tendencies, I am learning how to curate a film series, tutor at-risk children, and research the landscape of my city.
I wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn't gotten to attend gifted and if I hadn't gotten to take Montessori classes. I wonder what my dad's life would have been like if he hadn't gotten to attend gifted. Where would he be now? Would I exist? Would my dad have a job at all, let alone one that paid the bills? Would he still be scraping by, eating biscuits and lard as he did when he was a kid? I really, really don't want to think about the terrible, horribly grim answers to these questions, but all across St. Louis and the state of Missouri, students who would have been in the gifted program or who would have taken Montessori classes will have to spend their lives finding out.
From the SLS Watch: "Superintendent Creg Williams has agreed to meet with Montessori parents on November 30, at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the future of the Euclid and Washington Montessori schools. " The meeting will be informal. It will be at Washington Montessori, which is located at 1130 North Euclid Avenue. The 94 Page, 95 Kingshighway, and 97 Delmar bus routes can get you there.