Monday, Sept. 21, 2009 | Sandra Ruvalcaba isn’t sure if she would have tapped Dominic Satterfield as a gifted child before. His reading was a little weak and he struggled with writing last year at Cabrillo Elementary in Point Loma. But when the teacher began to use strategies for gifted children with all of her students, Dominic suddenly seemed to stand out. He flourished.
His mother Sadie said it was “100 percent different” than the way she was taught as a child, and she liked what she saw. Dominic relished getting into debates with other children about the ethics of playground squabbles. He is a pint-sized philosopher with a karate T-shirt and a frank and surprisingly adult manner, who readily picks out what his teachers call the “Big Ideas” — one of the buzzwords that mark the new strategies — in classic stories such as the Tortoise and the Hare.
“The turtle was slow. The hare judged him. No one really thought that the hare wouldn’t win — he’s the fastest living creature in the universe,” Dominic, now in 2nd grade, explained after school. “So the big idea is, ‘Don’t judge a person.'”
Cabrillo is also altering how it judges children, and how all youngsters are taught. Teachers there are bringing methods for gifted children, such as searching for details or ferreting out the unanswered questions, into classes for all kids in grades K-2. Their goal is threefold: To nurture gifted children before they are tested for giftedness so that they don’t get bored and tune out, to draw more families to the school, and to deepen thinking among all children, whether or not they ultimately are dubbed “gifted.”
Now San Diego Unified is taking the same tack at four more elementary schools, by training teachers for the youngest children in gifted and talented education and tracking whether it works. It is still early, even at Cabrillo, but teachers say they are surprised by just how much their students can do. They debate whether a fictional boy who lost a teddy bear should get his toy back from a homeless man who found it in a trash bin. They write about how different characters in a story might view what happened.
“These are things that years ago I would never have done with them,” Ruvalcaba said. “At the beginning we were like, ‘Will the little ones be able to do it?'”