Elaine Nevers-Williams (pictured above, bottom right) has taught at several levels in her 13 years in Atlanta Public Schools (17 overall). So what made Nevers-Williams, currently a kindergarten teacher at M. Agnes Jones Elementary, decide to become certified to teach APS gifted and talented students? “It’s so easy to misdiagnose a student,” said Nevers-Williams, a teacher in APS’s month-long Xanadu Gifted and Talented Summer Program at Parkside Elementary. “But when you have a program like Xanadu, the light can come on in terms of figuring out why a student is different. And this way, as a kindergarten teacher, I’ll know how to differentiate my instruction so that a student doesn’t head in the wrong direction.”
For three decades, gifted and talented students have received the kind of creative instruction that matches their unique curiosity. This year’s Xanadu program is a partnership among APS, the Center for Puppetry for Puppetry Arts and the Woodruff Arts Center. Consider it the beginning of the pipeline that continues through with the Middle School and High School Summer Academy for the Arts and Sciences at the Woodruff.
In both cases, gifted endorsement candidates like Nevers-Williams observed gifted teachers for the first couple weeks and then teach the gifted and talented students, while the gifted teachers observe and offer feedback. It’s the ultimate learning process for everyone.
“The district is looking at how to address student needs individually,” said Cynthia Terry, APS director of fine arts. “When teachers get this type of preparation, they can deliver to our students the kind of quality education they deserve. And we’ve found, what’s good for our gifted students is good for any student. You have to find out what the child is actually gifted in to provide quality instruction. We all learn differently. Maybe you’re not as creative in art as in math, but once we learn what you’re creative in, we can then integrate the content so that they’re using what they’re creative in to learn the other subjects.”
The class names offer the first hints of this creative learning atmosphere. In one class, “The Mad Scientist Club,” students learn to make a silly-putty type substance, and arrange sugar-coated chewy candies to recreate molecules. (See video here.)
For a mid-career teacher like Nevers-Williams, Xanadu is a gift. “Atlanta Public Schools is staying ever-present at the cutting edge of providing teaching methods and professional development for the gifted and talented students and teachers,” she said.