“G.A.T.E. meant that we always had an ally in the building, someone who would fight for your choices and help you understand life,” said senior Ryan Johnston, voicing an opinion quite popular among his fellow G.A.T.E. peers. “But now that comfort in the program doesn’t really exist anymore.”
For many G.A.T.E. students, entering the high school level of the program was kind of like hitting a brick wall–not only are the days of relaxed, period-long meetings every couple of weeks with snacks and fun activities over, but grade-wide G.A.T.E. meetings themselves hardly even exist at this level anymore. And for some, that’s a hard thing to accept.
G.A.T.E. in high school is available as more of a source for opportunities–gifted students are encouraged to frequently stop by the G.A.T.E. room in the library to pick up forms for different conferences, fairs, and activities that are offered to advanced students, and the brain-teasers, puzzles, and games from the younger years are no longer part of the G.A.T.E. “curriculum.”
And this is arguably for good reason: as high school picks up speed through the years and adds more and more weight to all students’ shoulders, adding even more advanced projects and work is something that no student would want an abundance of. “What we want is self-advocacy,” Ms. Taylor, Director of Student Support Services, said of high school G.A.T.E.
According to Miss Lenski, the high school gifted support and enrichment teacher, the reason for this is so that a more “individualized” academic atmosphere is created for the students. “Not everybody wants to do the same things anymore, so [the G.A.T.E. program] depends on each student’s own strengths, interests, and career plans,” said Lenski. She also explained that for high school students, random pull-out time from class is less beneficial and sometimes even of less interest to some students. Instead, high school G.A.T.E. is “more of a specifically tailoring program as a career beneficial experience.”
The struggle for students, then, is finding the proper balance between regular, academic school work and the extra opportunities offered through G.A.T.E. Finding that balance, though, is sometimes a difficult thing to achieve.
“Some students don’t understand how beneficial these experiences can be,” Lenski said of the opportunities to participate in the offered video conferences, etc., also explaining that kids are often pleasantly surprised at how beneficial and worthwhile these opportunities often are. “[People from these opportunities] give students perspective that we just can’t duplicate in class.”
But when students voice any opinions about G.A.T.E., they’re not usually as concerned with the opportunities and substance of the program, but rather with the setup of the program in general. The “good old days” in G.A.T.E. has less to do with the projects and assigned work, and much more with the time spent in the program–in simple terms, G.A.T.E. was a haven for those fortunate enough to have it. Getting the opportunity to escape the elementary classrooms and the busy, drama-filled hallways of middle school and hang out for a period in a comfortable and safe room was a treat that came to an abrupt end.
“In elementary and middle school, we were led to more important things and given more opportunities. It was nice to hang out with inspirational guidance who were willing to take time out of their day to deal with us and help us get where we needed to be,” commented senior Isaac George.
“It was always a nice break from the school day to go down to G.A.T.E., especially when I felt like I wasn’t really learning anything new in my regular classes,” added senior Billie Jo Richardson.
There is no doubt that the G.A.T.E. instructors, from elementary school on, have been nothing but supportive. However, many G.A.T.E. students perceive the program not through the opportunities that they’re given or through their instructors, but through the actual structure of the program itself: “Middle school G.A.T.E. was very personalized,” said Johnston. “Ms. Desimone cares as much as Miss Lenski, except Desimone develops a relationship with each student and makes it comfortable enough that people go back and forth. People don’t really go back and forth now.”
“I think it’s probably difficult to carry [G.A.T.E] on through high school because we can’t leave class to explore the enrichment activities that we used to do,” said Richardson. “The [high school] program, in my opinion, is kind of useless unless it expands a bit more.”
What many students are generally unaware of, though, including G.A.T.E. students, is that teachers have enrichment opportunities written into their curriculum every year in order to provide those students who wish to pursue more advanced and in-depth learning the opportunity to do so. This is good for those students who feel as though the G.A.T.E. program is not living quite up to their desires. But the simultaneous lack of awareness of these opportunities causes some students to feel more bitterly towards the G.A.T.E. program, which used to be that constant source of enrichment right at the fingertips.