Ever since I started our middle school’s gifted and talented program (thanks to a gift from an anonymous donor), I have believed my job is to challenge these students. I’ve since expanded that belief to all of my students, but that’s another post. My students have heard me say that so much now, that they help me finish the statement.
I think it’s been successful, since I recently took a group of middle school students (5th through 8th grade) to a business expo in Lansing. We turned out to be the only middle school there – the rest of the groups were all from high schools. Not intimidated in the least, my students set up their displays and proceeded to wow the judges, the keynote speaker (star center from the National Championship Spartan basketball team) and any other adult who moved into their orbit. They approached adults, held out a hand to shake, introduced themselves and launched into their “elevator pitch”. Not one of them hung back, sat behind their table display or behaved like anything less than the entrepreneur they were. It was amazing!
At the end, awards were given out, along with cash prizes. I’m proud (and a little embarrassed!) to say that my 5 middle school groups took home slightly more than half the cash and 5 prizes! This was even though they were against all those high school groups! They excelled!
What’s the secret? I truly didn’t “train” them. It was a process that began last year. Our computer lab flooded, so I needed something to keep them busy. I invited Junior Achievement to come in and do some of their lessons with the class.
At the end of the lessons, we held a mini business expo in our library. We invited local business owners to join us (even gave them pretend money to invest) and the students showed off their work. The Junior Achievement people attended and were very impressed.
Last winter, when the Lansing expo was being planned, those same Junior Achievement people remembered my students and invited us. I encouraged all of my students to join us, but not all wanted to.
We proceeded to write business plans, executive summaries and elevator pitches. They registered for the expo and created displays, samples and speeches.
In doing this, I gave them the freedom to succeed. I find myself feeling like a mother bird, quite often. I slowly, but surely, push them out of the nest that is their comfort zone and give them the chance to try their wings. In doing so, we all discover what they can truly accomplish. I’ve been absolutely amazed at what these kids can do. So much more than any of us give them credit for being able to do.
What could your students do, if they were challenged?