By Anna Enger
Anna interned with IEA over the summer, working closely with the IEA Academy program. Here she shares her reflections on some of the things she has learned from the experience.
Prior to joining the team at the Institute for Educational Advancement, I spent a year working full-time in an LAUSD elementary school in South-Central Los Angeles as a mentor and tutor. After working 50-hour weeks in the second-largest school district in the nation, I was eager to gain in-classroom experience from the opposite end of the spectrum. I was drawn to IEA for its progressive philosophy; students here are grouped not by age but by their academic interests, teachers are given creative liberty to explore methods that work best to engage gifted students, and the individual student is taken seriously and respected.
On my first day working at the IEA Academy, I was immediately intrigued by the group of students that made up an organic chemistry class. The ages of the students ranged from six years old to twelve. Not only was each student fully engaged in the class, but each student was treated equally. The six year-old was not spoken down to or treated like a small child. I couldn’t help but think of the third graders I had spent the past year with; I can’t imagine how positively their educational experiences and overall senses of self would have been impacted if they could have been lucky enough to work in a similar environment.
The teachers at IEA come from a wide range of backgrounds – all of them passionate about the subjects they teach, and all of them passionate about teaching and making challenging content accessible. We had teachers designing scavenger hunts at The Huntington Library to enrich the Planetary Science class, teachers bringing ingredients to make crepes for the French culture class, along with teachers who worked their networks to bring equipment into the classroom from Caltech! Not only do these teachers have access to valuable learning resources, but they are valuable resources themselves as mentors. The intentionality behind each lesson was evident by the enthusiasm and engagement of the students. It’s a no-brainer that when teachers care, students learn more, grow more, and enjoy the class more. For this reason alone, IEA provides an invaluable educational experience to its students – an experience that would be defining, even revolutionary, if it could be implemented on a large scale in public education.
The Institute for Educational Advancement has opened my eyes to a different approach to learning – and it would be unfair for me to assume that IEA’s philosophy could only be realized in a place of learning for gifted children. I do believe that gifted students need autonomy, engagement, and collaboration in their learning spaces. However, I believe that this is true for all students. IEA serves as a special “learning oasis” for students who are not finding enough intellectual stimulation or challenge in their schools. I wish there were no need to provide this “special escape” to begin with. I do believe that we, as a community and state, are capable of implementing IEA’s successes in classrooms across a wide spectrum of neighborhoods and school districts.
Gifted children give us insight into what it really means to educate. We need to look no further than the minds of our brightest youth when looking for direction in teaching methods and education policy. If we just listened to what our gifted youth had to say about their educational experiences – both the highs and the lows – we would have all the answers we need. Our students know when they are learning in a way that motivates them to learn more, they know when their teachers care, and they know when their voices are being heard. The moment that we all take our children seriously and allow them to share their love for life and excitement to grow with us, we will have made a shift from developing students to developing leaders. At the Institute for Educational Advancement, students are heard. And what we are hearing is that they are learning, and that they are enjoying it.
Learn more about the IEA Academy, advanced enrichment classes for gifted children in the Los Angeles area.