Now that we're less than a week away from the primary, I wanted to talk about Valerie Ervin. Though she hasn't brought it up in more recent interviews, she has gone on the record as saying that Montgomery County Public Schools' Gifted and Talented Program is racist, barring students of color from higher-level classes. She proposes that we dismantle the GT program and make its advanced curriculum available to everyone, regardless of ability.
Over ten years ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Gifted and Talented Program at Barnsley Elementary School in Rockville for fourth and fifth grade. I remember how excited I was to be there; back home at Woodlin Elementary, I was the smartest kid in class - and now, I would be among my peers.
And I was wrong. My classmates came from wealthy families in Bethesda and Rockville and were ruthlessly competitive. A kid from a then-blighted Downtown Silver Spring who had only a vague idea of tutoring sessions and summer camp, I found myself slipping behind. My teachers were unsympathetic and condescending; one of them taped my mouth shut for talking too much. There were fifty-four students in the program, and I was one of only three students of color.
I failed the test to get into the magnet at Takoma Park Middle School, went back to my local middle school, and never looked back. Over ten years later, I found out some of my classmates had entered the Intel Science Talent Search - and won. They had good things to say about Barnsley. After all, it probably got them where they are today. Can I say the same about Barnsley? No.
But do I think the system is racist? No. The Gifted and Talented programs are designed for students who can handle advanced curricula. Forcing minority students who aren't qualified into the program would only make it worse for the students who are, and dumbing the curriculum down so anyone could take it would defeat the purpose of the program. Valerie Ervin's plan is political correctness gone awry and it's wrong.
Right now, the only way you could get into a school like Barnsley and succeed is if you came from a place like Potomac or Bethesda where the schools are good enough to prepare you for it. We should set all Montgomery County schools to a standard where willing and able students can go to a Gifted and Talented school and do well. I loved Woodlin, but it didn't get me where I needed to be for higher-level material. And that's where the problem lies.