What Have Gifted Education Opportunities Meant to Me

This essay was a first place winner in the Maryland Coalition for Gifted and Talented Education’s (MCGATE) Student Essay Contest.

Picture of Megha Sharma

Megha Sharma is a freshman at Long Reach High School. She takes part in several school clubs and organizations such as MESA, Science Olympiad, SGA, and Model UN, and plays soccer and tennis for the school team.

From personal experience, I can say that there are three types of gifted children: we have the natural geniuses and protégés, those who are gifted at rare specialties, and the ones who work incredibly hard to be considered gifted and talented. I fall into the latter category and some could consider that fortunate or the opposite. However, I view the hard work as a characteristic attributed to gifted and talented students. Everyone is in a class together and by being different, we can all learn from each other. I realize that I have opportunities in my school system to choose where I want my life to go. I would not have had these prospects growing up anywhere else. So, “What have gifted education opportunities meant to me?” They represent a pathway for me to find who I want to be.

My experience in gifted and talented programs starts from my third grade year. I was in Curriculum Extension Units and the G/T Math program through elementary school. Because of young age, we weren’t pushed in academic rigor, but these programs helped me develop confidence in myself and teamwork skills. Before being a leader, it is important to learn to be part of a team. I took the skill sets I developed to middle school, which was an exciting change because it was the first time where G/T was offered in all of the core classes. I saw a change in myself, as the expectations increased as well as academic rigor. At my middle school, we had a plethora of G/T seminars to help students pursue their interests and develop talents. I got involved in the Debate seminar during my sixth grade year, the competitive Debate team in seventh grade, and during my eighth grade year, I used what I had learned and became the Debate team captain. Participating in debate opened up many avenues for public speaking and I acquired many skills that made debate my passion. Now, as a freshman in high school, I am involved in my school’s Speech and Debate Team and Model UN. Through the G/T core classes in middle school, I realized that my true passion is science. Learning it is enjoyable for me. Last year, I had the opportunity to compete at both the county and regional science fairs where I was fortunate to win first place with my experiment that I had dedicated a lot of time to. From the regional science fair, I was nominated to participate in the national Broadcom Masters Fair, where I placed as a semi-finalist. Because of the G/T science classes I took and the wonderful educators, I was able to do a project that I was passionate about and learn many things that I could use in the future. To expand my horizons in the STEM field, I am competing in the MESA IEEE Robotic challenge and Science Olympiad. This year, I am taking G/T Independent Research, which is a rigorous college-like course in which in-depth research is conducted on a topic of choice. I made this decision because of my exposure to the G/T Research class offered in middle school, and I chose a topic that I could conduct quasi-experimental research on, which incorporates different aspects of science and psychology. These are just a few examples in the ways G/T programs have helped me develop valuable life skills and allowed me a chance to build on still-born talents and discover new interests.

I am futuristic, but not unrealistic in setting goals, so I completely understand that numerous obstacles can come in the way. But, these can always be overcome with sheer motivation and determination. For high school, I want to continue taking G/T and AP courses that will push me with their rigorous curriculum. Though these courses are challenging and at times, time-consuming, I feel most academically stimulated to prepare me for college and career. Another goal of mine is to participate in the international INTEL science fair. As a Girl Scout, I would like to earn my Gold Award by creating an organization that will help provide education for underprivileged children that do not have the same opportunities as children in Maryland do with gifted and talented options. Though I know a lot can change with time, a long term goal is to become a neurosurgeon. Gifted and talented courses are a foundation to me achieving these goals.

One teacher in particular made a lasting impact on my life. Even though she is no longer my teacher, I will carry the lessons she taught me and the things I learned from her forever. Ms. Charla Phillips is the G/T resource teacher at my middle school, and I was fortunate to have her guidance for three years. I realized that Ms. Phillips let us use our own creativity and imagination and allowed us freedom to do what we wanted with our project, which I was not accustomed to in my other classes. Ms. Phillips also was in charge of the Debate program, which has really sparked my passion for public speaking. On top of running all of the G/T seminars single-handedly, she also was involved in other extensions such as Writer’s Guild, Leadership Outlook, and other county events. I was fortunate to be a part of these as well. In eighth grade, our G/T History class participated in the National History Day competition. I did an individual performance and made it to the National Finals level. Though it is categorized as individual, I felt like I was part of a team.  I would not have been able to do this without Ms. Phillip’s advice and support.

The gifted and talented curriculum and expectations motivate me to do my best and to keep learning. Without gifted and talented programs, I think I would be lost in the directions of where I want to go. Because these programs provide so much exposure, I am able to identify my passions and interests. If these programs were not available to me, I would have difficulty finding activities that would keep me challenged. Gifted and talented courses are a vessel for opportunity and academic excellence. I cannot express my gratitude for having access to these opportunities, and for the brave educators that are willing to work hard so students can learn and achieve so much more.

Teacher and student looking at iPad

Why BYOD Is Essential in the 21st Century Classroom

Picture of Collin SullivanCollin Sullivan is a Long Reach High School Senior and presents regularly at BYOD and Educational Technology Gatherings hosted by the HCPSS Office of Instructional Technology.  Collin was a strong student voice during the BYOD pilot program and continues to advocate for continued use of technology in the classroom.

Last school year, the HCPSS launched an initiative that was modeled after a new wave of technology policies incorporated by businesses and school systems across the nation. HCPSS piloted the BYOD Program, or “Bring Your Own Device.” Technology is changing faster than school systems can adapt. Instead of purchasing new pieces of technology every year, students and staff can use their personal devices for educational purposes to significantly improve the learning, or teaching, experience. A “device” includes laptops, tablets, and if the teacher deems appropriate, even a smartphone.

This flagship program has garnered much praise, but with a fair amount of backlash. Many members of the community feel that technology will cause a distraction to the education environment. I believe the contrary. Technology is an invaluable tool for education. Now, students are bringing full powered mini-computers to school every day, and it fits in their pockets.

The BYOD program has two major goals for students to learn:

1. Technology is a resource
Many people take their phones, tablets, iPods, computers, and even the Internet for granted. All of these can be used in a positive way to make learning easier and more engaging. With HCPSS campuses WiFi-Ready, it is important that students can tap into the potential of the Internet and its various resources of information in order to broaden their learning experience.

2. Technology responsibility
When students graduate and enter the workforce, there will not be someone monitoring everything they do on their phones, nor if they are checking Twitter constantly. These are temptations for everyone, but it is important that we all form habits that avoid those temptations. With the BYOD program, students learn appropriate usage of their smartphones while at school which will form healthy habits for students when they enter the workforce.

These are two groundbreaking points that every 21st century employee will have to understand thoroughly. Employers will expect that their workers know how to use technology and know how to use it appropriately. This is not a lesson that can simply be taught, but a lesson best taught by practice.

3 students and teacher at desk

A Senior’s Advice to Incoming Freshmen

Picture of Candace Okumko

Candace Okumko is a senior at Oakland Mills High School who will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the fall of 2015. She plans to major in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.


High school is disorienting. As a freshman, I walked through the halls of Oakland Mills in a tizzy; being confronted with the reality of high school engendered an overwhelming flurry of nervousness and excitement. Transitioning from grade to grade, my perspective on the high school experience has changed dramatically. And now, as a senior, I realize that there were many tips and pieces of advice that have allowed me to make the most of my freshman year and set me on a good path for the next three. Here are a few:

Communicate with your teachers. Being a high school student means being beset with many more responsibilities than in middle school. At this point, teachers now look to you to take charge of your own academics. That means being the first to approach them when you’re having trouble with the subject material or after you’ve missed a day of school and need to get caught up. Likewise, if you are unsatisfied with your grade, make the effort to communicate your concerns to your teachers. It never hurts to ask. Most of them are more lenient and understanding than you might think. Ask about extra credit opportunities and other ways to improve your scores. You aren’t expected to have everything figured out your first year of high school, so most teachers are willing to give you a bit of slack when reasonable.

Be active in your school and community. Most of your high school experience will be colored by your extracurricular activities, not the classroom. Don’t be afraid to get involved with the different clubs and sports teams at your school. This is the time when all the other freshmen are trying to explore their options, too, so, even if it’s out of your comfort zone, join some after school groups. It was one of the best ways for me to meet people that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten the chance to. Furthermore, it gives you the opportunity to be a part of something larger than yourself. Some of the most memorable moments of high school have been at hallway night during homecoming week each year where I got the chance to work with my classmates on an amazingly creative project.

Don’t be afraid to fail. An important part of high school is going out of your comfort zone. Most times, that entails challenging yourself and sometimes failing. Don’t shy away from taking risks because you’re afraid of negative results. Some of the times where I’ve been the most successful have been the result of choices that had the possibility of not panning out. And, in the times when I wasn’t so lucky, I chose to keep working. When you fail, it is so incredibly easy to just give up, but that won’t get you where you want in the end. As cliché as it sounds, make the effort to learn from your mistakes and keep trying, even if it seems like you’re destined to fail each time. Change your perspective and try something different. It’s an important skill to learn and one that will serve you well later in life.

Choose the right friends. Your time at high school can either be some of the best years of your life or the worst depending on who you choose to spend them with. Don’t restrict yourself to one group of friends. High school presents you with the perfect opportunity to break norms and join different social circles. Your classes will be populated with people of different grades, and, contrary to popular belief, most upperclassmen are friendly and willing to help you out. Be sure to maintain healthy friendships. If you feel like one of your relationships is becoming detrimental to you—mentally, academically, or physically—don’t be afraid to cut ties with that person. High school will be some of the most stress-inducing years of your life as you juggle a new, more burdensome set of responsibilities, but they should also be some of the most gratifying ones. Surround yourself with incredible friends who support you and, most importantly, remind you to enjoy these next four years.

Leave Doors Open for Unexpected Opportunities

rhhsNick Novak is the Principal at River Hill High School and today’s guest blogger.  Mr. Novak has traveled an unexpected path to becoming Principal and encourages his students to pursue their passions while leaving doors open to unexpected opportunities.

Whenever I have a conversation with students about their career plans, I always tell them that “sooner or later they will have their pastry shop.” Invariably, they look back at me a little puzzled by my comments, but I clarify by explaining my journey to becoming a principal. Despite what students may think, I didn’t grow up wanting to be a principal. I didn’t play “lunch duty” or give my friends detention for practice.

I actually began college as a biology major after a high school career in a Science and Technology magnet program. My dreams of becoming a doctor quickly changed after I realized how much I hated spending the entire day inside a lab. I ended up double majoring in English and history, but as graduation approached, I wasn’t quite sure if either subject presented an appealing career option. After years of reading and writing, I was burned out and thought I could parlay one of my favorite pastimes into a career.

I really enjoyed baking for my friends, so I thought maybe I could be a pastry chef, but before applying to culinary school I figured I should work in a pastry shop to make sure it was really for me. For about six months I worked the 2AM-10AM shift, cracking six-hundred eggs at a time and it was enough for me to realize that, although I enjoyed baking, it was a better hobby than it was a career. I left the pastry shop and went to graduate school for a Masters degree in Education. I did my student teaching at River Hill, was hired the next year by HCPSS as an English teacher, and the rest is history.

For me, working in the pastry shop was that life-changing, definitive moment when I learned what I didn’t want to do. That realization is invaluable in defining what your calling actually is. Students, you need to explore your passions and interests, but be open to the possibility that these passions and interests may change. Get a summer job, do an internship, participate in a job shadow experience. I hope that you gain some valuable experience in a future career field, but don’t be discouraged if your placement at shock trauma makes you realize that you faint at the sight of blood—it just might be your pastry shop!