Of Ponds and Fish

By , Barrington, IL

I can picture the day as if it were yesterday: standing in my mom’s small, 1970s style kitchen with both of my parents, talking over a decision that no one wanted to make. It was a decision that would come to have a far greater impact on my life than any of us realized at the time, and we had no more than 48 hours to come to an agreement.


Earlier that day, my parents and I were informed of the results of the IQ test that I was administered about a week prior by the school district’s gifted program coordinator at the request of my 4th grade teacher, we’ll call her Mrs. B. Oh, Mrs. B. To this day she remains my absolute favorite teacher that I’ve had throughout my K-12 educational career. She had the heart of an angel and treated every single one of her students through the years as if they were her own children, and was no doubt adored by students and parents alike for as long as she taught at my elementary school. Mrs. B also had an inexplicable talent for identifying gifted students in her class, and had been telling my parents since the first 2 or 3 weeks of my time in her class that she had seen something different in me; something that set me apart from her other students. I tended to complete homework before the school day was even over, regularly scored 95-100% on unit tests, and sometimes even ended up helping other students understand class material. I really was a big fish in a small pond at that school, and it never occurred to me until the day I was read my IQ test results that I was an above average student in any way whatsoever. In fact, I was given no notice in advance of the IQ test, and was quite surprised when I was taken out of class for it by an old woman we’ll call Dr. G. The questions on the test were unconventional and unlike anything I had seen on a test in school before, often becoming borderline abstract in nature. I completed the test to the best of my ability, and Dr. G told me I’d receive my results within a week. Once it was scored, it was officially recommended by the school district that I be transferred out of my current school and be placed in an “extended self-contained gifted program” at a different school within the same district, an exclusive program for 4th and 5th graders reserved for the most intelligent students in that age group in the entire school district. I have to admit, this recommendation was a bit jarring to me and my parents, as we had to carefully consider the consequences of being taken away from all the people I had been developing friendships with since kindergarten. We were also concerned about the supposedly significantly more rigorous academic challenges that the program offered. I remember staring at my dad with the most dire look of naive concern on my face and quietly asking, “Am I gonna have to do college math already?” We hadn’t the slightest clue of how our eventual decision to transfer me to the new school would alter my life and personality forever.


I had a lot of really positive experiences at the new school, it was probably the most exciting time of my early educational career. We did coursework that was much closer to my academic ability, and went on numerous unique field trips throughout both years including one or two that involved overnight stays. But there was still something that felt amiss; I wasn’t the top of the class anymore, I didn’t stand out in any particular way. All of a sudden I had found myself as a small fish in a big pond, just like everyone else. Since I had transferred into the program a few months into 4th grade when the majority had started at the beginning of the year, I found it quite difficult to make new friends, and mostly fell out of contact with my old ones for reasons I still couldn’t identify today. I spent a lot of time by myself and was often the last one without a partner/group for collaborative assignments. It was around this time that I really had my first experience with depression, which I still struggle with to this day (both of my parents partially attribute this to going through such a sudden transition at a vulnerable time in my development).


Looking back on everything that transpired during that chaotic period of  transition and new experiences, I can’t help but wonder what life would’ve been like had we simply said no the district’s placement recommendation. Since my district has two middle schools, most of my classmates at the new elementary school went to one while I was placed in the other (purely based on location), so I didn’t go on to develop lasting friendships with any of them and thus spent a significant portion of middle school utterly alone. To this very day, with just one exception, all of my friends are people I didn’t meet until my second year of high school. I suppose you could say this is a lasting impact of my 4th grade transition, as my ability to talk to people and make new friends was so diminished by being placed in such an academically rigorous program in a time that should be spent being a kid and enjoying life before it gets serious. Do I think the decision we came to in the end was worth it? Maybe. But regardless of whether or not I would make the same decision again, I’m happy with the experiences I got to enjoy because of it, and even happier that there have always been people out there like Mrs. B that can make any child feel like they’re destined to do great things.






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