The students in Beverly Glassford's fifth- and sixth-grade class gathered in small groups last week to discuss advertising techniques used to hustle products to unwary customers. The students clearly had no trouble spotting the gimmicks.
For example, one student suggested to the class that an ad for a carpet "smart enough to pass a school test" made no literal sense. "How can a carpet be smart?" she asked.
Madison Avenue moguls are probably lucky that Glassford's students at the Eagle Rock Elementary School's Highly Gifted Magnet Center are among the less than 1% of the population with IQs of 145 or higher. That score is the minimum to qualify for the district's magnet school program for the highly gifted.
"Face it, these kids learn more easily than other children," said Glassford, who has taught highly gifted students since 1968. "They can develop abstract reasoning at a younger age. . . . They respect honesty and you cannot put them off with wishy-washy answers."
The intelligence of the 56 highly gifted students at Eagle Rock Elementary School, and the 124 highly gifted junior-high students who attend nearby Eagle Rock High School, was tested by district psychologists after their abilities were noticed by teachers at regular schools. Then they were offered the chance to take part in the voluntary program for extraordinarily intelligent children.
The 21-year-old program at the elementary school in Eagle Rock is one of four such programs in the Los Angeles district for gifted second- through sixth-graders. The junior-high program at Eagle Rock High School is one of only two programs for seventh- through ninth-grade students. There is no special high school program for highly intelligent students, although the district is reviewing a proposal for a program at Eagle Rock High School.
Collectively, these 180 second- through ninth-graders are by most measurements the best and the brightest of the nearly 579,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The students travel by bus from throughout the district to the Eagle Rock schools. Some come from housing projects, others from upper-class neighborhoods. Some are recent immigrants and others are from longtime Los Angeles families.
They share an innate curiosity and a thirst for intellectual challenge, say their teachers. To have finally found classmates who are like themselves in that respect is a great relief.
"Many felt different, and in many cases they had been ostracized by their peers," said Elsie Yoshii, coordinator of the two Eagle Rock centers for the highly gifted. Sometimes when children are so bright, she said, "they are considered strange to an average class, which can cause them to become introverts. Here, these kids, having a common base--intelligence--they can talk to each other on an intellectual level and still go out and play."
The gifted Eagle Rock elementary students are divided into two groups: Glassford's class for fifth- and sixth-graders, and Joyce Takahashi's class for second-, third- and fourth-graders.
During a recent morning session, Takahashi's students, ages 5 to 10, were conducting an experiment with water drops--observing and describing what shapes drops take on different surfaces.
The students describe and draw the shapes they see, said Takahashi, both as a creative writing exercise and an introduction to scientific experiments.
"I've seen oval shapes and circles so far," said David Iniguez, 8, of south Los Angeles. He said he likes attending the magnet program better than his old school because "they give us more work." His favorite subjects are math and animal science.
After lunch the students are given time to read materials they bring from home, which on a day last week ranged from books, such as E. B. White's "Charlotte's Web" to Mad magazine. "We have some students who don't get a lot of time to read at home," Takahashi explained. "I think if you let them read what they want to read, they will start to enjoy it."
The social studies book used by the second- through fourth-graders is written for fifth-grade students, and the history topic for the afternoon was a review of 17th-Century European explorers of the New World.
Generally her students are at least one grade ahead in their studies, Takahashi said. They are given more individual attention and the pace of learning is much faster than in normal classrooms.
Because the program for the gifted is financed from the district's voluntary integration program, the classes are required to have an ethnic mix of 60% minority and 40% Anglo students. A district spokesman said the racial balance requirement has been satisfied so far without keeping any students out of the program.
The recent influx of Latino and Asian immigrants, who do not speak English as a native language, have made it more difficult for teachers in regular classrooms to spot the highly gifted and recommend them for testing, Yoshii said.