A group of volunteer parents at St Michael’s Catholic Primary Meadowbank are using their professional skills to give students identified as gifted a helping hand with their learning.
Newman co-ordinator Jennifer Quinn said the program has run since Term 2. Mathematics parent mentors have taught an extension program developed by teachers for students gifted in that area, while Art and Drama volunteers have created their own programs to allow student to think more creatively. Teachers identify students’ abilities through different tests – pen and paper, model making and computer-based – to place them in the extension workshops.
“Even our gifted children need help and guidance to reach their full potential and we have this wonderful community of parents with amazing skills,” she said. “We do surveys at the beginning of the year to find out what our children are really interested in and also get teachers to nominate who they think are showing potential for things like Drama and Art.”
Claudia Smith works as a scientist in the pathology lab at St Vincent’s Hospital. She teaches Year 2 students gifted in Mathematics the finer points of concepts on her volunteer days at the school, attended by her three children. “With my group I do whatever they’re doing in class, I just make it a bit harder for them. It’s really nice when they don’t understand something and you explain it to them – they smile and their face lights up.”
Anto Ambrose lectured in Engineering at a university in Tirunelveli, India, before coming to Australia. Her son is in Year 4. “I have a degree in Physics and ended up doing a Masters of Engineering in Material Science, so I was working as a lecturer teaching third year and final year university students,” she said. “Now my children are growing and I have more free time so I volunteer here. I get to know what is happening in the school and to share a lot more with my children. It is very interesting.”
Charlene Harrison studied Mathematics at university before joining the police force. She now uses her skills to mentor Year 6 students. Pythagoras Theorem, usually reserved for high school, has been a recent topic and code-breaking cryptography has made an interesting project for a student in need of further extension.
“Because they’re bright, these kids don’t need to do six examples of each question,” she said.
“A task might be a bit more mundane or something they already get, so we move on to the next one a bit quicker. A Bachelor of Science in Mathematics was my first qualification and my first real challenge in Mathematics because I found it easy up until high school. I just love it.”
Marci Ordonez has run art classes, painted council murals and now teaches Year 11 and 12 international students in the University of Sydney’s first year foundation program for Visual Arts. She led an art project for students from Kindergarten to Year 6, which saw create artworks to represent the gumtree that is a playground fixture. Marci’s daughter is in Year 3 at the school, which she also attended as a child.
“We talked about if the tree could tell us all the stories it had witnessed – all the falls, all the laughs, all the ‘no hat no play’ – and that became the focus. It wasn’t to see who could draw the tree realistically, but to get the essence of the tree, be expressive, and open their idea of Visual Arts as something that doesn’t have to be purely representational,” she said. “They’ve also experimented with different mediums – everything from rubbings and using oil pastels to paint and pencil.”
Liz Mulcare will work on a drama project for students with a flair for the dramatic from all grades next term. The qualified optician has worked as a children’s theatre performer and will soon finish a primary school teaching qualification. “I think drama is a very good way of children approaching things if they’re not as academic, or if they’re not sporty. It’s teamwork, companionship, collaboration, improvisation. It covers so many different boxes. I’ve found that I can get the shiest child to stand up and do something without realising they’re doing it. It’s very empowering.
“As a mentor you keep an eye on the syllabus but don’t have to follow it directly. Because you don’t have the structure of having to assess and report you can take the child where they need to go with their learning.”