An Unexpected Message From the Past

I couldn’t believe what I saw on a chalkboard yesterday. Those words, which I saw almost by accident, were more than a decade old. And for just a moment they got the better of me. They had been written, after all, on one of the saddest days in my teaching career.

I had been working that afternoon in the Madison County Genealogical Society library, researching for a book I’m writing, scanning microfilmed newspapers from the 1920s. My eyes had begun to blur and my neck was aching.

“I need a break,” I told the volunteer who had set up the microfilm reader for me. “I’ll be right back.”

So I stepped out into the hall. The genealogy library is housed in what had been the middle school and was now the city building. So I walked past old classrooms now turned into the mayor’s office and the council chambers and the zoning department. And I came to the stairs. The second floor had not been renovated, I knew and was still empty.

But there were no Do Not Enter signs. And I was curious because at the top of the stairs was a classroom, where I had taught my last day in the gifted program. That had been a day of mourning for me and for the students. The school district, caught in financial trouble, had made the heart-wrenching decision to cut all non-mandated programs, including gifted.

The memories of that day pulled me up the stairs. The room was empty and the closets cleared out—all of it a deserted shell of what had been. And then, as I turned to leave, I saw the chalkboard, the decade-old words on it written by students usually more willing to share concepts than feelings:

But there was more. Off to the side was an answer, later written by eighth-grade students from other rooms, in other programs.

And there you have it, I thought—a student version echoing the board of education discussion, but more than that, the eternal debate about gifted education.

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