When lunch is more than a meal
Marlborough - When Phyllis Goldblatt signed on as a long-term substitute teacher at Marlborough Middle School 13 years ago, she had no idea that she would end up creating and heading up a unique program for gifted and talented students.
Discover, explore, link, visit and expand (DELVE) are the five basic goals of Goldblatt's program, which provides advanced academic opportunities for interested students during the school's 45-minute lunch period.
So, while many middle school students spend their lunchtimes discussing who is dating whom, which teachers are the most unfair and who has the biggest homework load, students involved in DELVE's "Lunch and Learn" program meet in Goldblatt's classroom to take part in a variety of activities ranging from Writing Workshop to All That Razz, a TV newsmagazine program the students produce that airs on public access.
"I wanted to have a range of activities so that students could grow in their own interests and it encourages children to leave their comfort zone," Goldblatt said.
Involvement in DELVE can range from one activity for a single semester to several activities over both sixth and seventh grade. The students receive credit but no grades, to encourage students to take risks and participate in new activities without having to worry about not doing well.
"If they try something and fail, I don't want them to feel punished with a bad grade for having tried something new," she said.
One of the most celebrated programs Goldblatt offers is Future Problem Solvers (FPS), an award-winning group that encourages creative and critical thinking skills as well as improved research and writing skills.
The group meets during lunch and after school to prepare for FPS competitions on the state, national and international level. In the past, the group has explored topics like conservation, fund-raising and preservation of national treasures, the same topics assigned to all FPS groups throughout the world.
Because she does not have control over the topics that are chosen, Goldblatt said, she, like the kids, is constantly learning through her work with FPS.
"An added benefit is that I have to research the topic so I know how to present it to the kids, so I'm always learning as well," she said.
Her teams often compete at the state level, but Goldblatt said the highlight of the program was when her team won second place in the International Competition in 2006.
"To hear that you are second in the whole world was just unbelievable," she said.
Students must have three references to join the "Lunch and Learn" program, including at least one from a current teacher. And although the program is designed for students who have some area of high expertise or creativity, Goldblatt said the most critical thing a person needs to join DELVE is motivation and a love of learning.
"Sometimes I find that students who have incredible motivation but may not have the natural talent do better than the naturally bright kids," she said. "I just can't turn away a kid who is passionate."
Goldblatt said she hopes her program will foster the students' natural curiosity in diff erent subject areas and teach them that learning is something that doesn't stop just because school is out.
"I hope it encourages them to continue their love of learning," she said, "and gets them to realize that learning is ongoing throughout their entire lives."
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