Light bursts through the branches of the trees overhead as gifted teacher Alexander Migliazzo and his wife Connie Migliazzo trek peacefully along the trails near Lake Jacomo. The couple are partaking in their weekly hike; the Migliazzos often visit the many parks in the Kansas City area. They just try to find somewhere to escape from the city, according to Mr. Migliazzo.
Mr. Migliazzo teaches the gifted classes at Shawnee Mission East, though he has been teaching for 30 years in the SMSD district. A veteran of the gifted program, he has been guiding the gifted students at East for 17 years. Much of his time during class is spent writing education plans and emails while students study.
“[Hiking] helps to remind me of the more important things in life and to not too get to caught up, because I have to spend a lot of time in front of my computer,” Migliazzo said.
Migliazzo and his wife have ventured to 25 of the 49 nationally recognized state parks in the United States. According to Migliazzo, one of his life goals is to hike all of the national parks in the U.S.
Mr. Migliazzo’s hobby of hiking often makes its way into the classroom. At the beginning of each class he shares a quick tidbit of information he might have learned over the weekend. Most recently Mr. Migliazzo brought in fossils to share with the class that he had researched.
“It’s a fun way to start each class,” Mr. Migliazzo said. “It’s like a show and tell.”
Before teaching gifted, Mr. Migliazzo taught biology for 13 years. When the previous the opportunity to teach gifted arose, he decided it was time for a change.
“I reached that midpoint in my career that I think a lot of people reach where I was looking for some avenue of change and I think that is what appealed to me,” Migliazzo said. “It was an opportunity to change directions.”
The core classes such as science, english and math are set-in-stone on how they should be taught and how they should be learned. Gifted is different. Similar to how Mr. Migliazzo chooses to pursue hiking, students are given the opportunity to work on what they’re interested in.
“Teaching gifted isn’t one size fits all, so every student might have a different curriculum,” Migliazzo said.
It’s 12:55 p.m., sixth hour is about to start and gifted teacher Lisa Breidenbach is settling into her desk in the back left corner of the cramped room 319 at Shawnee Mission East. One hour ago she was a teacher at Shawnee Mission North.
Breidenbach is one of the few teachers that transitions between buildings to teach. Her routine starts the same as any other teacher’s. She gets to school at 7:15 a.m. and at the beginning of first hour starts her class off with a brain-teaser to get students thinking.
“I usually have a bellringer or puzzle for my students that lasts five to 10 minutes, then I start them on their own personal projects,” Breidenbach said.
Breidenbach spends the first three hours of her day at North before writing a few education plans during fourth, something very common in the life of a gifted teacher. At the conclusion of fourth hour, Breidenbach packs her bag and makes the five mile drive to East.
Breidenbach began commuting between schools two years ago when she switched from teaching full time mathematics at East to teaching gifted last year.
When Breidenbach taught math, she had an average class size of 20 students. The average in gifted is substantially lower, at 10 students per class. According to Breidenbach, it is a little weird walking through the halls and not knowing a majority of the students.
“Whenever I see one of my students in the hallway, it’s like, ‘Hi! Hi! Hi! I know you!’” Breidenbach said.
During class, students can work on homework for other classes, individual study projects, standardized test study or searching for colleges.
“Sometimes during gifted I will be working on my math homework and I think it’s all going fine and then I run into a problem,” junior IB student Iman Jaroudi said. “I really appreciate being able to ask someone while I am still at school and have[Mrs. Breidenbach] right there that I can talk to.”
The curriculum is substantially different from other classes because students are able to tailor the class to their own interests.
“Everyone is working on what they are interested in, their passion and what they really want to do,” Breidenbach said.