2008-10-23 / Front Page

Mary Wright receives outstanding teacher award

By Eileen M. Daly

Longtime Jamestown resident Mary Schachtel Wright has been selected to receive this year's New England Conference on Gifted and Talented (NECGT) 2008 Award, which goes to an outstanding teacher for the gifted from Rhode Island.

Wright has been teaching for 38 years and has dedicated her career to recognizing and educating talented and gifted children wherever they may be. "Recognizing and educating talented children is a passion of mine," Wright said. "These are the children who someday might find a cure for cancer or mental illness, but may do poorly in science class. They are the Monets, the Van Goghs, the Leonard Bernsteins, the Yo Yo Mas, the Albert Einsteins of the future, but sadly enough their gifts often are unrecognized. If we are to enable these children to soar, we must encourage them, listen to them, let them express themselves, and not discourage them by over-structuring their learning and forcing them to sit through classes where the work is not commensurate with their abilities."

Wright currently teaches Language Arts and History to fifth grade students at Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich. She is careful to point out that she teaches in a regular classroom and that gifted and talented children can be found everywhere. "These are not necessarily the A-students or the students who have been placed in gifted and talented programs," Wright said. "In fact, many are not recognized as gifted. They can be an invisible child, one who fades into the background of a classroom or one who shows hyperactivity, and worst of all, they often do poorly in school if something is not done to accommodate their needs."

Wright is committed to finding ways to bring academic and enrichment possibilities for gifted children into the regular classroom. According to Wright, teachers should be able to accelerate within the mainstream classroom. "All students, of all capabilities, should learn something new every day. It may seem complicated, but modifying the curriculum within a classroom is a good method to enable children to be mainstreamed and still function appropriately within a diverse group," Wright said.

Wright emphasizes the need to allow students to excel and to strive in class without feeling separate or different from their classmates. "Truly gifted children are a different breed. They will enrich themselves after school hours, but within school, they need to feel they are bright, but also be allowed to fit in. I feel too much pull out will make any child feel they are too different," Wright said. She sums up her overall philosophy toward teaching with these simple words: "I feel that every child should leave school each day saying, 'I learned something new today, and also, I did a good job.'"

Wright doesn't limit her teaching to the classroom. She has been the artistic director of the Jamestown Community Theater for the past 18 years. In this capacity, Wright works with children and adults to produce plays and musicals. These multi-generational peer relationships serve to assist some children in recognizing their abilities, according to Wright. "So many times, it is the child who has difficulty academically, who shines on stage," Wright said. She points out that some children excel in the arts, some in sports and some in character and that it is important to acknowledge each child's strengths. "Enrichment, I feel, is for all children, of all intellectual levels. Everyone needs to be allowed to spread their wings and take risks."

Wright's vision is also not limited to reaching students here at home in the United States. Five years ago, Wright started a program called go-FOURTH, which stands for "For one united respect throughout humanity," with her fourth grade students to work on and promote social issues and the concept of respect for diversity.

In January of 2002, a group of Rhode Island fourth through sixth grade students was invited to China to celebrate the go-FOURTH program. Children, parents, teachers and administrators from both countries were able to meet and discuss peace between nations, as well as to communicate feelings about how disrespect, bullying, teasing and poor sportsmanship negatively impacts everyone. "Go- FOURTH now includes programs that enable children to make the best choices: the ones that demonstrate respect, instead of ones that may inflict physical or emotional pain on another human being," Wright said. "For generations, children have been told that the future of the world is up to them. This time children must make a difference, so that maybe in their future, they can live with their families in a world of peace."

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