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Polk Avenue Genius Club More than a Brilliant Idea


Last updated 8/20/2019 at 7:32pm

You don't have to be the smartest kid in the school to be part of Polk Avenue Elementary School's "Genius Club."

Of course, there are plenty of smart youngsters already there – as PAE's improvement to a "B" grade for the 2018-19 school year showed. And they all get a chance to be part of Polk's "genius club" program which completed its first full-year last year, and will be very much part of the 2019-20 school year plan as well.

The idea was actually born near the end of the school calendar two years ago, explained Gail Quam, principal at the Lake Wales Charter school that uses leadership skills as a foundation for many of its initiatives.

"One of the five leader-in-me paradigms is everyone has genius. When we talk about everyone has genius, we want our kids to know there's something they excel in. We want them to do well in academics, of course, but we want them also to realize there are other areas in life they can excel in," she said. "They may not be a genius in math, but they might be a genius in acrobatics or archery or baking, whatever their interest is."

The clubs meet once a month for an hour at a time, said Quam, who uses a quote from author Lynda Mullaly to illustrate the foundation of the idea.

"'Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking it is stupid.' I just love that quote," she said. "To me, it speaks about making sure everyone realizes they are gifted at different things."

Originally, students were matched up with teacher's interests. Last year, kids were surveyed about their favorite subjects, with teachers then building classes around the most popular responses.

"We have a slime genius club, arts and crafts, woodworking, cooking, coloring, gardening, YouTube, 3D printing. There's lots of different interests," Quam said.

In the end, whether its the genius club, or fourth and fifth grade academies that meet weekly on a particular topic, or even the school's "student voice" mailbox where suggestions can be dropped off, it's all about youngsters having their opinions heard.

It even went as far as getting the school cafeteria to bring back a popular ranch dressing recipe that had been ditched for a less popular choice.

"We're empowering our kids to lead," Quam noted. "What I love is our kids are taking the initiative. They see something and they're like "OK, this is what we want to do about this."'


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