Friday, June 11, 2010

Education: PRISM 25th Anniversary

Four of her former students from the very first PRISM (then EGP) class surrounded original instructor Betty Skibo during the PRISM 25th Anniversary Celebration at Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue, Washington on 11-June-2010

BELLEVUE, WASHINGTON - Not much more than 25 years ago, my parents received a letter from the Bellevue School District--one which they kept and I managed to find yesterday--announcing the beginning of a new gifted program that fall that I would be eligible to attend at Stevenson Elementary school. That first year of the program was sucessful enough that it was expanded to middle school the following year, and would eventually be further expanded to high school.

The original name for the program--the Exceptionally Gifted Program or EGP--was stigmatizing enough that the students and staff of the middle school program at Odle Middle School actively searched for a different moniker in 1987. There was an unwritten rule that the name had to be an acronym, but the process seemed to involve coming up with names first and the words of the acronym later. The most popular suggestions were SPECTRUM and PRISM--unfortunately, I cannot remember who originated them--and I was the one who came up with the acronym for PRISM--PRogram for Intellectually Stimulated Minds. With the acronym in hand, PRISM became the leading suggestion, and it would stick--none of us in the room that day would have believed that it would still be in use 23 years later.

For that matter, with movements toward mainstreaming occurring in the district, few would probably have believed that the program itself would survive, but it has. At the elementary level, it has now outlasted the building in which it has been housed. Stevenson Elementary School will be closed next year as it is rebuilt, and when it re-opens, the PRISM program will not return; it will instead move to Spiritridge. So, to celebrate the end of PRISM at Stevenson and the retirement of two long-term PRISM teachers, Paula Fraser and Shelley Perkins, a 25th anniversary celebration was held at Stevenson tonight.

Publicity was relatively late in spreading to the diaspora of the original class from Stevenson Elementary, but the most important individual from that year was there as an honored guest. Betty Skibo, the first teacher ever in the PRISM program, attended with her husband. Four of her original students, three "fifth graders" and one "third grader" (well, we were in fall 1985) also showed.

The event included words from a good portion of the elementary-level PRISM teachers that attended, a slide show covering a good portion of the program's existence, and essays from three present students that were mind-bogglingly well-written. Yet, the best part of the event might have been seeing that the original PRISM rooms were still in use by the program and looked remarkably similar to what they did 25 years ago, and the grounds of the school had also changed very little (they just looked a lot less steep from a physically taller perspective).

When the 50th anniversary of the PRISM program takes place in 2035, undoubtedly many more things will have changed.

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