30-year elementary educator championed gifted ed students with patience, kindness
This story is part of a monthly series that celebrates outstanding teachers in our Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.
In a bright and cozy classroom in Oceanside, New York, elementary educator Angela Abend hung a tapestry for her gifted ed students that read, “You already have your wings. Now it’s time to learn how to fly.”
At the beginning of their three-year tenure with Angela, she’d ask each student to stand in front of the tapestry for a picture to share with families. With the beautiful wings stretched behind them, students would smile big – feeling strong, happy, and confident in the learning to come.
For well over a decade, Angela valiantly taught Project Extra, an enrichment program for gifted and talented students in grades four through six. During her time with hundreds of students across the Oceanside School District, Angela would not only focus on academic rigor, but she’d tend to their hearts, too, encouraging them mightily, relentlessly to love themselves.
“I always wanted my students to think outside the box and recognize who they were,” says Angela, who retired this past summer after 30 years of teaching. “In elementary and middle school, it’s such a trend to try and fit in, but I would always say, ‘You’re born to stand out! Accept that and adore that about yourself.’
“The one thing I always strived for in the program was for each student to grow, to become, to find strength and to always be who they were. It was a wonderful, exceptional experience.”
Advocating for Students and Families
Angela taught sixth grade for the first half of her teaching career before her toddler son at the time inspired her to go back to school herself.
He was exhibiting behaviors she wanted to better understand and support, so she completed her gifted certification and then taught Project Extra to champion children just like her younger son.
“I saw him in all the little ones I taught,” Angela says. “The perfectionism, the over-excitabilities – but I was able to be an advocate for each of them and help parents better understand that I was them, too! I wanted them to know they had an outside person to tap into who was also trying really hard to understand their children.”
Over the years, Angela created an effervescent safe space for hundreds of children in Project Extra, all with a focus on creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. Together, her students completed activities, raised money for local charities, and built projects for their schools.
On Flipgrid, they presented homemade inventions, mastered challenges, met with famous authors, hosted a talent show and reflected on their growth over the year, all striving toward self-sufficiency and confidence.
Amid the warm environment Angela took the time to create, her students exhaled, found themselves and gave a lot of grace.
“My students knew, ‘Mrs. Abend just gets me,’ ” Angela says. “Some of them even called it their little sanctuary. They were all gifted in different ways, but when they came together, they all understood each other.
“It was a definite sense of community, just a really cool place for the kids, for the parents, for me. I gave it 110 percent, and it was wonderful to be a part of.”
“FLIPGRID IS NOT ONLY A PLATFORM FOR OUR STUDENTS TO SHARE THEIR VOICE. IT’S ALSO A VALUABLE TOOL FOR THEM TO FOSTER CONNECTIONS,” SAYS ANGELA ABEND, A 30-YEAR ELEMENTARY EDUCATOR WHO RETIRED THIS YEAR.
Over the past few months, Angela’s been helping other educators within similar gifted ed programs, even working with local universities on Long Island. She’ll ask former students or parents to talk about their experience, and she’ll share her own observations, too, but she always passes along author Susan Verde’s book, “I Am Love,” and encourages the same thing to us adults as she did to her students: Find the love.
“It’s about a love of your profession, a love of your craft, a love of your students, and a love of their families,” Angela says. “That’s paramount. Everything else is secondary.
“We all get caught up,” she says. “Like me, I’m sure you have a list of 14 things you have to do today. But step back and remember what’s important right now: That our students realize they are adored, especially during this unsafe time, and let their parents know they have a connection.
“Your list might not get done for a couple days, but if you made even two or three kids feel more comfortable in their own skin, that’s worth a lifetime.”