Learning Lab College-Preparatory Students Teach and Challenge Young Gifted Pupils

Article excerpt

A pony-tailed third-grader faces her classmates. They fidget as they wait for her instructions.

"Simon dice . . . essere un porco!" she says.

The children wrinkle their noses and oink.

"Essere un penguino!"

One little boy puts his arms to his side, waddles in place and quacks.

"You're out; I didn't say `Simon,' " squeals the leader, with her ponytail bobbing in triumph.

The familiar children's game is one tool used by juniors from Thomas Jefferson School to teach Italian and French to gifted grade-school children.

Jefferson, at 4100 South Lindbergh Boulevard, is a private college-preparatory school with about 70 students and a rigorous curriculum. Literature classes emphasize the classics, and students study Greek, Latin, French and Italian. In addition, several students are fluent in more than one language, spokesman Tamara Coursey says.

The grade-school students are in PEGS, the Program for Exceptionally Gifted Students. Their classes are at Truman Elementary School at 12225 Eddie and Park Road, in the Lindbergh School District. PEGS students are typically in the top 1 percent academically of third- , fourth- and fifth-graders in St. Louis and in St. Louis and Jefferson counties.

The full-day program at Truman offers accelerated classes and enrichment courses to challenge the youngsters. Thanks to the Thomas Jefferson students, says PEGS teacher Dusty Thomas, it also offers language classes.

When PEGS started four years ago, Jefferson headmaster Lawrence Morgan thought it would be an ideal service opportunity for his students.

"One of our missions is to encourage our students to become involved in community service," Coursey said. "Our headmaster called and offered volunteers."

Since then, Jefferson students have taught weekly classes in either French or Italian. This year, juniors Naty Sakdisri, Jon Pesek and Lindsey Luscri are teaching Italian.

They meet with PEGS teachers and their own Italian teacher for suggestions on what to teach, but Naty, Jon and Lindsey develop their own curriculum and lesson plans for the classes. Their approach is to have the PEGS students use Italian in everyday situations, while making learning fun.

Another lesson becomes apparent as soon as you step into the PEGS classroom. Virtually every fixture and piece of equipment bears an Italian label. Students look up words in Webster's dizionario. …