Lily Nguyen also contributed to this article.
The Academically Enriched and Advanced Program (AEAP), sometimes referred to as the “gifted” program, is a longstanding program at the Linden STEAM Academy in Malden. Students would take a placement test to be administered into the class, with the first slots opening in first grade and running up to eighth grade. At the beginning of the pandemic, the school committee made the executive decision to halt the application process for the program due to disparities between familial opportunities.
This year, the AEAP program was resumed and students were able to re-enroll. Due to parent complaints launching against the return of the program, that decision may soon be reversed. Many questioned the ethnic and economic diversity within the program and whether or not it was fully equitable.
However, AEAP student Dagny Boswell believes that the program is, in fact, “extremely diverse” and instead appears more concerned about its actual purpose for students: “I think it’d be better to re-do the AEAP program and make it more of a class that actually serves a purpose instead of just a group of ‘advanced children.’ Like, there’s no real meaning; even I don’t fully understand it.”
The school committee met on March 4th of this year to discuss this controversy, but the topic was pushed off the agenda for two weeks. With this in mind, the committee allowed public comments on the matter, and over half an hour of comments were recorded to be discussed at a later time.
Among those at the meeting, Rachana Gray, a Malden resident and mother of three AEAP graduates, shared her opinion. “I come as the parent… who sees the benefits of the program with my three children who have all passed through it. I’ve always thought of the accelerated program as a special needs program,” she told the board. “Additionally, I’ve spoken to a number of parents and a common theme is social anxiety… Having that safety net of being in the same class, year after year, with the majority of the same kids helps ease that anxiety… they get to know each other, accept each other’s quirks and continue to challenge each other.”
Another AEAP graduate shared their thoughts: “It wasn’t until the fourth grade when I was selected into [the] accelerated program that my academic potential was discovered. Being in an environment that challenged me helped me unlock doors, provided opportunity and pushed me to want to succeed,” they explained. “Being around other children who had similar intellectual pursuits encouraged and motivated me to take chances... I am thankful for this accelerated program because it has helped shape me into the person that I am today.”
Although the call-ins and public comments gave a rush of support for the AEAP program, there appeared to be a consensus that it has room for improvement: Gray explained that they had to “improve the program, absolutely. Make it more equitable, absolutely. Make it more transparent.”
The school committee will reconvene on 4/18/22 to discuss this, and the meeting can be viewed afterward, or live, on the MaldenAccessTV YouTube channel.