Equestrian Trails Elementary School teacher Victoria Stedt was one of five winners announced last week at the annual William T. Dwyer Awards for Excellence in Education ceremony held April 24 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
Winner in the special programs category, Stedt led the creation of the gifted program at Equestrian Trails seven years ago.
Stedt was nominated for the award by the staff at her school. “They nominated a teacher from special programs and one from elementary education,” she said.
Stedt worked closely with the school’s founding principal to create the gifted education program at Equestrian Trails.
“When I was hired here, I was given free rein as to how to design the program,” she said, explaining that the principal at the time, Sandra Gero, had a vision of what she thought the program should be. “When she hired me, she had an idea of what gifted should be. She wanted it to be more of an enrichment, hands-on kind of activity, as opposed to just an accelerated program.”
Stedt designed a program that would combine enrichment and acceleration for kindergarten through fifth-grade gifted students.
“We have a part-time program where the students are pulled out for enrichment for an hour at a time twice a week, and we enrich the curriculum through hands-on activities classes that include such things as robotics, rocketry, stop-motion animation, things that they can’t do in the regular classroom,” she said. “It’s not just where the students are memorizing facts. They are actually taking information that they’ve learned in their classroom and applying it to real-world situations. The class is very dynamic.”
Stedt said the classes are designed so that the students must figure out the answers. “I frustrate the kids a lot of times because I don’t give all of the answers,” she said. “I continually challenge them and make them think and problem-solve because that’s my goal — to improve their communication skills and actually give them a chance to apply their skills in real-world situations.”
The rest of the week, gifted students are in what is considered a regular classroom, but with a combination of high-achieving and gifted children. “They are students who can benefit from a more rigorous curriculum that goes at a faster pace and in more depth than what a regular classroom is,” Stedt said.
Stedt added that Dr. Rosemary Daniels, director of the school district’s gifted education programs, has told her that the Equestrian Trails gifted program is the only one of its kind in the county. “It’s very different from the way that gifted has been done in many of the schools,” Stedt said.
Stedt said she thinks the way their program is set up offers more benefit for the students.
“I would love for this to receive attention because I think too much emphasis is put on the gifted student that we just accelerate them and go through it faster,” she said. “I don’t think that’s what they need. They need to be able to take those facts and learn how to use their thinking skills and problem-solving skills and apply it efficiently.”
Stedt is passionate about the way the program has been designed. “We work a lot with their communication skills because you could be the brightest person and have the best ideas, but if you can’t communicate and share that idea with anyone, it’s not going to help you,” she said.
Helping students with a higher level of thinking to communicate and express their ideas is important. “So many times I tell them you can’t flip open their heads and see the video screen inside,” she said. “I’d love it if I could, but you have to use your words and learn how to explain it to me so that I can see what you’re seeing and envisioning.”
Additional criteria considered in selecting Dwyer Award winners are community service and what nominees do outside the classroom.
“I volunteer as a shadow at Christ Fellowship. I work with a child with Down syndrome to incorporate her into learning in our children’s ministry,” Stedt said. “I’ve done that for six or seven years now every Sunday. I also do a fifth-grade girls Bible study group every Sunday, too. During our church service, I lead them, and we also do community service projects outside of the church.”
Stedt, who has been teaching seven years, got into the profession as a change of careers. “I was in medical research and traveled a lot before I had children,” she said. “I knew I was not going to go back into that. I was a stay-at-home mom and volunteered a lot at school. People kept telling me I should go into teaching.”
Stedt, 45, lives with her husband in Wellington and has two children in middle school.
The Dwyer Awards are sponsored by the Economic Council of Palm Beach County and the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County. For more info., visit www.thedwyerawards.com.