Role models

“Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left. And will you succeed? You will, indeed! 98 and three quarters percent guaranteed.”

Naleyah Gipson, a fourth-grader in Anniston public schools, recited those final words from Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” at a banquet honoring gifted students from across the city Thursday evening.

Next year, Gipson will enter the sixth grade, skipping the fifth entirely. Gipson and her classmates being honored Thursday have already begun to follow Seuss’ advice, and the results could not be clearer.

The gifted students from across Anniston all gathered at Cobb Elementary School and presented their ideas for building a water park in the city to parents, teachers, and school system officials at a banquet in the students’ honor. The proposal was part of a team-based project that students have worked on for three weeks.

With the theme “We’re on the Move: Full STEAM Ahead,” the banquet centered on the student presentations on the potential park, all of which approached the topic from various disciplines: science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics — thus creating the STEAM acronym.

Rosa Manns, a gifted specialist in the school system, said that students from the third grade and up worked on the project, with those in different classes addressing different facets of the problem.

Some students looked at the potential marketability of such a park, inquiring as to the number of children in Anniston and surrounding areas who might use it. Other students looked at the cost and revenue of existing water parks across the state as a method of competition analysis. The students even built a three-dimensional prototype of the park, which included a kiddie pool, a Ferris wheel and running water.

Manns said that there had been a plan to have the students scout potential locations for the water park, including sites on the former Fort McClellan, but last-minute changes in city officials’ plans prevented the trip.

Manns also announced — to applause — that the students will be taken next year to experience a water park themselves.

Gwendolyn Baker, director of special education for Anniston City Schools, said that the evening’s program wasn’t just about the students, though. “I’m always happy to see our gifted students perform,” she said. “But let’s be truthful: They taught us a lesson. I’m so glad to see all of the knowledge that was on the stage tonight.”

Tammi Hardiman, a parent of three gifted children in the school system, also had a lesson, particularly for other parents facing challenges. Hardiman’s husband passed away in recent years, and in 2016, doctors found five blood clots in her lungs.

“But still, no matter what, every single day I wanted to know what was going on in every one of my kids’ classes,” Hardiman said. “It is all of our responsibility to educate our children.”

Hardiman said that when she moved to Anniston with her kids, Tamm’ra, Adrianna, and twins Jaylon and Jayden, that all she heard was negativity about the city’s schools.

“Don’t send your kids there,” she said, repeating the advice she’d been given. “That’s all you would hear. But I took that as a challenge.”

Just like physical obstacles, Hardiman said, it is important for parents and students to overcome challenges of all kinds. Now her children are a success story for the school system. Her eldest daughter Tamm’ra, a 10th-grader, is in the Beta Club, the band, Future Business Leaders of America, and has a 3.7 grade-point average.

“These children and their strong mother really touch my heart,” Manns said of the Hardimans.

Anniston City School Superintendent Darren Douthitt said parents like Hardiman and children like Tamm’ra and her siblings show the value in gifted programs.

“These are gifted kids that have gifted parents and gifted teachers and gifted administrators,” he said. “They’re all a crucial part of this success.”

Douthitt, like Hardiman, also said that it is important that the community think of Anniston City Schools not just as a place for kids to learn, but a place for them to thrive. He said he was recently in a local barber shop when he had to explain this to a fellow patron who was considering removing his gifted student from the school system.

“This man started talking about taking his child to another school system,” he said, “and I asked him ‘Did you know that gifted child could almost teach the class?’ These gifted children can succeed anywhere. That’s clear. We all know these third-graders were talking about stuff you don’t even hear the adults around here talking about.”

Douthitt also threw his support behind the proposed water park.

“We need to get these kids to a county commission meeting,” he said, addressing Manns. “I think this thing can happen.”

Star Staff Writer Lee Hedgepeth: 256-600-2463. On Twitter: @lhedgepeth_star