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Kim Witek displays her acceptance letter to be a presenter at an education conference in Paris. Behind her are projects by her sixth grade students about the flora and fauna of the Amazon.

TMS teacher to present in Paris

Kim Witek took three years of French and has dreamed of going to France ever since high school, but she didn’t expect that dream to come to fruition with her presenting at an international conference on gifted education in Paris this summer.

The sixth grade teacher at Teton Middle School had already registered to attend the 16th International Centre for Innovation in Education Conference when she decided on a whim to send in a 250-word abstract called “Creative Collaboration” about cross-curricular teaching at TMS.

“I figured the worst that could happen is that they’d say no, which I assumed they would,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it when I got the acceptance letter. The key note speakers are Nobel Prize winners and university professors.”

Witek is the district’s gifted coordinator and used to teach separate gifted classes at the middle school.

“As the valley has grown and changed, the demand grew and the principal was bombarded with calls from parents asking for their kids to be put in the program,” she said. “We got to thinking that it should be the model we were using for the whole school.”

Now the middle school teachers take a cross-curricular approach to learning by engaging their students.

“The [Paris] conference drew me in because it’s exactly what we’re focused on, it’s what we do,” said Witek, who has been doing a lot of reading on European school models. “I wanted to see what’s going on, to network, to branch out, to pick up tips.”

She submitted her abstract on Friday, and at 4 a.m. on Monday she received an email telling her she was invited to present a 20-minute talk about TMS teachers’ strategy to transform an ordinary Idaho public school into a school for the gifted.

“Gifted students thrive with games, simulations, research and project-based learning, so we realized we should be doing that for every student,” Witek said.

While that kind of curriculum doesn’t always align with data-driven public school testing, Witek said TMS Principal Brian Ashton has been very supportive of the mission.

“He has kids in the school,” she said. “He knows what he wants to see. Parents want their students coming home talking about new ideas they learned and fun projects they’re doing.”

Witek's classes aren’t easy. Her sixth graders just completed a literary analysis essay and are moving on to debating tough real world topics concerning Latin America. The advanced students who finish their projects early are sent to research and present new ideas or build architectural models out of Legos. Witek devotes a little bit of time each day to themes like comedy and curiosity, and her students appreciate the mental workouts.

Witek attended inner city schools in Lansing, Michigan. She started her teaching career at a private school and decided it wasn’t for her; she wanted instead to bring the private school model to public schools.

“I love working in a Title I school,” she said. Title I schools receive financial assistance because they have high percentages of children from low-income families. “I love knowing these kids needs support. It’s fun and challenging to try to meet all their needs.”

Witek has a daughter in the school district and said she wouldn’t want her kid to go to school anywhere else.

“It’s a great, safe system in a great place,” she said.

Her Paris conference expenses are covered by an Idaho grant for professional development, which Witek finds ironic because earlier in the year she lobbied unsuccessfully to be allowed to spend that grant money on her students instead. She’ll spend over two weeks traveling through France without a set itinerary and looks forward to checking some amazing experiences off her bucket list.

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