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Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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The Story of “Joe” and the Need to Provide Growth Opportunities to Students

While I shared his tale during a few presentations, I never committed the story of “Joe” to writing. I feel his story can inspire and perhaps encourage adults (teachers, parents, coaches) to help young people reach their potential by setting up the proper conditions. Gifted students, for instance, often spend half the school day or more learning curriculum they already know―hardly the conditions for excellence to blossom. In Joe’s case, he knew the curriculum (as evidenced by his skipping the sixth-grade a year after this story took place). What he, and so many other students need, are chances to develop their talents, take risks, explore passions and be pushed within a supportive, positive environment.

Several years ago, while teaching gifted students at an elementary school, Joe approached me during open house and said, “I know what I want to do for my gifted project this year.”

I smiled at the energetic, ambitious fifth-grader.

“I want to start my own LEGO club,” he said with a smirk.

“Wow, that’s a big project,” I replied. “Why do you want to do that?”

“Well, my older brother is in a LEGO club at the school. But they don’t have a club for fifth-grade, so I want to start my own for me and the other students.”

I smiled again at Joe, thinking he would quickly forget this “pipe dream.” Kids often have wild ideas—and have no idea what it takes to make them happen. The next week, Joe persisted about the project. A little worn, I said, “fine, let’s research what it takes to do this.”

After some quick Internet surfing and talking with Joe and his family, we discovered it would cost a little more than $800 to register and purchase the equipment for the club. Not to mention, he would need permission from the school’s principal and to secure an adult sponsor and location for the club―lots of logistics.

With my help, Joe managed to secure a $350 education grant. He also talked the principal into letting him start the club and landed a sponsor and classroom to practice. But he still need about $500.

During the next month, Joe worked feverishly to raise the remaining money. Impressed with his resolve, the school’s parent-teacher association’s president agreed to help him design a T-shirt and sell it— and he could keep 100 percent of the profits. Each morning, as students and parents walked onto campus, Joe sat behind a table, advertising and selling his T-shirts with enough muster to impress the cast of Shark Tank. One day, I went to the school’s second floor and found Joe stationed behind a desk he had placed outside his classroom, taking advantage of a steady stream of parents invited to see their child’s science projects that day.

“I made $100 in an hour,” he shouted. “One lady even gave me $10 and said keep the shirt, a donation!”

Long story short (well, not that short), Joe raised the money he needed to start the LEGO club. But the story doesn't end there. He later recruited members for his club, organized practices, and led his team to place in competition.

Later, I sat down with Joe to debrief the project. I asked him what he learned.

“I learned that when I come up against a big problem, if I think about it for a day or two, then take action, I can solve it.”

Quite a lesson.

“What will you do next, now that you completed such a big project?” I asked.

“I plan to complete an even bigger project,” he said with a smile.


Steve Haberlin is a graduate assistant and Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida and an educator with 10 years of experience.