Leaving ATDP Smiling

A Look Back on Nina’s 44 Years of Service to Education
by Adena E. Young & Nina H. Gabelko

Editor’s Note: The original version of this piece was written by Adena Young and can be found in the final summer newsletter of 2011. This version has been expanded with additional information, mentions, and memories from Nina Gabelko.

As the Director of the Academic Talent Development Program for the past 24 years, Nina Hersch Gabelko has created meaningful and lasting learning and teaching experiences for over 27,600 students and close to 700 teachers.  In this piece, we will look back on Nina’s contributions to the field of education and the development of ATDP, and share Nina’s perspectives on learning.

A Director in the Making

Nina receives her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley

After graduating from UC Berkeley with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science in 1967, Nina spent the next 20 years working in the field of education as a teacher, graduate student and researcher, and educational programs assistant director.  Nina received her secondary teaching credential in social studies and English (with an additional authorization in French!) from UC Berkeley.  She then spent 10 years teaching in public and private school classrooms. Nina has taught at Oakland Technical High School (Government, Sociology, and US History), St. John’s School in El Cerrito (fifth grade), and an Australian non-academic secondary school, as well as at middle and high schools in Huntington Park and San Leandro.

Through her teaching experiences Nina developed interests in students’ stereotyped thinking and prejudice.  She began asking questions based on what she saw in her schools: What is prejudice?  How is prejudice communicated?  How is prejudice learned?  In 1977, these questions led Nina back to UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, where she studied prejudice and stereotype thinking.  Within a year, Nina completed her Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Social Studies and Cognitive Sophistication while concurrently co-authoring a book entitled Reducing Adolescent Prejudice.  Not surprisingly, after this year, Nina still had more questions to pursue, so she continued her studies in education at UC Berkeley, resulting in an Ed.D. in History and Anthropology of Education.  In her doctoral dissertation, Nina used historical and anthropological points of view to study how students from different minorities groups experienced school.

After completing her doctorate, Nina continued to work in the Graduate School of Education first as a researcher in the School’s Evaluation Unit and then in 1985 becoming Director for the School-University Partnership for Educational Renewal (SUPER), a partnership with the Graduate School of Education and 20 nearby schools in two districts.  (Her association with Carrie Brown, assistant director of ATDP dates back that far, as it does with Lloyd Nebres, who retired from ATDP in 2010, and Nancy Mellor, who still heads Coalinga-Huron-Avenal House, ATDP’s only residential component.) Through SUPER, participating teachers, school and district administrators, and UC professors collaborated toward reaching mutually established goals for education reform.

ATDP Through Nina’s Eyes

Nina Gabelko circa 1987

While still directing SUPER in 1987, Nina assumed the directorship of ATDP, with Carrie Brown also wearing two hats, and Lloyd Nebres already in place.  At the time, ATDP was called the “UC Berkeley Gifted Program” and served students who were conventionally identified as “gifted” based on their SAT scores. As the new Program Director, Nina worked with developmentalists and other faculty, classroom teachers, community members, parents, and graduate students to predicate a program on the understanding that academic talent is not innate, but rather that it is developed over time through students’ experiences.  Today, ATDP continues to serve students based on this philosophy that academic talent should not be mined but instead should be grown—that children grow, with rich educational experiences, mentors, and many peers from novices to experts. (Read more about Every Child’s Right.)

Nina is especially proud of ATDP’s socioeconomic and ethnic diversity.  ATDP students come to the program with a range of school and family backgrounds, yet they find common ground in their ATDP classrooms.  As Nina likes to say, she welcomes students to meet at ATDP before they meet in the halls of Congress.  At ATDP, students form relationships based on common passions and interests that supersede socioeconomic and ethnic differences. She takes great delight to the contributions of groups and individuals who helped make these improvements possible and who continue to work for excellence, of which equity is an important part. She recalls with pleasure ATDP’s long—15+ year—association of the SFUSD Department of Integration, including Ms. Bess Ricketts, Dr. Tony Anderson, Ms. Bettye Saunders, and Dr. Ritu Khana and Ms. Jan Link, who continue the good fight. Of course, Frank Worrell’s association with ATDP began at his very arrival at Berkeley as a doctoral student and continues through his responsibilities as director of the School Psychology Program and Faculty Director of ATDP. Penn State professor Beverly J. Vandiver has been extending and implementing ATDP’s goals for going on 15 years as the program’s head counselor and as a researcher. Adena Young’s participation in ATDP began during her years as a student, teaching assistant, instructor, math department chair, post doctoral researcher, and presently as ATDP’s interim director.

Nina Gabelko (second from left) and ATDP program staff in 1997

For everyone associated with ATDP, it’s all about the passion of learning.

Nina’s passion for diversity extends to the range of learning experiences present in ATDP classes.  At the Elementary Division, Nina describes the Kindergarteners and First Graders as children who take on the roles of scientists and often fall in love with learning.  They discover that there is wonder in learning and that there are endless questions to ask.  At the Secondary Division, students in enrichment classes encounter unique opportunities to get a flavor for topics and learning experiences that they cannot get anywhere else.  Through these enrichment courses, such as Anthropology and Sociology, students learn that there is a purpose to learning, and that their thinking and knowledge can be relevant to their lives.  In accelerated courses such as Advanced Placement Biology, ATDP students and instructors create a collaborative learning community in which they all work together to solve big problem and master huge chunks of knowledge.

Nina Gabelko (left) and Adena Young (right) celebrate at the end of summer 2011.

Finally, Nina has been essential in creating a community of learning between students, teachers, families, graduate students and researchers.  At ATDP, people come together to connect around their passions for history, mathematics, science, writing, and languages, and everyone is supported in their learning experiences.  Students receive ample academic support through rich conversations with their peers and instructors, as well as through study labs and tutoring opportunities.  Teachers receive professional and social support during pre-service trainings, professional development meetings, and consultation.  Parents participate in workshops and consultation to learn about how their children learn.  Researchers share their knowledge and expertise on learning and talent development with ATDP teachers and families.  As a result, ATDP has become a community for anyone who wants to share their knowledge and learn from others.

Messages from Nina

Now that she’s days into her retirement, Nina  gives us four important messages.  First, education is a passionate pursuit.  It is important for students to study things that they care about and to be passionate learners.  Second, learning is purposeful.  At ATDP, students and teachers make their classes relevant to themselves and the world around them, and they understand that learning is important and meaningful.  Third, ATDP is a place to make friends.  Students at ATDP meet others with similar interests, and in making connections to those who are like themselves, they feel “at home.”  Finally, learning is fun.  As Nina says, everyone should leave ATDP smiling, if not giggling.

Thank you, Nina, for your passion, knowledge, questions, and commitment to the field of education and more importantly to the wonderful community that ATDP has become.