“I saw him in all the little ones I taught,” Angela says. “The perfectionism, the over-excitabilities – but I was able to be an advocate for each of them and help parents better understand that I was them, too! I wanted them to know they had an outside person to tap into who was also trying really hard to understand their children.”
Over the years, Angela created an effervescent safe space for hundreds of children in Project Extra, all with a focus on creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. Together, her students completed activities, raised money for local charities, and built projects for their schools.
On Flipgrid, they presented homemade inventions, mastered challenges, met with famous authors, hosted a talent show and reflected on their growth over the year, all striving toward self-sufficiency and confidence.
Amid the warm environment Angela took the time to create, her students exhaled, found themselves and gave a lot of grace.
“My students knew, ‘Mrs. Abend just gets me,’ ” Angela says. “Some of them even called it their little sanctuary. They were all gifted in different ways, but when they came together, they all understood each other.
“It was a definite sense of community, just a really cool place for the kids, for the parents, for me. I gave it 110 percent, and it was wonderful to be a part of.”
Over the past few months, Angela’s been helping other educators within similar gifted ed programs, even working with local universities on Long Island. She’ll ask former students or parents to talk about their experience, and she’ll share her own observations, too, but she always passes along author Susan Verde’s book, “I Am Love,” and encourages the same thing to us adults as she did to her students: Find the love.
“It’s about a love of your profession, a love of your craft, a love of your students, and a love of their families,” Angela says. “That’s paramount. Everything else is secondary.
“We all get caught up,” she says. “Like me, I’m sure you have a list of 14 things you have to do today. But step back and remember what’s important right now: That our students realize they are adored, especially during this unsafe time, and let their parents know they have a connection.
“Your list might not get done for a couple days, but if you made even two or three kids feel more comfortable in their own skin, that’s worth a lifetime.”