Column: Gifting me joy

‘To any other 11 year old, it was just a classroom. To me, Mrs. Babino’s class was the promise that I could do something. That I would do something. Be something. Be someone.’

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Column: Gifting me joy

"It was she who taught me the real meaning of intelligence. That being intelligent doesn't mean being perfect. That being intelligent doesn’t mean understanding every single thing, that every school subject is your strength. Being intelligent is admitting when you don’t know."

Alexandria Babino

"It was she who taught me the real meaning of intelligence. That being intelligent doesn't mean being perfect. That being intelligent doesn’t mean understanding every single thing, that every school subject is your strength. Being intelligent is admitting when you don’t know."

Alexandria Babino

Alexandria Babino

"It was she who taught me the real meaning of intelligence. That being intelligent doesn't mean being perfect. That being intelligent doesn’t mean understanding every single thing, that every school subject is your strength. Being intelligent is admitting when you don’t know."

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It’s fifth grade. I’m 11 years old and life is an absolute breeze. My biggest worry is who I’ll spend recess with today. 

But there is another concern that clouds my mind. Day after day, it’s all I think about: why am I not like my brother? 


I won’t throw myself a pity party, I have it good. I don’t have a reason to feel this way. My parents have always been there, my mom comes to eat lunch with me once a week. I have a solid group of friends and we have the matching friendship bracelets to prove it. 

This is all 11 year old me could ask for. 

But still, I can’t help but wonder:  why am I not like my brother? 


My parents assure me that I am smart, and I pray that they’re right. I’m a likeable kid, I think. I have a high reading level. I make the honor roll year after year.

School is my greatest joy. I excel at academics.

But I’m not like my brother. 


My brother is younger than me, four years younger to be exact. Right now, he is undergoing a series of tests. If he scores high enough, he will skip first grade and go straight to second. He is what we call a GT kid. 

There is a program in place for individuals who are advanced, and that is the gifted and talented program, or GT. It is a program that requires a teacher recommendation and a series of testing. My brother was destined for this program from the start. 

At age 2, he learned the alphabet using magnetic letters from the fridge and watching Super Why on an endless loop. 

“A! B! C!” he exclaimed. 

“Why am I not like him?” I exclaimed, internally. 

I was always bright, but next to him I felt dim. 


It was always my dream to be in GT. I know this isn’t what 11 years old usually dream about, but it was my greatest wish. 

And after years and years of living in comparison, I got a letter from Mrs. Babino. My fifth grade teacher had recommended for the program.

I had it. 

The papers inside that envelope began the extensive testing progress. And finally, after weeks of testing, I was in. 

I was gifted and talented. 

Just like my brother.


I took one step in that classroom and I knew I had found my place. 

The scent of books and coffee filled my nose. 

And at last, I got to call the wonderful Mrs. Babino my teacher. 


Mrs. Babino had been my brother’s teacher for years, so it took no time for me to adjust to my new routine of getting pulled out of class for GT. But even if I hadn’t known her before, her kind smile made the previously unknown environment around me feel warm, welcoming. I felt at home. 

In her room, words were plastered on just about every wall. Big words. Important words. Books sat tall, begging to be cracked open, so many stories waiting to be told. All I had to do was reach out. There were so many tiny infinities waiting for me in the pages of those books.

To any other 11 year old, it was just a classroom. To me, Mrs. Babino’s class was the promise that I could do something. That I would do something. Be something. Be someone. 


My time in Mrs. Babino’s class was brief, but nothing short of extraordinary. 

Mrs. Babino changed my life. 

It was she who taught me that being sensitive is a good thing, that there is nothing wrong with being emotional and crying if we feel the need to. Feelings are good and we should embrace them. 

It was she who taught me the importance of being proud of who I am. She encouraged me to embrace my roots and to never be ashamed of where I come from or where I’ve been. It was she who taught me acceptance. She taught me the importance of accepting the things I cannot control, as well as understanding the power that I possess and that I am capable of overcoming obstacles and finding solutions to anything.

It was she who showed me the beauty of knowing two languages and who introduced me to the countless opportunities that present themselves as a result. 

It was she who made the saying, “the pen is mightier than a sword,” a reality. She believed in me and my love for writing, she who helped me understand the power of words. Specifically, it was her who believed in the power of MY words. 

It was she who taught me the real meaning of intelligence. That being intelligent doesn’t mean being perfect. That being intelligent doesn’t mean understanding every single thing, that every school subject is your strength. Being intelligent is admitting when you don’t know. Being intelligent is losing the fear of asking questions. Being intelligent is not worrying about perfection, but embracing the flaws. 

But most importantly, it was she who made me realize that I was always gifted and talented, that I did not need a test or a label to be gifted and talented. 

It was she who made me realize that only I can define myself. That I was always capable and worthy, but I had to believe that for myself. It was she who made me realize “this is why you aren’t like your brother.” Because I didn’t need to be. 

I was not my younger brother, I was me. 

And that is enough. 


Mrs. Babino, I am older now, but these lessons still linger in my life and I am grateful for them. 

Now, your name is Dr. Babino, and I love that, because just as you get to watch me grow and live out my dreams, I got to watch you grow when I attended your doctoral graduation. 

Thank you for teaching me these lessons.

Thank you for not forgetting about me after the fifth grade. 

Thank you for being a safe person. 

Thank you for sending me book recommendations nearly every week. 

Thank you for being so invested in my life. 

Thank you for watching me grow, and for growing with me.