Jul. 2—While fifth grade might strike some as "early" to be an academic "turning point, it definitely was for me," said Jade Bearden, and her voracious appetite for social studies that began that year helped her become a 2020-21 Governor's Honors Program finalist.
Bearden's fire for social studies was lit in fifth grade at Valley Point Elementary School by her teacher, Mike Ware, she said. To discuss "high-level topics at the age helped me so much, and it was encouraging for me."
Ware is "glad she remembers that," he said. "I didn't want to just put notes on the board and have them write them down, but to (teach) history in a narrative way."
"This was real — this really happened — and (these historical figures) had their own lives," said Ware, who is now retired. His students "were able to converse back and forth (about social studies), ask plenty of questions, and we laughed a lot, too."
In social studies, "there's not one straight answer, like in math, and you can take different (positions)," Bearden said. "You can learn from getting it right and from getting it wrong."
Even in fifth grade, Ware could tell Bearden "was a special student," he said. "It brings a smile to my face to think about her."
"She was ready, willing and able to make her own decisions, but also capable of working well in a group," he said. "Her parents deserve credit, too, because they instilled in her a love of learning, and all of (Bearden's siblings) are the same way."
As a Governor's Honors Program finalist, Bearden earned an invite to the month-long summer camp at Berry College, which is currently ongoing, and the member of Southeast Whitfield High School's class of 2023 was eager to spend several weeks with fellow finalists from all over the state, she said.
"It's a very diverse program, with a lot of different backgrounds, and we'll all be living together."
Georgia is the only state that does not charge students or families to attend its summer camp, according to the Governor's Office of Student Achievement. Georgia's is the longest continuously running Governor's Honors Program in the nation and the largest on a single college campus.
While Bearden, a football and basketball cheerleader and member of Beta Club, FFA and the National Honor Society, was intrigued by the summer camp opportunity, she wasn't sure if her parents would grant their approval, considering her youth, she said. However, "they said it sounded cool."
And she'll see at least one familiar face in Rome, as fellow Raider Jayden Richmond is also a finalist, Bearden said.
"I know Jayden really well, and we've been in a lot of the same classes since sixth grade."
For the camp, students select a "major" and a "minor," and Bearden is focusing on social studies, particularly sociology.
"I think that would be the most fun for this experience," she said. Sociology has taught her that when studying history "you need to see different perspectives, and one solution doesn't solve all problems."
And the George Santayana aphorism that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" is definitely true, Bearden has discovered. "The cyclical nature of history, people should learn from."
On her way to becoming a finalist, Bearden had to write multiple essays, both about social studies and herself, as well as excel in a virtual debate.
Social studies, "overall, has just made me a more knowledgeable person about my society, and I really want a job that is going to make a difference," she said. "I like the Division of Family and Children Services, helping kids, but everyone in my family is a teacher, so I might also become a teacher."
The debate topic was Asian government, and while Bearden was confident in her assertions, the format gave her pause.
"You want to stand out, but you also don't want to be too pushy," she said. "You want to be respectful."
She felt she scored points when she took a different approach to the topic of censorship in Asian countries, she said. "I looked at it from the perspective of companies like Facebook and Twitter" and buttressed her argument with "factual evidence."
A month passed between her debate and the announcement of finalists, so "I didn't know if I'd get in," said Bearden, who has already taken social studies courses in economics, government and AP (Advanced Placement) world history while at Southeast. "Overall, I was pleased at the end of the Zoom debate, but I was still really surprised" to be picked as a finalist.
The camp will only boost her social studies acumen as she takes more classes, she said.
"I'm interested in various areas of history, (from) the Civil War to the Great Depression, and getting deeper into their context."
For Bearden to pinpoint the start of her love affair with social studies to her fifth-grade class is "about the pinnacle of my career," Ware said. "That's why teachers go into education."
"Some days, you wonder, did I make an impact? For her to reach way back all these years later, that's special," he added. "She was a pure joy to teach."
Bearden believes the camp experience will help her become more assertive in class debates.
"I struggle sometimes (to) speak up, because I don't want to be wrong about some small piece," she said. "I for sure think this will give me more confidence."
"I'm really happy for her, and the camp will be really good for her," he said. "I think she'll enjoy it."