The gleaners: Hunter's students produce <I>Jewels

FACETIME- The gleaners: Hunter's students produce Jewels

John Hunter started teaching 30 years ago when the field of gifted education was wide open. So wide open, in fact, that his first supervisor told him, "Well, you're a creative guy. So what do you think you can come up with?"

He responded to this challenge like a kid handed the keys to the toy shop: "You say we can do anything we want? Okay!"

Since receiving those keys, this Richmond native, now 49, has had the time of his life creating challenging, imaginative projects for the "little Buddhas" he sees himself surrounded by everyday.

"The kind of thinking we do in the gifted program allows us to think open-endedly," says Hunter, now the gifted education specialist at Venable Elementary School. "So [one of the things] we decided to do was make a program whereby our young people establish relationships with older people who have a wealth of knowledge."

In the resulting "Jewels of Wisdom" project, kids have the chance to learn life lessons– while experiencing television broadcasting from the inside. With Hunter's guidance and meticulous training, students produce professional quality programs in which they interview elders on camera to glean their sage advice. Students pull no punches with such questions as "How do you handle problems? Do you live up to your own expectations? What are the secrets to a good life?"

Recently the project gave Hunter and his students the chance to be part of history when the Stillwater Institute for Social Justice invited his fourth graders to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Debra Abbott, a Stillwater founding member, was creating a tribute to Jackson P. Burley High School, one of the city's blacks-only schools prior to desegregation. Hunter's Jewels of Wisdom was the perfect vehicle for capturing on film former Burley teachers reflecting on what the school was like 50 years ago and how things have changed.

The enthusiastic professionals in Hunter's classroom eagerly took up the challenge. Before the taping, students hosted a formal reception tea complete with china plates and white gloves. Then they escorted their guests into the studio, took their places as producers, floor managers, camera operators, and sound technicians, and the interviewer began the conversation.

"They were fantastic," Abbott says of the students. "They were so professional they could take over for Oprah."

Abbott was just as effusive in her praise of their mentor. "John is an extraordinary teacher. It's so clear that he loves what he does. The students all respect and admire him. I wish we had a John Hunter in every school."

Hunter, however, is more humble. "I'm just the luckiest guy in the world," he says. "I get to be around really smart people all day long and learn from them."

John Hunter