NAVIGATING GIFTED EDUCATION IN A STATE WITH NO MANDATES
By Traci Failla, parent of a gifted child
When my son was 12 months old, he heard me encouraging his older sister to get ready to leave for an activity. He sat on the floor near the back door, picked up his shoes and said, “Put shoes on.”
When he was 2 years old, he counted the fans on two floors of a house we were looking at, then added the totals from each floor together and announced to our realtor and me, “This house has nine fans.”
At that point, the encouragement – and warnings – began, “You have to get him into one of those gifted programs at the public schools.”
Our son appeared to be gifted. Great news! “Our only challenge will be the commute to these programs,” we thought, since very few were near our home. But, I knew that there were many flaws with the process of getting into our public school system’s gifted program. My family lives in a state where gifted education is neither mandated nor funded.
After a high score on the individually administered test given by our public school system when he was four years old failed to get him one of the very few spots offered, we were disappointed but registered again for the next year’s testing process. Some of the schools begin their programs at the first grade level. And after touring a school I absolutely loved, I said to my husband, “I think that the reason we didn’t get it last year was because we were meant to be at this school.”
But, that didn’t happen. When my son and I showed up to the testing for the first grade entry, we were greeted with an auditorium filled with no less than 100 students and their parents. My five-year-old boy was assigned a color and sent into a room with 30 other kids to take a test that was administered by a single person with three helpers roaming the room to assist. His response when I asked how it went was, “I was mad, sad and bored!” We weren’t too surprised when we found out we didn’t make it in that year either.
In a state where gifted education is neither mandated nor funded, testing for a program can be like a cattle call, despite the fact that many gifted kids have strong sensory reactions and social issues. And the test doesn’t have to be an IQ test. And the system doesn’t need to accept any outside testing. And many high-IQ kids don’t get in.
We remain at our small Catholic school, close to our home, which means that we can enjoy things like walking to school, dedicated teachers and open communication with the principal. In a world where I hear about schools reserving parent-teacher conferences for only students having difficulties, this is a good thing. But, it is not a gifted education, though we have begun working together to address his needs.
And a gifted education is what would be best for my son, though we have few, if any, choices in a state where gifted education is neither mandated nor funded. Our public school program is reportedly really an accelerated program and not suited to a kid who loves to repair remote control helicopters and hates to do worksheets. The private schools for gifted kids in our area are, at minimum, an hour away and charge more than twice as much as our Catholic school in tuition.
We are lucky that we have a principal and a learning specialist who have recognized our son as gifted since he was three. They didn’t need or ask for an IQ test, but we did a full neuro-assessment – which we paid for ourselves – so that we could have the numbers. In a state where gifted education is not mandated or funded, and frequently misunderstood, we need these scores.
Without mandates and funding, gifted education is a tricky thing to navigate. There are few programs, and some are not what most experts would consider truly gifted programs. The testing can be whatever the system wants, or it may be based on standardized tests alone, accepting children who are simply good students and missing those who think differently. It doesn’t need to occur at all, and teachers don’t need to know how to identify a gifted kid or address one.
For families like ours, we piece together what we can to create educational experiences that support our children’s needs. We work with teachers who, we hope, are cooperative with differentiating our child. We spend a lot of time figuring out what that means and how we can bring it to our child’s teacher in an appropriate way.
We enroll our kids in extra-curricular programs for gifted children that help fill in what’s missing at school. They are an added expense and time spent away from other leisure pursuits. Luckily, for many of us, our kids enjoy these programs and don’t consider them “school” at all.
As a resident of a state where gifted education is barely on the radar, I have a hard time imagining how far advocacy could really get us before my son enrolls in college. So, if you find yourself in a place where gifted education is mandated, funded or both, my advice is that it is worth your time to be an avid supporter so that it stays that way.
The High Ability Carol
By Rhonda Cheney 2011
(With sincere apologies to Charles Dickens)
Once upon a time, in a district not so far away, there was a superintendent of schools who counted his pennies carefully. His name was Clutch, and he had not always been the unapproachable miser that the people of his district knew him to be. Clutch started as superintendent when money for educating the children of the district was plentiful, but then both state and federal funding was significantly lowered years ago. The death of his healthy budget left him bitter and unwilling to support any programs he deemed unnecessary. In fact, the only programs that were funded under his authority were those mandated by the state. All programs to meet individualized student needs were banished, and any additional money that was once earmarked for professional development was squirreled away. Clutch found little support for his heavy handedness in the district, but there was a lowly teacher named Barley who agreed with Clutch’s decisions. Clutch promoted Barley to assistant superintendent, but after a short amount of time, Barley died of cold heartedness.
Soon, the season of evaluating high ability programs across the state came around. It’s that glorious time of year when the people of the district rejoice in what is being done to meet the needs of the most able students. Although the people knew that so much more could and should be done, they were grateful to be celebrating the successes of the few children who were achieving and growing. Clutch was not one of those celebrating; he considered the program completely unnecessary. If these kids were so smart, why couldn’t they educate themselves? At the time of the celebration, one brave soul came to request a donation for identifying more students with high abilities. Clutch quickly responded, “The students who are not identified are lazy, or we would have already seen their intelligence and ability. I refuse to help those who will not help themselves.” The brave soul staggered away from the unreasonable theory, and went elsewhere for funding. Unfortunately, those working in Clutch’s office bore the brunt of his indignation at being asked to help. He ranted and raved about how students with high abilities should take less of his precious resources, not more.
Clutch left the office that day in a foul mood, ate a cold dinner of pork and beans, and readied for bed. He settled into his lumpy mattress, but before he could relax into sleep, a ghostly image appeared before him. The face resembled his old comrade, Barley, and it began to speak.
“Clutch, my old miserly superintendent, I made horrible mistakes in my life and have come to warn you! You will be visited by three spirits: the Ghost of Individual Impact, the Ghost of Social Impact, and the Ghost of Global Impact. Each will attempt to teach you a lesson about the importance of appropriately educating students with high abilities.” With those words, Barley’s form dissolved. Clutch sat in fear for a moment, but then chalked what he saw and heard up to the questionable quality of the pork and beans he had ingested earlier. He had just begun to doze, when a small hand tapped him lightly on the stomach. “Mr. Clutch, sir. I am the Ghost of Individual Impact and I’ve come to show you what I could be with the right education.”
“You are but a child. How can you be a ghost?” stuttered Clutch.
“My dreams and hopes for the future died at a young age because no one ever showed me what I could be capable of in life,” replied the Ghost of Individual Impact, “But I have come to show you what could have been.” With that, Clutch was whisked away to a classroom in his district. There he saw the small child who had awoken him. The child was sitting at the back of the room, and only glanced up to listen to the teacher on occasion. The teacher repeated instructions multiple times, and covered material from previous grade levels. The curriculum was appropriate for the majority of the students, but clearly, this particular child was bored and ignored. The scene shifted and the child grew into a high school student who was belligerent to teachers and distracting to other students. Again, the scene shifted, this time to a high school graduation. There was an empty seat where the child should have been. Clutch turned to the Ghost of Individual Impact and asked why the seat was empty.
“Elementary school was always so easy for me that I didn’t have to try. I was never challenged. In the higher grades, I thought I could slide by the same way. When things got too hard, I just stopped going to school. I wasn’t playing sports or in any academic clubs, so it was easy to just walk away,” the ghost explained.
“But you could have graduated at the top of your class,” blurted the astonished Clutch, “If you had just tried to do the work.”
“No one helped me learn study skills. No one introduced me to higher level thinking skills. No one told me that effort had to be applied to ability.” With that, the Ghost of Individual Impact returned Clutch to his drafty bedroom and disappeared from sight.
Clutch drifted back to sleep when the sound of breaking glass shattered his peaceful rest. He sat up in bed, just in time to see a young adult enter his room through a broken window.
“Good, Old Man Clutch. I’m glad you’re awake. I’ve got a lot to show you. Step lively, geezer.”
“You broke my window! Who are you and what are you doing here? What is it you want?” Clutch pulled the covers higher over his chest and demanded answers of the young adult.
The Ghost of Social Impact rolled his eyes and responded, “I’m pretty sure you can answer all those questions. Barley told you I’d be coming.”
Clutched opened his mouth to respond, but was carried to the following scene before he could get a single word out. Before him, he saw the young man wearing a Burger Barn uniform and flipping meat patties on a greasy grill.
“See me there at the grill? Do you think that’s all I’m capable of?” the Ghost of Social Impact questioned Clutch.
“No… I’m sure you could be doing more with your life, but maybe you enjoy this work.”
“Wrong, Old Man Clutch. I flip burgers because it’s the only job I can get. I’ve been in and out of jail for things I thought I could get away with…challenges I thought I was up to solving. With my record, no place that matches my abilities will hire me. I’m not satisfied with my life, but what else am I supposed to do? My background of poverty, behavior issues in the classroom, and achievement test scores all hid the fact that I was a student with high abilities. No one identified me for what I could be.”
Without another word, Clutch found himself back in his bedroom. As he began to cover the broken window, a voice behind him spoke. Startled, Clutch turned to see what could only have been the Ghost of Global Impact. Dressed in a torn overcoat and tattered suit, the bearded man slumped onto Clutch’s bed. Now well familiar with the procedures of these visitors, Clutch asked the man to show him what he needed to see. “You can’t handle it. The future of the United States is too dismal for you,” whispered the bearded ghost. Clutch shook his head and said, “If there is something I can do to stop what I see in the future, you must show me!” “Very well. Step closer.” The Ghost of Global Impact opened his overcoat and scenes from within the folds of the garment appeared. The effects of not educating high ability students at an appropriate level were far reaching. The United States could no longer compete in a global market because of a lack of workers with problem solving skills and creativity. Businesses moved to other countries where they could find the employees they needed. Civil and individual effort towards improving lives dissipated as cultural apathy grew. Scientists no longer looked for cures to diseases, and entire cities were eliminated by viral infections. Institutes of high learning closed their doors with so few applicants. Those looking for more education had to find it in another country.
Clutch turned away from the images that represented what could and would be if education for high ability students was not promoted and supported. When he turned again, the Ghost of Global Impact was gone. No matter. Clutch had work to do! He dressed quickly, nodded a ‘thank you’ to the photograph of Barley hanging on the wall, and returned to his school office.
Remembering that tomorrow would be a day of celebrating student success, Clutch opened the spreadsheet files on his computer that showed how money in the corporation was going to be spent. He would be adding to the celebration. First on the agenda would be funding to develop rigorous curriculum for students with high abilities. The curriculum writers would need materials and professional development to learn how to develop critical thinking, self-reflection, cooperation, effort, and perseverance. Next, he wanted to make sure teachers in this district could identify this population. They would need some specific professional development for that, along with the measures that could be used to identify all students with high abilities. Not one student should slip through the cracks. What was being done for extracurricular activities for these special students? Clutch added lines to his spreadsheet for chess clubs and academic bowls, and then leaned back in his chair to survey the results. Yes, more money was used, but when he considered what could be, the cost was well worth it. Never again would Clutch question the importance of educating students with high abilities. Tomorrow would be a day of celebration, indeed.
The Holidays and Your Gifted Child
As the holiday season comes upon us once again this year, you may ﬁnd yourself in one of two camps as the parent of a gifted child: Either, A) “What can I ﬁnd for my gifted child to do over the holidays that will continue to stimulate and interest him or her?” or B) “The holidays are stressful enough; how do I navigate them with a child that is already in over-drive?!” This is a good time to remember what “asynchronous behavior” is. An example of this is when your 6 year old can memorize all of the presidents and vice presidentsAND discuss the pros and cons of their presidencies one minute, turn around and engage in the silliest exchange of idiotic behavior with his younger sibling the next, all while getting frustrated that he still canʼt tie his shoes! In other words, their chronological, mental and physical ages do not match one another. Dealing with this on a day-to-day basis is one thing; throw in holiday expectations and it could be a recipe for disaster. And this doesnʼt just apply to the under 10 crowd; children donʼt tend to “grow out” of their asynchronous tendencies. Most gifted individuals learn to cope with this pseudo-split of personality as they get older. But children and teens typically just donʼt have the coping mechanisms nor life experiences in place to aid them in sorting these issues out. So, as you prepare to embark into the realm of holiday parties, shopping,concerts, decorating, and family gathering, keep in mind that your gifted children are still children. While they may have a depth of sensitivity and understanding regarding why we celebrate at this time of year, they may still get tired, cranky, bored, hungry, etc. while youʼre attending yet one more event or helping them ﬁnish that big project due before break. There are ways to allow your child to stay involved and engaged in activities that meet his or her intellectual needs while balancing the stress level that often accompanies this time of year. To help you sail more smoothly through the season, and experience the joy at the same time, take a look at these articles with tips about dealing with stress as well as ideas for some simple, fun ways to celebrate as a family. HappyHolidays! www.sengifted.org/articles_directorscorner/patel_november11.pdfhttp:// childparenting.about.com/od/healthsafety/a/holidaystresskids.htmhttp:// giftedkids.about.com/od/familylife/qt/holiday_fun.htmhttp://giftedkids.about.com/od/ holidaysspecialdays/a/Family-Holiday-Activities.htm Bonnie DeLongChair, IAG Parent Network firstname.lastname@example.org