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Gifted Children: Nurturing Genius (Part Three)

Turning genius denied into genius fulfilled.

Continuing my interview with Jill Adrian, Director of Family Services at the Davidson Institute, I asked, “What can be done once the gifted child is in the system, say, and headed into for 1st grade?”

In my previous posts, Gifted Children: Nurturing Genius (Part One) and Gifted Children: Nurturing Genius (Part Two), Turning Genius Denied into Genius Fulfilled we discussed and defined the term gifted, presented general information about The Davidson Institute for Talent Development, on gifted children, signs of giftedness, what’s available for them at an early age and what’s not, how you can supplement at home and in your school, and more. You may wish to check these posts out as well.

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 “Once they [gifted children] are in the system,” Adrian explained, “unfortunately in today’s economy there are a lot of cuts, and the gifted programming is one of the first to go.  Additionally, there are not a lot of states that have mandated gifted education and, if they do, they don’t have the funds to implement them.  So, unfortunately many schools don’t have to do anything. We often times coach families to keep that in mind. Many schools don’t have to do anything.” 

“So, it’s about going in there and approaching things as collaboration: asking the school, how can I help you and how can you help my child? And doing this with a little empathy about what the school system is dealing with, but ultimately, you’re asking for a favor for your children at this point in time.  And so presenting cost-effective options that can work for your child and your school may work best.”

It’s hard for some parents and educators to have to start from scratch and so wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if there were templates that interested people could use as a guide to working with school administration and local communities. I asked. “Do you have any templates of approaches that have been successful?” And I was surprised by Ms. Adrian’s answer.

“Lots,” she said. “There are lots of guides that are researched to help educators and families and teams.  These can help the child and determine if a he or she is a candidate for acceleration.  And they look at the whole child.  One I have in mind is the Iowa Acceleration Scale http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Resources/IAS.aspx

Often times using this approach makes a school feel more at ease making such a drastic decision because it is often drastic for that school.  Not many schools have profoundly gifted youth within their walls and so they don’t necessarily know how to meet their needs and so it can be scary for them:  if I accelerate this child, will I have to do it for another? What will I do if it doesn’t work out? What are the social emotional ramifications?  Therefore, guides like the Iowa Acceleration Scale help schools determine a good candidate.”

I had to ask a darker question that many parents have to manage, “What happens when you’re faced with resistance from your school? What recommendations do you have when parents hit the proverbial wall when speaking with administrators and hear things like:  “Is this your first child? Everyone feels their child is gifted.” Or “We take all kids’ gifts into consideration.”  Or “Those tests don’t mean anything, especially in terms of results.”  Or “We have a lot of smart kids attending our school. We watch them closely and try to challenge them or put them with other advanced children, especially in our English classes.  We skip them ahead in Math.”

 I asked, “What does a parent or educator do?”

We hear that a lot unfortunately. For the families we work with it can be really frustrating when they encounter an educator who has preconceived notions of gifted students.  We’ve written a guide book titled Advocating for Exceptionally Gifted Young People: A Guidebook that helps parents talk with their school about their child being gifted. In the end, it’s about talking to them and taking baby steps. Sometimes it is about parents being willing to come in and maybe run the math circles at lunch, which will also benefit the other kids as well, not just their child.  It’s about brainstorming different scenarios. We’ve worked with many families, too, who have worked really hard trying to get something in place and it doesn’t happen.  And so at that point, it’s about what picking your battles and determining what’s most important to them [child and parent] at the time.  Is it worth the effort to take the child out of school or is it more worthwhile to find an outlet for the child?  We have had families who have tried to home school because their child’s needs are simply not going to be met at the school.”

Let’s move on to the subject of home schooling.  How effective is that?

“It’s not for everybody.  What we do here when we work with a parent is work through that issue and determine if it’s the best next step.  We have a lot of success stories with home schooling.  We have a lot of families who have home schooled just for a couple of years and then entered the school system or went on to a private school.  It doesn’t have to be a permanent fix.  Home school can be a temporary fix. It can sometimes relieve a little bit of the pressure.”

Adrian talked a little about the Young Scholars Program, which to this parent seems significantly beneficial. “We would encourage parents of profoundly gifted students to look into our free  Davidson Young Scholars Program  http://www.davidsongifted.org/youngscholars/.   Through this particular program, we currently serve more than 1,700 families.  It’s a free consulting service for families of profoundly gifted youth ages of 5-17.  But they have to qualify through test scores.  Once they are in the program, we work with them until they are 18. This program is open to anybody in the country.  Families are assigned a family consultant who works with them one-on-one depending on what their needs are.  The family consultant helps them investigate other possible schooling scenarios in their client’s area which they may need to access—e.g. Saturday school and summer programs.  They may even help prepare for school meetings and have even been taken into school meetings to help talk about or explain the needs of children in the Young Scholars program.”

Another great resource is the book Bob and Jan Davidson wrote, Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds .  The Davidson’s offer a lot of helpful tips on what parents, educators, and the community can do to change their thinking about these students.

We had been speaking for quite a while and I knew there was only time left for a couple more questions—though I knew then and know even as I write these words that, for me, the conversation has really just begun. 

I wanted to zero in a little more on the idea of skipping grades, especially because of the mixed responses you hear. 

“From the work we’ve done with young scholars, it works very well for the situation.  And from our perspective it is cost-effective.  Believe it or not, one of the myths out there is that skipping grades is detrimental for the child’s social-emotional growth; however, from our experience a lot of the behavioral problems disappear. The kids end up  finding a better match with their mental age peers if they are accelerated; they’re students who gravitate toward older students anyway and so a lot of those awkward behavioral problems that are in the typical age grade settings they are assigned to – they disappear or at least become less noticeable.  So skipping grades ends up being a better fix—maybe not a perfect fit for social reasons—but academically, it’s closer to where the child should be.

“On a personal note,” I said, “I have noticed a number of very young teens entering my college classes—from as young as 15—probably for the last 10 years or so now.  Interestingly, these individuals I am talking about were often some of the best students my classes.”

Adrian agreed. “Community Colleges are wonderful options for these students as well. We’re starting to hear more and more about dual enrollment programs and early enrollment as well. Depending on how it is set up, dual enrollment could be a subject acceleration where the child is in 3rd grade, but they go to math in a 6th grade class or they can be in middle school for most classes and they go to the high school for math and science or they can also home school and access some classes at the local school.”

“Is it possible to be profoundly gifted and in the public school system? Is it possible? I asked.

We’ve found that the best settings for these students are those that have administrations that are open-minded and flexible; it doesn’t even necessarily mean that educators have a background in teaching gifted children, it just means that they want to learn more about it and they are open to thinking outside the box and meeting these students’ needs, and being unafraid to think outside the box.”

Is there one last thing that you’d like to leave us as food for thought as to why it’s crucial for our education systems to take the needs of the gifted seriously?

“Well this generation will be the problem-solvers of tomorrow and so fostering their growth is extremely important,” Adrian said.  Bob and Jan, our founders, speak about this as one of the main reasons they established the Davidson Institute.  We want profoundly gifted students to reach their potential.” 

“Thank you for doing what you do,” I said and meant it.

Adrian’s voice brightened.  “It’s a privilege for us,” she said.

Profoundly intelligent young people should not be denied what we desire for all young people. Their needs should be recognized and accommodated. Their uniqueness should be understood and nurtured. Rather than be locked into an age based curriculum, profoundly gifted young people should have the opportunity to be challenged to excel and achieve.  (From the Davidson Institute Website).

It seems unreasonable to expect to reap the benefits of gifted childrens’ contributions if we don’t nurture their minds along the way.  

Yet, for as much as the world has benefited from the contributions of gifted individuals, it is disturbing to realize that the population least likely to learn and achieve its potential is the highly gifted.

It seems discriminatory to exclude anyone, regardless of his or her level of achievement—including the profoundly gifted. Unfortunately, it is easy to write them off—thinking they are getting straight A+s.  They seem to be doing pretty well for themselves. What more can they possibly need?  

The answer to this question is plenty.

It is my hope that this series of posts on gifted children helps answer some common questions for the parents of gifted youth, establish some camaraderie, dialogue, and strategy among us for nurturing them, and perhaps inspire our educators to seek more creative, cost-effective, and successful programming in our public and private educational systems.   

Notes:

For a scientific adventure into the world of human attention see my newest book Can I Have Your Attention?: How to Think Fast, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Concentration .  

For further reading:  “Twelve Cost Effective Educational Options for Serving Gifted Students,” http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10363.aspx  “This article, written by the Davidson Institute, discusses steps that schools and educators can take to help gifted children stay focused and achieve at higher levels. In addition, these steps can be taken by schools that want their students to excel, even when funding may not be available.” (From the Davidson Institute Website).

Image: Davidson Institute

Joseph Cardillo, Ph.D., is the author of Can I Have Your Attention? How to Think Fast, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Concentration.

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