I had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Kahina Beasley, founder and owner of Strengths and Solutions. Dr. Beasley is a clinical psychologist. Strengths and Solutions is a private group practice of 16 Black therapists serving five states (FL, GA, AL, TN, and NJ). Dr. Kahina earned her B.S. in Psychology and MS in Health Education and Behavior from the University of Florida. She continued her education at the renowned Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology (GSAPP) at Rutgers University. There, she earned a Master’s and Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology, with a concentration in Multicultural Psychology. We discussed gifted children who go unidentified and how parents can advocate for their academically gifted children.
Mackenzie Littledale: When I was in elementary school, I had the opportunity to skip a grade, but my parents said, “No.” I never got to take the test, and I was kind of bored in school sometimes. It would have been great.
This leads me to a two-part question. How are students currently identified as gifted, and is there a significant portion of Black, Latino, and Indigenous students who don’t get identified properly?
Kahina Beasley: The beginning process of identifying gifted students is the teacher typically recommends the child be tested for the gifted program. This can also come from the parent if the parent feels the child is intelligent and should be admitted to the program. Most often, it comes from the teacher.
That’s where the second part of the question comes in. As much as we can instill cultural competency training within teachers and school staff, implicit bias exists within the classroom1. As much as we work through it, it naturally exists among humans. If the teacher is the first person to recommend a child for the gifted program, but their implicit biases lead them to look at Black, Indigenous, or Latino students differently or as less competent, then they may be less likely to recommend those students2. I imagine a significant portion is passing through and not getting identified.
Academic Marginalization Effects on Children’s Behavior
ML: Right. So, how does academic marginalization affect gifted minority children in their mental wellness, school performance, and social skills?
KB: I’m hoping for a little more clarification.
ML: In terms of a gifted student who might or might not be facing racism, they may not know it. Does it create a sense of isolation? If they’re being marginalized, and they’re not academically challenged at their level, can it show up in their behavior?
KB: Definitely. They’re in school for a long part of the day. What they receive from the teachers or other students is very likely to come out in their behavior. If a child is feeling isolated, they might be less likely to pour into their work because they’re not being poured into. If they feel like they’re not getting the help they need, or when they try to get help, they don’t get quality help, they’ll probably shell inward instead of seeking out what they need. If a child recognizes they’re very smart but they’re not getting the opportunity, the message they may internalize is, “It doesn’t really matter how hard I try or how smart I am, that’s not going to be acknowledged anyway, so why should I keep trying?”
Children Can Go as Far as They’re Supported
ML: The flip side then is if they are acknowledged, how far can they go? What have you seen?
KB: Humans benefit so much from positive reinforcement from childhood through adulthood. When children are praised for what they’re doing well and given resources, and they’re told they’re very intelligent, that makes them more likely to want to do those things. It feels good. Kids like that approval. They want others around them to feel good.
When teachers acknowledge that they have abilities, it makes the child more likely to exert extra effort. They want to show you even more. It gives them more confidence. They can go as far as you support them.
Preventing Gifted Children From Being Shut Out of Opportunity
ML: I love that. Are there things parents can do to keep their kids from being shut out of academic advancement opportunities? If systemic racism remains or gets miraculously dismantled, what steps can parents take?
KB: Advocacy is a huge part. Parents can go to the school and demand that their child be tested. This happens even with parents who know their child needs a particular IEP. When you ask the school for an IEP, the school is supposed to follow through on that process.
ML: An IEP is what?
KB: An Individualized Education Plan3. Some schools have Gifted Programs under that plan. It is within a parent’s rights to ask that of a public school. Parents need to know their rights within their county because every county can vary.
If the school isn’t providing something, there are outside resources. That could look like hiring a psychologist to represent the child as an advocate. Maybe the school waffles, so get gifted testing at a private center and bring the results to the school. Parents can get the test privately, take the results to the school, and demand that the child be enrolled in the gifted program.
ML: That’s real advocacy.
KB: It’s unfortunate because once you step into the private realm, it costs money, so privilege comes into that, as well. Those gifted tests could be done for free within public schools, but sometimes the schools have a long waiting list, and they don’t have the capacity. Sometimes there are only one or two school psychologists for the whole district. It could take a year for the child to be tested, which becomes a year lost from enrollment in the program that would have nurtured them. Allocating some funds to a private counseling center where they can be evaluated—that’s a way to speed up the process.
In this part of the interview, we touched a little bit on what happens to a youth’s outlook when their strengths are acknowledged and nurtured. Part 2 provides insider tips for parents to advocate for their academically gifted child.
1. Associated Press, Bobbie Caina Calvin Schools Debate: Gifted and Talented, or Racist and Elitist? October 28, 2021
2. Education Week, Sarah Sparks 3 out of 4 Gifted Black Students Never Get Identified. Here's How to Find Them, June 3, 2022 https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/3-out-of-4-gifted-black-studen…
3. Florida Board of Health Individualized Education Program