Reflections During National Parenting Gifted Children Week

I’m writing this during National Parenting Gifted Children Week, which is celebrated the third week of July each year to highlight and promote awareness of gifted children and their parents.

NPGC Week 2014When I think back on my journey in this field, it makes me grateful that we’ve gotten to the point where enough people are advocating for gifted education nationally that we are proudly promoting it to the general public. With a clear conscience. And not feeling as if we have to apologize for asking for adequate educational opportunities for the gifted children we love that we are teaching and raising.

We’ve come a long way, considering…

When I was getting my teaching certificate in the early 80’s, I was taking a class on Exceptional Children that focused 99.99% on Special Education. There was one chapter in one book that said, “There are children that are considered gifted, but they are rare, and chances are you will never have any in your classroom.” My pre-service teacher training failed miserably in preparing me for students who were exceptionally gifted learners. The fact is that in 2014 I work in a public high school where 35% of the student population is identified as GT. That’s 800 students. How “rare” are they?

When my son was identified as highly gifted in elementary school in 1993, I was told by the principal that he was “an enigma and, frankly, we don’t know what to do with him.” Flash forward to 2014 where all of the schools in our district now have a GT Coordinator to work with students like my son. While not all personnel are trained adequately to work  with the range of gifted students, at least there is now awareness that gifted students are not “an enigma” and need something different.

When I was forming my own fledgling parent support group in the mid-90’s, I was grasping for whatever I could find in the way of resources to support our discussions. Now, we have the strong example and guidance of SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) to provide a framework for parent support groups. I am now a SENG certified trainer and group facilitator in the state of Colorado. My workshops are always chock full of educators who want to learn how to best support parents of their gifted students. Parents of gifted children no longer have to hide. They are not seen as “pushy parents” as often, but rather parents who are trying to do their best raising unique children with unique needs. If you aren’t yet aware of SENG, please become familiar with this dynamic organization.

When my son was in high school and needed to take some classes at the nearby university, we had to pay full tuition. Now, there are grants and district funds to support many students whose learning needs require radical acceleration. This allows for students to learn at their own pace, and not be held back simply because of how many years old they are.

It used to be believed that gifted children “could make it on their own,” that they must “stay with students their age for social reasons,” and that gifted kids “could be damaged emotionally and socially by grade skipping.” We now realize that growing up gifted is a qualitatively different experience. These students may need not only significant academic adjustments, but also increased awareness about their social and emotional uniqueness. In the 2000’s I began leading discussion groups specifically for gifted secondary school students, and gave training workshops on how other adults can lead discussion groups with their gifted students.

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Why can’t education operate like sports?

My daughter was a gifted gymnast. At gymnastics practice the girls who were more talented were selected out to be in more challenging levels, regardless of age or school grade, and were nurtured and coached through those various levels for competitions. The coaches met them where they were, and worked with the gymnasts at their own personal level, guiding them through increasingly more difficult skills. Nobody would have ever assumed that any level of those kids would “make it on their own.” Instead, the intensity of coaching ramped up as the gymnast’s skill level increased. And the gymnast’s dedication to hours in the gym was greatly accelerated in the higher level of gymnasts.

The ages of the gymnasts ranged from 8 to 16, depending on their level of skill. Their ages didn’t make any difference in their placement, but their ability levels did.  The irony of the situation has never left me. Why can’t students in classrooms be placed with others of the same ability, regardless of age, but subject specific, and devotedly coached to move forward?

We’ve come a long way since I started teaching in the 80’s, and we’ve come a long way since my children were in school in the 90’s. I celebrate the fact that there are a multitude of national, state, and local agencies and conferences that provide awareness and support to those of us who are on this journey together. We have a ways to go before gifted children get the learning opportunities and necessary adjustments that they deserve in our schools. Yet, we’ve no doubt come a long way… let’s keep moving forward together!

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