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School Crossing

By Guy Nahmiach

The Gifted and Talented (GT) road is a long one for parents and educators. What parent doesn’t think their child is special? The struggle is to keep your student interested and motivated in a classroom where the main focus for teachers is to move everyone at the same speed. But what about those that have figured out what you’re going to say and complete their work before anyone else? Is there more work just to keep them busy? Who is challenging them and do they even want to be challenged? Keep in mind that it’s not always about scores and test results. “A sleeping cheetah is still a cheetah.”

What does the GT designation really mean for the students themselves? Gift or curse? I visited with 20 students and parents in the GT program at Wheat Ridge High and the IB program at Lakewood High and asked them about their experiences. When did they know they were “different?”  I’m referring to kids that taught themselves to read at the age of 3. First graders doing sixth-grade math. Talented youngsters creating art or music at an adult level.

There was a common message that parents were overly obsessed with the testing and just general labeling of their kids. Testing (COGAT) in Jeffco used to be conducted in the fourth grade. It is now offered in the second grade, and yet many parents are concerned that their preschoolers and kindergarteners are showing learning behaviors and talents not seen until much later in school. The designation is helpful in getting into GT Center programs and keeping their students motivated and actually enjoying going to school.

Many felt that the “GT” label was great in explaining why they were “different” and having access to higher-level resources.

“Ken was recognized as exceptional from the age of 3 and was labeled GT in second grade. He liked the acknowledgment that he was smart since his peers usually didn’t get him. But he was resentful that he had to do more work. He didn’t find it enriching.”

“Gail liked the GT label at middle school and felt like the program challenged her like she hadn’t been before. She also liked the acknowledgment that she was “smart” – something she didn’t get in elementary school.”

While our GT Centers do a great job in providing a higher level of curriculum mixed with relevant and “interesting” work, we need to keep in mind that 80 percent of students with an Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) actually attend our neighborhood schools. This has been a challenge for parents who want that same curriculum for their kids.  Everyone I interviewed mentioned the need for improvement in our ALP programs at every level and every school.

The “curse” of being labeled “GT” attributes to being made fun of by classmates, being called names (nerd, geek, etc.) but mostly given more work by teachers. Whether it was “busy” work or more challenging “passion” projects, it was all just more work.

Jenny would hear “adults saying that GT kids were weird” and Amy had her teachers expect her to be “good at everything.” Simon put pressure on himself to be better and strive for higher grades.

It’s pretty evident that GT students find each other and build relationships with those that thrive on learning, completing and exploring new ideas.  The Purple team at Creighton was the best example of that.  Most continued into Lakewood’s IB program where these same GT students continued learning and competing in a very structured environment. The Wheat Ridge GT program is just as great but with more of a focus on individual development, creating a space where creativity and academics thrive side by side.

Here is where the interview took a turn: Students wanted to know why schools would not reward and celebrate a gifted math student or a talented economics high achiever, but schools and society itself without hesitation celebrate gifted basketball players or name a street in Wheat Ridge after a football player. In fact the Board of Education regularly parades athletes and singers across the stage at board meetings, but it is a rare sight to have academic achievers being celebrated.  These, by far, were the most disturbing comments in the interview, GT students knowing that their achievements would always be ignored by the community. Interviewing former Jeffco Director of GT programs, Dr. Blanche Kapuchin, I learned that most are intelligent enough to have developed a level of patience, knowing that their time and abilities will be appreciated in college and later in life. This wall they’ve built is a form of protection and self preservation.

Full disclosure: both of my kids are GT students and have had their ups and downs with the label and the limited resources available in the schools they attended. I did join the JAGC board (Jeffco Association of Gifted Children) and work with a highly effective group of parents and professionals in helping the district improve the GT program with developing resources and communication between schools and parents.

If you you’re looking for information about this subject or even are looking to help out by becoming a GT Ambassador in your school, please don’t hesitate to call or email me.

As always, thanks for reading.

Contact Guy Nahmiach at 303-999-5789 or Guy@NostalgicHomes.com.