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Is Your Child Gifted?
It used to be the case that being gifted meant that a child tested in the top 5 percent of the population on IQ tests, but educators today understand that giftedness is a lot more than an IQ test score. The federal government defines giftedness this way: “Students, children or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.”
Similarly, the California Department of Education provides guidelines with six criteria to determine a child’s giftedness in relation to his peers: intellectual ability or potential, creative ability, academic ability in particular subject areas, leadership ability, high achievement or extraordinary performance in the visual or performing arts.
However, while the state spells out how to test and identify gifted students, it does not require that they be served. Districts can apply for funds under the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program, but are not required to do so.
If they do, a basic gifted program has various components including testing to identify gifted students; grouping students within a class or for all or part of the school day by ability; curriculum that is challenging and allows continuous progress; and development of social and emotional skills. There is, however, no legislation mandating the training of teachers of gifted students.
Furthermore, even if a district receives GATE funding, the district can choose whether or not to implement all the GATE provisions. And since 2008, school districts have been allowed to receive GATE funds but redirect them to other educational needs if they choose.
That leaves many California parents in the odd position of having their child identified as gifted, but being told there is no gifted program available.
Does Your District Have a Program?
The first step is to contact your school or district office and ask if there is a GATE program. If one exists, request a copy of the state-approved plan, as well as your school’s site plan. If the district has not yet applied for GATE funds, you can offer to participate in developing a plan.
The situation for gifted children has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. When I began my teaching career in California, around 25 years ago, one of my first substitute teaching assignments was in a gifted classroom in Simi Valley, where I taught English and social studies to a group of highly motivated GATE-identified students. Times have changed.
In July, Governor Jerry Brown ushered in the most sweeping changes to the way California funds its public schools in 25 years when he signed into law a new funding formula that was the centerpiece of his legislative agenda for the year.
Schools that serve low-income students and non-native English speakers will receive more money under the formula. Obviously, these California students deserve to receive a good education, but the push so often in educational legislation these days is to raise the scores of lower-achieving students. At the same time, many parents complain, the needs of higher achieving, or gifted, students are ignored. Somehow, it is assumed that they will succeed on their own and don’t need any special attention.
What Can Parents of Gifted Children Do?
For Alexandra Ament of San Rafael, the solution has been to enroll her children in a private San Rafael K-8 school for gifted children, the GATE Academy. Her two children, 10-year-old Aiden and 12-year-old Karina, tested as gifted in third grade, but there was no program to support them during the day. Ament hastens to emphasize that this was not the fault of the teachers, who were doing a great job, but were being pushed to work with the lower-achieving students.
Soon, her son became bored and started acting out in class, at which point he was told to leave the room. Her school asked parents to come up with afterschool classes, which they did, in topics such as astronomy, fashion and cardiology for kids, but that still only amounted to a maximum of 10 hours a year. She’s excited to have found a school where her children are challenged all the time.
Marina Broeder, of San Jose, tells the story of her then-7-year old son, who found everything too easy for him. Although she was told at his first grade conference that “he really shouldn’t be here,” still nothing was done to advance him. Eventually she went to the district level to get him evaluated, and he was moved up a grade. But soon Nikolai was bored and getting into trouble again, and his third-grade teacher offered no help. Broeder’s solution was to find the right private school for her son, where there are different tracks and he is jumped up accordingly.
Bart-Williams has taken a different path for her gifted girls. After her oldest child tested at a fifth-grade level in first grade, the school agreed that she was gifted, but refused to change her grade. Her teacher tried to help, working with the youngster individually twice a week for 45 minutes, but the results were minimal.
Eventually, Bart-Williams pulled her child out of school and, after a long struggle, was able to get a transfer to the Elk Grove Unified School District Virtual Academy (EGVA), for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The curriculum is provided through a partnership with K12, a national online program, and all courses are aligned to the State of California’s standards and benchmarks. EGVA is part of the public education system and is open to students living in Sacramento, Amador, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Placer, San Joaquin, Solano, Sutter and Yolo counties.
Bart-Williams’ two oldest children are students at EGVA and have face-to-face time with their teachers four or five times a month. Most of the instruction happens online; they can also contact a teacher via phone or email, and their mother is in contact via phone or email every day. Bart-Williams loves it, as each child receives a customized plan of instruction.
Other Options for Enrichment
If a private school or a virtual education doesn’t work for you, there are still plenty of other options. Many schools offer parent-led or PTA-led afterschool programs. There are also summer gifted programs through UC Berkeley ( atdp.berkeley.edu ) and Stanford, which has two-to-four-week programs for middle and high school students ( epgy.stanford.edu/summer ).
Frustrated by the lack of programs at her San Rafael public school for her gifted daughter, Paige Flaming, Kline seeks out interesting programs at local museums such as the Children’s Creativity Museum, San Francisco MOMA (currently closed) and KidsFest at Flax Art & Design in San Francisco.
“We have also found the most amazing camp experience in Galileo Summer Quest,” says Kline, “with ‘majors’ for kids entering fifth through eighth grades in weeklong subjects including painting (a program by the De Young Museum), comic books, digital photography and filmmaking, go-kart building and cooking. The counselors are all college educated, the kids are all intelligent/creative/somewhat socially awkward, and they are encouraged to be innovative and make mistakes and try new things. It is the closest thing to what the gifted program should be, and our daughter thrives there and wishes school were like that.”
Ament suggests connecting with other parents of gifted children; they know that no one size fits all works for these children, any more than it does for other kids.
Above all, she advises, follow the passions of your children. If your youngster is interested in one particular area, supplement it. Take her to the wilderness, the aviation museum, the opera or the ocean, depending on the passion.
“Go everywhere!” says Broeder, who signed her son up for an afterschool math program in second grade, when she realized math was what he loved. In line with all good parenting, she suggests following the lead of your children and resisting the temptation to mold them into something they are not. “If you think your child is gifted, she probably is, so find ways to surround her with what she needs.”
These organizations will help you on your way:
- California Association for the Gifted: www.cagifted.org
- Davidson Institute for Talent Development: www.davidsongifted.org
- Gifted Development Center: www.gifteddevelopment.com
- Hoagie’s Gifted Education Page: www.hoagiesgifted.org
- National Association for the Gifted: www.nagc.org
- SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted): www.sengifted.org
Judy Molland is a Redwood City-based freelance writer and former educator.
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