Mollie Grinnell, WATG Board
When we first suspected that our daughter was gifted, we immediately started working with our local public school. When this school failed to even evaluate her, we hoped that a nearby public charter school with an established gifted and talented (GT) program offering a multi-age classroom (3rd grade- 5th grade) would provide what she needed. As a temporary measure, we homeschooled her for the remainder of the school year, then enrolled her in the charter school the next fall when she was entering 3rd grade. Within the first week, the school evaluated our daughter and classified her as gifted, confirming an independent assessment (which had identified her as profoundly gifted). Within the next few weeks she was moved into 4th grade math and put into the highest language arts group in the school (5th to 6th grade). After a month of being enrolled in this school, our daughter was also whole-grade accelerated and identified for numerous GT pull-out programs. Our meetings with the principal, teachers, and GT Coordinator were very positive—everyone seemed to have our daughter’s best interest in mind. We were hopeful about school for the first time in years. However, it did not take long for our hope to dissolve.
Even with all the accommodations the school made, our daughter was not being challenged. While she was still willing to go to school (she had refused to go to her previous school), it was clear that it was not a good learning environment for her. What she was ‘learning’ in language arts was something she had known for years, and the school did not have a strategy to challenge children who exceeded the highest level of instruction. Furthermore, our daughter was avoiding doing math and not being held accountable for not completing the work. In science, she complained of too many worksheets that held no meaning, and she was not allowed to make the project work more interesting by expanding the projects into her areas of interest. Most concerning, she started exhibiting behaviors that we knew, based on her first school, to be warning signs of social isolation and eroding self-esteem.
When it became clear that the school had implemented all of their available methods for challenging gifted children and still it was not enough, we had a candid conversation with the principal about whether the school would be able to meet our daughter’s needs. Legally, he had to say ‘yes’ but underlying his answer it was clear that it would be a continual uphill battle. This was not because the school did not want to do the right thing, but because they did not know what to do, and had never done it before. It was easy to understand why the school was struggling. Statistically, a teacher may see a student like our daughter every 35-40 years (i.e., perhaps once, if ever, during their career). Even if we lived in a major metropolitan area, the likelihood of our daughter’s teachers ever having worked with another profoundly gifted child is remote, and in a rural environment, it is next to zero.
It would be easy to say that our experience is unique and generally not relevant because our daughter is an outlier even among the gifted population. It would also be easy to say that, in the case of the second school, the accommodations the school made were reasonable and would meet most gifted learners’ needs. On one level that may be true; however, our situation emphasizes that there is not a one-size-fits-all strategy for gifted learners, and even robust GT programs often fail gifted students. Most classroom teachers never receive training on the considerable differences in brain function in gifted children compared to that of a typical child, nor how to teach and support gifted children. Additionally, our experience at the first school is relevant to all gifted students because schools such as these—schools with no or limited GT programming—fail most, if not all, gifted students enrolled in their districts. It is all too common that the needs of gifted children are not fully met.
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