The Gift of Bilingualism
Over the years, I have read many articles about bilingual people and the advantages that being bilingual (or multilingual) bring to their lives. Little did I know that I would be able to watch the beauty of this gift in my own grandchild. Gabriela is our sixth grandchild, and she lives in Guatemala with her Mama (our daughter) and her Papa, a native Colombian, and her baby brother. Gaby is two years old, and is bilingual. Early on, her parents (both multilingual) decided that Papa would speak only Spanish to Gaby, and Mama would speak only English. (Of course, they sometimes forget, but for the most part this is true…) Gaby also attends a bilingual preschool, so both languages are reinforced at school.
It has been delightful to watch Gaby’s acquisition of languages. At first she learned words independently in both languages; then she began to communicate in an adorable Spanglish. Now, as she nears three years of age, she is completely fluent in code-switching. She knows how and when to easily switch between languages; for example, she speaks Spanish to Abuela and Abuelo and English to us, Pops and Grams.
Watching her language acquisition unfold, I began to wonder what the current literature is saying about bilingualism and its benefits. As I read from a wide variety of sources, I realized that some of the benefits are child-specific, and others are benefits that may be realized later in life.
One child-specific benefit is increased brain development. Being bilingual can improve a child’s multitasking skills, attention control, problem solving, and creativity. It also promotes outside-the-box thinking, and attention to context. There is much research on brain plasticity, especially in young children, so as these extra linguistic synapses are being formed, the brain is developing at a phenomenal rate. In this article in the Scientific American, At What Age Does Our Ability to Learn a New Language Like a Native Speaker Disappear?, author Dana G. Smith asserted that “researchers concluded that the ability to learn a new language, at least grammatically, is strongest until the age of 18 after which there is a precipitous decline. To become completely fluent, however, learning should start before the age of 10.”
Some researchers believe that bilingualism can give children a competitive academic edge as well by improving a child’s educational development, cognitive functions, social skills, literacy, and emotional skills. All of these can have positive effects for many years to come.
Additionally, there is ample research that learning languages gives children a valuable insight into other cultures. This prepares them to be global citizens and to appreciate cultural diversity.
The gifts of bilingualism continue into adulthood as well. Research shows that bilingual adults are more open to travel experiences, and may also reap more competitive benefits in job markets. Being bilingual also seems to make it easier to learn additional languages, and, according to some researchers, may even improve your social life! (While not exactly true scientific research, a Valentine’s Day survey done by language software providers Rocket Languages revealed that 79% of people think someone who is bilingual is more attractive, while 77% perceive people as more intelligent if they speak another language.)
Above all, some recent studies by the National Institute for Health have revealed that bilingual people’s brains age more slowly and therefore they live longer and more satisfying lives. It is now widely recognized that being bilingual can also delay neurological diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Clearly the research on bilingualism is very promising for children and adults – so promising that I am learning my third language as a septuagenarian. My reasons are threefold – I want to be able to fully communicate with my Spanish speaking family, I want to keep stimulating my brain, and above all, learning languages, for me, is fun. I believe that you and your family and/or your students may find joy in becoming polyglots, too. Consider giving it a try.
Update: Our Gaby seems to be speaking a third language with her three cats. I will keep you posted on the benefits of this 🙂.
Jackie Drummer, Past President of WATG and Current Board Advisor
WATG would like to thank Esther Vasquez Guendulain of the Appleton Bilingual School for translating this article into Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families and educators.
El regalo de ser bilingüe
Al paso de los años, he leído muchos artículos sobre las personas que son bilingües y las ventajas que se tienen en la vida al ser bilingüe (o poliglota). Poco sabía que tendría la oportunidad de ver la belleza de este regalo en mi propia nieta. Gabriela es nuestra sexta nieta y vive en Guatemala con su Mama (nuestra hija) y su papá, nacido en Colombia, y su hermano que aun es bebé. Gaby tiene dos años de edad y es bilingüe. A una temprana edad, su padres (que son poliglotas) decidieron que papa le hablaría a Gaby únicamente en español y mamá le hablaría únicamente en inglés. (Por supuesto, algunas veces se les olvida, pero la mayor parte del tiempo así es…) Gaby asiste también a un pre escolar bilingüe, así que se refuerzan ambos idiomas en la escuela.
Ha sido un placer ver como Gaby adquiere ambos idiomas. Al principio, aprendió palabras de una manera independiente en ambos idiomas; después ella empezó a comunicarse en un español adorable. Ahora, ya que se acerca a los tres años de edad, es completamente fluido su botón de cambio de idioma. Ella sabe como y cuando cambiar fácilmente entre idiomas; por ejemplo, ella le habla español a su Abuela y Abuelo y a nosotros, Pops y Grams, en inglés.
Al ver como se desenvuelve su adquisición del idioma, me empecé a preguntar que es lo que la actual literatura dice sobre el bilingüismo y sus beneficios. Mientras leía una variedad de recursos, me di cuenta que algunos de los beneficios son específicamente para la niñez y otros, son beneficios que podrían verse después durante la vida de adultos.
Uno de los beneficios específicos para niños es el incremento en el desarrollo del cerebro. El ser bilingüe puede mejorar las habilidades de un niño de ser multitareas, control de la atención, resolución de problemas y la creatividad. También promueve el pensamiento amplio, y la atención al contexto. Hay mucha investigación en la plasticidad del cerebro, especialmente en niños mas pequeños, así que mientras estas sinapsis extra lingüísticas se forman, el cerebro esta desarrollándose a un paso fenomenal. En este articulo en Scientific American, ¿A qué edad desaparece nuestra habilidad para aprender un Nuevo Idioma como si fuera nuestro Idioma de Nacimiento?, la autora Dana G. Smith aseguró que “las investigaciones concluyeron que la habilidad para aprender un nuevo idioma, al menos gramáticamente, es mas fuerte hasta la edad de 18, después de la cual hay una caída precipitada. Sin embargo, para ser completamente fluido, el aprendizaje debe iniciar antes de los 10 años de edad.”
Algunos investigadores creen que el bilingüismo puede dar a los niños un margen académico competitivo así como también mejorar en el niño su desarrollo educativo, funciones cognitivas, habilidades sociales, lecto escritura y habilidades emocionales. Todas estas pueden tener un efecto positivo durante muchos años más.
Adicionalmente, hay una amplia investigación que demuestra que el aprender idiomas da a los niños una perspectiva importante de otras culturas. Esto los prepara para ser ciudadanos globales y apreciar la diversidad de culturas.
Los regalos del bilingüismo continúan en la vida de adultos también. Las investigaciones muestran que los adultos bilingües son más abiertos a experiencias de viaje y pueden también cosechar beneficios más competitivos en los mercados laborales. El ser bilingües puede hacer también más fácil el aprendizaje de idiomas adicionales y de acuerdo con algunas investigaciones, ¡puede incluso mejorar su vida social! (A pesar de no ser ciertamente investigación científica, una encuesta de San Valentín hecha por proveedores de softwares de idiomas Rocket Languages, reveló que el 79 % de las personas piensan que alguien que es bilingüe es más atractivo, mientras que el 77% perciben a las persona mas inteligentes si hablan otro idioma).
Sobre todo, algunos estudios recientes por el Instituto Nacional de la Salud, ha revelado que el cerebro de las personas bilingües envejece mas lento y por lo tanto viven mas tiempo y mas satisfactoriamente. Es ahora ampliamente reconocido que el ser bilingüe puede también retrasar enfermedades neurológicas como la demencia y Alzheimer’s.
Claramente la investigación del bilingüismo es muy prometedora para niños y adultos – tan prometedor que estoy aprendiendo mi tercer idioma como septuagenaria. Mis razones se han triplicado – Quiero poder comunicarme completamente con mi familia que habla español, quiero continuar estimulando mi cerebro y sobre todo, el aprender idiomas para mi es divertido. Creo que usted, su familia y/o estudiantes, podrían encontrar gozo al hacerse poliglotas también. Considere intentarlo.
Actualización: Nuestra Gaby parece estar hablando un tercer idioma con sus tres gatos. Los mantendré informados del beneficio de este idioma 🙂.
Jackie Drummer, Past President of WATG and Current Board Advisor
WATG le quiere agradecer a Esther Vasquez Guendulain de Appleton Bilingual School, por traducir este artículo al español para nuestras familias y maestros de habla hispana.
Beginning Financial Literacy
I never thought too much about introducing young kids to the financial world, but, about a year and a half ago when my son had just turned six, he first opened the topic himself. This made me realize that age may not be the guiding factor when deciding to speak to kids about finance related topics.
There was a brief period (lasting about a week) where my son repeatedly asked me to buy him multiple toys. The answer each time was NO. He didn’t understand why I couldn’t just buy him an abundance of toys. I realized he was not going to let the subject go. For the time being, I chose to bypass the life lesson of why abundance of toys might not be best for him, and instead catered to his deep understanding of numbers. I took him through a made-up, easy-to-follow monthly budget.
I said, “Well, each month I have $1,000 to spend on our household. Groceries cost $X, gas costs $X, utilities cost $X, and as you can see, we don’t have an abundance of funds for multiple toys each week; we have enough for a few miscellaneous things such as family night out. That is why toys are gifts for special occasions/birthdays/holidays.” I felt as if he did understand me. He didn’t say anything, just gave a slight nod and walked away. He didn’t ask for toys that week. I gave myself a pat on the back.
A few days later he asked me what I did for a living. It was the first time he had asked me that. I said I am in finance, and I explained that finance is related to money. He thought about that and said, “I don’t think you are good at finance.” I looked at this six-year-old judging me, held my laughter, and I asked him why he thought I was not good at finance.
He said, “If you say you are in finance, then you should be good at money, but you don’t have any money saved.”
I then realized that while talking about the budget I hadn’t tackled the topic of savings. Then again, I did not expect my six-year-old to think so deeply about money.
Pretending not to improvise, I said, “I do have savings!” He asked how much I had saved up. I made up an arbitrary number that he would understand, yet be impressed by (because my ego had to prove to my six-year old that I am good at finance after all).
I said, “I have $100K saved up.” His eyes lit up. Then I quickly followed up stating that the savings are tucked away in our savings account for the future, for things such as college. He said OK and walked away. Again, I gave myself pat on the back.
A few days later he came back to me and said, “I still think you are not good at finance.”
I wanted to say, “Come on, let this go already!!”, but instead I forced a smile and said, “OK, why do you think that this time?”
He said, “Well, you have money saved, but you have not grown it.” I was taken back. How did this six-year-old even think to ask about financial growth?
So, to save my ego I said, “Of course I grew my money. I now have $100,001.” He looked very satisfied that I had grown my money by a whole $1.
This situation, which took days to unravel, made me realize my high-energy, highly curious gifted son was ready to learn about money and how it works in the real world. He was asking meaningful questions and I felt I shouldn’t evade the topic due to his age. I started introducing him to small concepts such as price. For example, when we were at the airport, I showed him the price difference between the airport snack and what that same exact snack costs at Target using the app (an approximate 1.5x-2x price difference). I also introduced him to my business’ profit and loss statement. He saw what comes in, what goes out, and how the end of the month can even be in the negative. He started linking pieces of information together. Then, to demonstrate the flow of money, I gave him a small pool of funds to purchase whatever he wanted. Excited with his new liberty, he went on a mini-spree and quickly saw how money can diminish. Since then, he has earned tooth fairy money, which has remained unspent since September. I am curious to see what the next financial move is for my now seven-year-old. It has been exciting to see him learn and uncover concepts that would not be comprehensible if he did not have the practical experience too.
When I look up activities for the gifted, I often come across a variety of creative ideas, but financial literacy (an essential life skill) related items are not common. Of course, there are board games such as Monopoly, Game of Life, and Buy It Right that introduce money management and critical thinking, but the hands-on approach for kids who grasp concepts and numbers at a higher level might be more valuable.
The moral of the story for me is to take the time to explain and explore these concepts as they come up in your child’s life. It is never too early to begin lessons on financial literacy.
Ayesha Penesetti, WATG Board Treasurer
Education Update: Art Matters
I was perusing articles last week when several caught my eye. I tend to look for articles on the arts, their impact on education and emotional needs of children, especially in this “post Covid” period when there is so much written about learning loss, school attendance, and emotional fragility. Rarely have I found solutions that are as easy to implement or readily effective, except through the arts.
In Americans for the Arts, I came across the article
Investigating the Causal Effects of Arts Education.
This is an easy-to-read study of how the arts positively affect math and reading, as well as the social-emotional needs of students. Here is a short quote from the article: “As the first large-scale randomized control trial of arts learning in an authentic school setting, these findings provide strong evidence that the arts can produce meaningful impacts on students’ academic outcomes and social-emotional development. Education policymakers should consider these benefits when assessing the role of the arts in schools.”
Those of us who teach in the arts know from personal experience how the arts positively affect students. We know this from daily interactions with them and seeing the positive results in their emotions; we witness it in their joy as they “make art”. For some students, if there is an art program in their school, it is “the hook” that brings them through the school doors every day. For these students, academics are often secondary to the arts; the arts bring them emotional support, a vehicle for expression, and sheer joy. The arts encompass the visual arts, music, dance, theater, or drama (know any drama queens?), and the arts give them a way to express what they are learning in their academic courses. Some see the arts as possible careers, and this early exposure widens their perspective. Many realize that the arts make our world a much better place and want to be part of the transformation. They know that without the arts there would be no movies, plays, architectural design, innovation, etc. The arts enrich their lives and the lives of others.
Another article that highlights the importance of the arts is found in the74 Newsletter,
Arts Education Boosts School Engagement, Study Finds.
This article, written by Kevin Mahnken, is an expansion of the study published in the November 2022 Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Mahnken gives strong rationale for arts education in schools. He believes that because the arts benefit learning, they are indispensable. His quote is revealing…, “One of the paper’s co-authors said that its results showed that the arts are a kind of “secret sauce” in keeping young students interested and involved in school, particularly as schools try to lead a revival after years of lost, delayed, or incomplete learning. He added that arts instruction shouldn’t be cast aside in favor of core subjects like math and English.” The74 article explains how California is utilizing art studies to expand arts education in schools due to the positive benefits they have on student engagement and learning.
Another important benefit of the arts is that they allow students to demonstrate knowledge in different ways, ways that are often more suited to individual preferences. The creation of timelines, dioramas, reproductions, flow charts, google slides, etc., are prime examples of a melding of demonstrating knowledge with artistic expression and are often very satisfying for students. Much research has even shown that doodling and/or drawing while learning enhances memory and can make the learning more enjoyable. (We need to quit chastising students who doodle while learning, says this inveterate doodler:)
If you follow the news and social media, you undoubtedly are reading articles about the current emotional fragility of many of our students, but there are very few articles being published about firm, known solutions that can help with this problem.
It has been known for centuries that the arts provide a way for students to express their emotions and their thoughts, and do it in a non-conventional, non-confrontational, healing way. Art therapy is a recognized way to accomplish these goals, yet one doesn’t need to be a therapist to allow students to express/heal using the arts. In Ukraine, for example, the arts are being used to help children heal from the terrors of the war. The arts can be successfully used anywhere to promote healing.
Finally, we as parents, teachers, and policy makers need to fully acknowledge that every student learns differently. Each student has differing learning preferences, differing readiness, and differing expressive needs. The arts pay homage to these differences; they adapt to where the student is in his/her learning and expression. They allow for differentiation of learning within a classroom. They can be applied to and expressed in all areas of study. If you go to any school that values the arts, you will see higher attendance rates and more engaged and well-rounded students. You will see joy.
We want our students engaged in school and learning. We want emotionally healthy students. We want creative people entering the workforce. We cannot continue educating our children the way we were educated because times have changed. We know so much more about teaching and learning, and we must put that knowledge into practice. The arts MUST be an important and integrated part of our practice! We have too much to lose…
Dal Drummer, WATG Board Advisor
So Much More Than Expected; The Importance of Summer Experiences for Gifted Learners
As I write, it is currently -2 degrees with a windchill factor that is easily in the negative double digits. Ah. Winter in Wisconsin! Summer may feel like a long way off, but these early months of the new year are the perfect time to begin planning for summer experiences for your gifted child.
For gifted kids especially, summer experiences such as camps, workshops, and specialized programs can be life-changing. Talented musicians can surround themselves with professional musicians and passionate peers at music camps. Technology workshops can allow aspiring computer programmers to extend their knowledge through classes that they may not have access to during the school year. Immersive experiences in just about every interest area can be found with a quick internet search. The intellectual stimulation that these experiences can provide talented young people is invaluable to their skill growth within their chosen area of study.
But summer experiences do so much more than provide academic rigor and skill development. Rarely do gifted students have the opportunity to surround themselves with true intellectual peers who think like they think, who “geek out” over the same things they do, and who share similar struggles related to their giftedness. Participating in a summer program gives gifted children this much needed time with true peers who will challenge them and inspire them.
A case in point is my daughter. This past summer, my 14-year old received an invitation to participate in an intensive summer experience with a professional ballet company out of state. Being as young as she was, I traveled with her, and the two of us spent the month in the south where she spent 8 hours a day living and breathing ballet. Despite the blisters, sore muscles, bruises, and the sheer physical exhaustion of those four weeks, I have never seen my daughter so alive. Training with other passionate teens from around the country allowed her to test her skills in a bigger pond than what our small midwestern town can often offer her. This inspired her to set goals for her own development and her future training. The incredible talent pool that she found herself in also meant that she had to up her game, so to speak, and she quickly realized what it means to persevere when things are challenging. Her growth as a dancer was phenomenal.
But what I truly believe was the most valuable part of this experience was that in this environment, she finally felt comfortable in her own skin. My shy teenager felt safe enough to begin to break out of her shell. At home, she struggles to find people who feel as passionately about ballet as she does, but this summer she had others who ONLY wanted to talk about ballet 24/7, just like her. For the first time she could have heated debates about what is truly the most challenging pas de deux ever choreographed or who the best prima in history really is. The connections that she made through this program have provided her with a support system that has continued to sustain, challenge, and inspire her since we returned home.
As you think about what the summer of 2023 will look like for your family, I hope that you will consider what a summer experience can do for your child both intellectually and emotionally. If you need help finding a program that would be a good fit for your child, reach out to your school’s GT Coordinator or contact WATG (we are always happy to help!). Know that many programs offer scholarships to help with expenses; be sure to check these out. Here is a brief list of summer opportunities provided by our WATG partners:
UW-Stevens Point Camps
Belin Blank Center Summer Programs
Center for Talent Development at Northwestern
Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth
Institute for Educational Advancement
S.O.A.R. Summer Camp
And don’t forget, in addition to scholarship opportunities offered by individual programs, WATG offers financial assistance for summer experiences to help offset the tuition costs for families. Watch our website for scholarship application information being released soon!
Nicole Meier, WATG Board Member
How Can Parents Advocate for and Support Gifted and Talented Services at Their Schools?
Parents play an important role in facilitating their gifted child’s needs, including advocating for appropriate support of gifted services within their child’s school. First, parents need to be clear about what services are available for their gifted child, because each school may have varying program offerings. A question parents/caregivers could ask their child’s school would be: What services are available to ensure my child is properly challenged? Depending on the students’ level and need, gifted services may happen at a Tier 1, Tier 2, and/or Tier 3 level. For parents/caregivers unfamiliar with the tiers, “Most often, Tier I makes up the general educational classroom setting, plus any teacher differentiation” (Peters & Brulles, 2017, p. 39). Most gifted children’s needs are met at this level; however, when a students’ needs are unmet at a Tier 1 level, instruction at a Tier 2 and/or 3 level will be required. It is essential for parents to know the variety of ways their child will receive gifted services (Tier 1/Tier 2/Tier 3) so they can better understand how the school is supporting their gifted child.
Once a student has been identified as needing gifted services, most schools will create a gifted learner plan (sometimes called a DEP, or differentiated educational plan); however, this is not always the case. It is essential that parents/caregivers understand the components of that plan, including services offered, progress monitoring, and goals related to those identified services. If the school or district does not have an identified gifted learner plan, parents/caregivers could ask for one. This is an important tool to utilize when advocating on behalf of your child. A question parents/caregivers could ask their child’s school personnel to assist with this would be: Does the school/district have a plan for my child? Once a plan has been constructed and communicated with the family, parents/caregivers can use it as a way to continue advocating for their child, monitoring their child’s progress, and celebrating successes along the way.
Finally, continual communication between parents/caregivers and educators is important in meeting gifted students’ needs. Unfortunately, “Much of the conflict between schools and parents over gifted identification is due to unclear or illogical policies…” (Peters & Brulles, 2017, p. 56). A gifted learner plan can serve as a way to continue communication regarding how a student is progressing within the gifted services being offered at the school. For parents/caregivers, a question that could be asked to assist with this would be: When will we revisit the goals identified in the gifted learner plan? Both parents/caregivers and educators have the same goal: to appropriately challenge students so they have the opportunity to grow and learn every day. Partnering with your child’s school, while also advocating for his/her needs, is a worthwhile pursuit.
~Jenna Cramer, Ed.D.
WATG Board of Directors
Peters, Scott J., and Dina Brulles. Designing Gifted Education Programs and Services : From Purpose to Implementation, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uwsp/detail.action?docID=6732753.
¿Como pueden los Padres ayudar y abogar por Servicios para Talentos Excepcionales en sus escuelas?
Los padres juegan un papel muy importante para cubrir las necesidades de los niños con talentos excepcionales, incluyendo el abogar por el apoyo apropiado de servicios para niños con talentos excepcionales en la escuela. Primero, los padres necesitan tener claridad sobre los servicios que están disponibles para sus hijos con talentos excepcionales, porque cada escuela podría tener una variedad de programas que ofrecer. Una pregunta que los padres/tutores podrían hacer a la escuela de sus hijos es: ¿Qué servicios están disponibles para asegurar que a mi hijo se le desafía adecuadamente? Dependiendo del nivel y necesidad de los estudiantes, los servicios para talentos excepcionales podrían ser en el Nivel 1, Nivel 2, y/o Nivel 3. Para los padres/tutores que no están familiarizados con estos niveles, “La mayoría de las veces el Nivel 1, constituye el entorno educativo general del salón de clases, además de cualquier diferenciación de maestros” (Peters & Brulles 2017, p. 39). La mayoría de las necesidades de los niños con talentos excepcionales se satisfacen a este nivel, sin embargo, cuando las necesidades de los estudiantes no se satisfacen en el Nivel 1, se requerirá instrucción de Nivel 2 y/o Nivel 3. Es esencial que los padres conozcan la variedad de formas en que sus hijos recibirán servicios para talentos excepcionales (Nivel 1/Nivel 2/Nivel 3) as ellos pueden entender mejor como la escuela esta apoyando a su hijo con talentos excepcionales.
Una vez que un estudiante ha sido indentificado para receibir servicios para talentos excepcionales, la mayoría de las escuelas crearan un programa de aprendizaje para talentos excepcionales (algunas veces llamado un DEP, o diferenciado de un plan educativo); sin embargo, este no será siempre el caso. Es esencial que los padres/tutores entiendan los componentes de ese plan, incluyendo los servicios ofrecidos, monitoreo del progreso y las metas relacionadas con esos servicios identificados. Si la escuela o distrito no tiene un plan de aprendizaje para talentos excepcionales identificados, los padres/tutores podrían solicitar uno. Esta es una herramienta importante para utilizar cuando se esta abogando en nombre de su hijo(a). Una pregunta que los padres/tutores podrían preguntar al personal de la escuela de su hijo para apoyar con esto sería: ¿Tiene la escuela/distrito un plan para mi hijo? Una vez que se haya construido un plan y se haya comunicado a la familia, los padres/tutores puede utilizarlo con una forma de seguir luchando por sus hijos, monitoreando el progreso de sus hijos y celebrado el éxito que se presenta en el camino.
Finalmente, la comunicación continua entre padres/tutores y educadores es importante para satisfacer las necesidades de los estudiantes con talentos excepcionales. Desafortunadamente, “Mucho del conflicto entre las escuelas y padres en relación al identificación de los talentos excepcionales, es debido a que los reglamentos no son claros o son ilógicos..”(Peters & Brulles 2017, p.56). Un plan de aprendizaje para talentos excepcionales puede servir como una forma de comunicación en relación a como el estudiante progresa dentro de los servicios para talentos excepcionales que se están ofreciendo en la escuela. Para los padres/tutores, una pregunta que podrían hacer para ayudar sería: ¿Cuándo visitaremos nuevamente las metas identificadas en el plan de aprendizaje para talentos excepcionales? Ambos padres/tutores y educadores tienen la misma meta: desafiar apropiadamente a los estudiantes así ellos tendrán la oportunidad de crecer y aprender día a día. Ser aliado con la escuela de su hijo, al mismo tiempo que aboga por sus necesidades, es una búsqueda que vale la pena.
~Jenna Cramer, Ed.D.
WATG Board of Directors
Peters, Scott J., and Dina Brulles. Diseñando Programas y Servicios de Educacion para Talentos Excenpcionales: Desde el Proposito hasta la ImplementacionTaylor & Francis Group, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uwsp/detail.action?docID=6732753.
Dr. Maria Katsaros-Molzahn
WATG Secretary and Membership Chairperson
To say that a lot resonated with me during the 2022 WATG conference would be an understatement.Trying to organize these thoughts into one cohesive reflection might take some time. However, one speaker truly captured the essence of this critical time in our collective educational history, Colin Seale. I don’t take fan pictures, and yet here I am, proud as Puck:
The question that arises is: why does this person and his message resonate with me so deeply? The truth is because he is a mirror; albeit, different gender and race, yet his story and my story are eerily similar. Moreover, his success, and my success come from access to enrichment during critical times in our personal lives. As he noted, it must be understood that Maslow + Bloom need to co-exist.
Maslow is a social scientist who explained that all people need to have their basic needs met before they can develop personal autonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy focuses on academic readiness. According to Bloom, we all begin learning by remembering and then, with practice, we move up the pyramid. For years, educators have used these two models to explain learning progress. However, as Colin explained for underrepresented and underidentified kids, kind words without enrichment don’t do much. They need opportunities.
Colin and I were lucky. Somewhere, somehow, in our academic careers a teacher (for me) and an aide (for him) provided the guidance we needed just in time. In Colin’s case, an aide in second grade told his mother that she needed to test him for giftedness. He was that child that questioned everything, didn’t know how to sit still, and made life difficult for his teachers. For me, a seventh grade teacher opened the world of wonder and beauty. It should be noted that this person never showed intense interest in me as a person. Or maybe she did, but I was at such a low point that I failed to see it. Nonetheless, her passion and dedication to all of us opened up the world for me. Both Colin and I got lucky; however, it shouldn’t be a matter of luck.
As parents/caregivers, educators, and advocates there are steps we can take to ensure that EACH child has access to opportunities. Joining the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted is a great first step https://www.watg.org/membership.html. Our organization works hard to educate and advocate for gifted individuals, especially children. We are dedicated to the interests of educators and parents/caregivers as they serve children. As members, parents/caregivers have access to reduced rates and special workshops such as the Sunday pre-conference day we offered at this year’s fall conference. Through our organization, parents/caregivers have opportunities to meet more people with similar children. Together they can share parenting tips, advice, and resources.
One current opportunity is our newly formed Parent Book Club. In this club, we will be reading and discussing Raisin’ Brains. In this heartfelt and humorous story, author Karen Isaacson paints a wonderful picture of the trials, tribulations, and amazing adventures that come with parenting this population. We look forward to discussing this book as a community, and look forward to having you join us. All of the details you need are in the link above. Happy reading!
Almost 2 decades ago, I had the privilege of earning my Master’s degree in Special Education from Loyola University, in Chicago. It wasn’t until July 2021 that I realized how interconnected my career in special education would be with my new journey as the parent of a gifted child.
Previously, I spent fifteen years as a developmental and behavioral therapist and consultant overseeing private programming for children who were diagnosed with Autism, Down Syndrome, and Seizure Disorders, and had been internationally adopted. I spent time in their homes, collaborating with private preschools and working with their other therapists to provide whole-child care. I facilitated programming for their young children, replacing school days in self-contained classrooms with mainstream inclusive school settings. I understood their needs. I collected data. I curbed behaviors. I supported the parents and siblings as they navigated the new structure provided in their homes.This eased tensions and allowed families to function in a more productive manner. And most importantly, it was my job to fiercely advocate for their children’s needs with school personnel.
The children I worked with were often those who didn’t have any verbal skills at six years old, who craved constant sensory input, who up until my time with them, didn’t relate to others… and who were consistently offered nothing more than 30 minutes of speech and 15 minutes of Occupational Therapy per week, services that fell immeasurably short of meeting their needs. And that is where I learned how critical advocacy was for these children, and any children in an educational system that pledged “not to leave anyone behind.”
My clients were outliers; traditional education wasn’t designed for them. They each had unique profiles. Some had great eye contact, others were apraxic. There were children who banged their heads against the wall when frustrated and those that chewed inedible objects to satisfy their oral fixations. There were also kids who could read at 3 ½ with no formal training, those who had unnoticed seizures, and even some who were indistinguishable from their peers until they reached kindergarten.
Over time, my job evolved from creating and managing in-home programs to advocating to get “my kids,” (no matter how far they strayed from the norm), into inclusive classroom settings where they had their best chance of learning and adopting appropriate behaviors and language with their neurotypical peers. While I still supported my clients at home and collaborated with their private therapy providers, my focus became proving how critically necessary inclusive education was for each child. Luckily, for the kids and families I worked with, my data, programming support, and school observations provided strong cases for each of them to be mainstreamed, and 10-15 years later, I am proud to say they are graduating from high schools, getting their drivers’ licenses, and are much more well-adjusted and successful than their peers who stayed in self-contained classrooms receiving minimal support from schools.
Now, almost twenty years later, I am a mother of two. My son, 9, was identified as gifted through a private evaluation a year ago, and it became apparent that school wasn’t meeting his needs. Armed with my years of advocacy skills and the awareness that our educational system isn’t designed with outliers in mind, I contacted our local public school in late August after my efforts at his private independent school failed. This time though, I was not willing to hear “no”. Our public schools, by state law, have an obligation to educate gifted learners, and I came to the table prepared - with the evaluation results, my experience as a mom, and my decades of experience as a special educator. I plead our case.
The school and school district, (a new one for the 3rd time in 5 years), reviewed my son’s private evaluation and was now willing to talk. They wanted to complete the IOWA Scale of Acceleration and complete a few more supplemental tests. He was an excellent candidate for acceleration, and, with very little hesitation on anyone’s part, we agreed on a full grade acceleration, with a double acceleration in math. His 31 year veteran teacher, a true gift to education, found ways to keep my son engaged, celebrating his gifts and talents with her students and championing his successes. He finished his first year at the new school with a smile on his face and a hope for continued recognition of his diverse skill set and unique needs.
Summer was spent playing instruments with the district’s middle and high school music groups and absorbing as much math as possible. This fall a simple transition was expected - fifth grade with one of his best buddies, a van to take him and a few peers to the middle school each day for sixth grade math, the promise of Jazz Band. Our son, at nine years old, was finally afforded the opportunities to flex his musical prowess and passion for mathematics in our neighborhood school district. This was how a fairy tale should end…
But here we are, one week into school. The mathematics acceleration might not be enough. The accelerated, extra curricular musical opportunities don’t follow policy and are denied. So, once again I put my advocacy hat on, email the appropriate parties and start the process for a Performing Arts Gifted & Talented Evaluation, and (im)patiently await the results of the Fall STAR Math test and a plan to ensure that my son’s 90 minutes daily in sixth grade math is meeting his needs.
And so this fall, my former career and my current life collide once again. My son isn’t easy to educate. His brain, like those of my special education students in Chicagoland, works differently. He craves a pace of education that most cannot provide. His motivation is driven by challenge. He strays as far from the norm as some of my youngest clients did when they started their educational journeys. He needs a school and district willing to set aside their policies and think outside of the box to meet his unique needs. And as his mother and forever special education advocate, I will not stand idly by. I will be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease - for students such as my son who need customized and appropriate educational plans. My next mission will be to advocate for his friends who are twice-exceptional; the need for advocacy never ends.
Mary Pape, Board Member
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Dealing with Change
You can feel the crispness in the air. The days aren’t as long anymore. The palette of the landscape is changing. Recently a co-worker of mine who lives in Northern Wisconsin said, “The ferns are dying. Summer is over.”
That kind of change is good. It marks rebirth and helps us reset.
But some changes make us more uncomfortable.
My oldest has an issue with change. This year he moves into a different school. He is a seventh grader, so he will be in middle school for the first time, sharing a building with eighth graders.
He has dreaded this first day of school since last spring. We have had many dinner conversations about expectations and new beginnings. I think that may have put him at ease a little bit, but he still has a hard time not knowing what’s happening next.
I told him that I completely get it. Trusting something, whatever it may be, is really hard. I remember when I was a tyke and it took me a while to jump into the community pool, even though I knew that my big strong dad was going to catch me.
These are the times that we must flood our children with positivity and belief in their capability. Words like, “You’ve got this!” or “No problem!” can help. Just reinforce that it’s OK (and normal) to be anxious about new things, and give them the reassurance to overcome that. Share experiences from your own life.
Sometimes anxiety over change persists in our adult life. For example, I am a grown man and I still get nervous whenever Costco changes where various items are kept. Now this is a silly reason to be anxious, but we are all creatures of habit. I only get one of my two favorite subs from Subway, and I’ve been doing that for about 25 years. Just think about that. The Subway menu is vast and has many different kinds of bread, meat, and cheese options, but I only opt for the meatball or Subway melt. Perhaps you have some quirks like this, too?
We always revert to what is comfortable, safe, and predictable.
So if your children are having a tough time transitioning/handling change, try some things to make it a little bit easier. Hide their favorite piece of candy in their backpack, write a note of love and support and e-mail it to them the night before school starts, or tuck a favorite family photo into their folder…the possibilities are endless.
Life is filled with positive challenges. It’s how you handle those challenges that will ultimately define what those challenges mean and how important those challenges are in shaping behaviors, motivations, and goals.
There’s nothing wrong with change. (We just have to keep reminding ourselves of that.)
WATG Board Member