The sun has recently set on another summer of SOAR Camp. Around forty campers gathered together to say their goodbyes to their comrades and support group from the week. The unique thing about these campers is that they are all gifted. SOAR Camp is a traditional summer camp in northern Wisconsin for gifted middle level children. While being a traditional camp and offering the activities a camp might (i.e canoeing, swimming, crafting, hiking, star gazing, campfire songs, etc.) additional special activities and lessons were prepared for them throughout the week in order to support the needs of these gifted youth. This programming not only supplemented learning and inspired passion for exploration in a world where they are cornered into boredom, but also provided a platform for young gifted students to learn self-advocacy and connect with other gifted kids (https://soarcamp.weebly.com/) .
As I watched these kids sit around a campfire and sing “Lean On Me” or heard them exchange experiences and find companionship based on their shared intellectual prowess, I was struck by several things. First, the campers had an incredible sense of humor. Lightning quick and light-hearted, they were continually patient with me as they explained punchlines that ‘soar’ed over my head (forgive the pun). That same patience and humor was shown among the peer group in other ways. Gifted students oftentimes have intensities that are not exhibited in the general population (http://sengifted.org/overexcitability-and-the-gifted/ ). The campers, instead of being critical of one another, could often see a reflection of themselves in the actions and reactions of their peer group. One of my favorite examples of this was on the first day of the camp. The campers were playing an ice breaker game together and one piped up to some occurrence or another “you’re so immature! You’re not being socially appropriate” to which another camper laughingly responded while trotting by “we’re at Geek Camp, none of us are socially appropriate!!” This humor, protectiveness, and lightheartedness, was readily given at every turn at camp because these campers found safety and comradery in one another. They had the space and trust to finally find a strong voice for themselves among peers and adults.
So how do we create the same space and trust for our gifted students in the “real world?” Isn’t that our job as parents, teachers, educators, and advocates to offer protection and safety for these talented youth? This doesn’t necessarily mean creating a “protective bubble” for gifted learners. Rather, this means offering scaffolded support that allows youth to create a platform on which to flourish. This kind of support offers assistance and ‘upkeep’ when needed without threatening the unique integrity and structure of the learner. It allows for collaborative work with others on programming for gifted youth as well as supporting their social and emotional needs. This support is flexible enough to adapt and grow with the learner without forcing the learner to adapt to a system that doesn’t work for them. Most importantly, this style of support leaves room for the learner to have a voice to advocate for themselves in a space that offers safety and protection (http://www.gtcarpediem.com/self-advocacy-overview/) .
As we briskly approach the beginning of another school year, how do we as a community of educators, parents, and advocates for gifted youth, achieve the goals of this proposed “scaffolded support?” Referencing the song “Lean on Me” that was so powerful for the campers, if you are the ‘strong one’ in your district or area, I urge you to be the support for others to lean on. Call your state and local representatives, be part of brainstorming conversations on meeting the needs of gifted kids in your district, donate to ‘worthy causes’ when able, and remember to be at the table. If you are the one who needs to do the leaning, don’t be afraid to call on resources… we’ve been there. We can help grow the support network and offer strength in numbers. Find the “champions” in your school, network within your CESA’s, ask if you do not understand or need guidance, and join us at the State Fall 2018 WATG Conference (http://www.watg.org/about-the-conference.html) . Don’t be afraid to be the one to say, “How can we make this work?”… These learners depend on the support you are willing to give so that they have the room to use their voices and succeed because… we all need somebody to lean on.