During the third week of each July, I pause and reflect on “National Parenting Gifted Children Week.” It’s a quiet week, with little in the news to mark it. It’s meant to highlight the needs of children. But these kids — do they really need support? They’ll be fine, right? Why bother?
Gifted. Stereotypes about this word abound. In Colorado, the same law (ECEA law, the Exceptional Children’s Educational Act) that protects children with struggles in their physical or educational development, in a “special education” program, also protects children because their needs are, in one way or another, too advanced.
Too advanced? Is that possible? In our educational system— too advanced means that what works for everyone else your age doesn’t work for you. It means you might see it once, and learn it without 45 repetitions. It means that you sit and wait, and wait a lot, because everyone else your age is now supposed to learn what you learned last year, or two years ago.
No adult would willingly volunteer to sit through material for hours every day to “learn” what they already knew, but unfortunately this happens to kids without “gifted” education support. As a society, we hate that term, that “gifted” word.
We’re OK with our basketball stars, our football stars, our Olympic gymnasts and ice skaters, and the kids who make us laugh on TV with their “geekiness”. But quite often, our society is not OK with kids in the classrooms who need different material because they already know it. Our society is not OK with “gifted.”
When teachers go through a university teaching program, their programs can allow them to graduate without knowing that Colorado law and statute defines “gifted”; without knowing that it’s a word with specific meaning in education.
It is not about a “better” learner, a better kid, better parenting, or a better program; it’s about “different.” It’s about a learning pattern that is different and requires, by Colorado law, different support for that kid to make it. Teachers don’t often know that a high percentage of high school dropouts have been found to be “gifted,” where school did not work for them because it wasn’t different in the ways that they needed, and as a result they struggled greatly in school. Teachers don’t often know how to help parents whose kids are so different, their needs are so complicated in comparison, and as parents they don’t know who else to ask for help. Even more confounding, some children are “too advanced” and gifted in one area, and have a physical or learning struggle in another area, also. Colorado law recognizes this child needs support, too. It’s called “twice-exceptional” — two complicated needs for support — and we have teachers in Colorado who do not know this term and its possibilities. These children with these “gifted” needs and a smaller group of them with “twice-exceptional” needs are in every community- they may be wealthy, middle class, or with low income; they come from all skin colors and cultures and backgrounds, and they learn differently than kids their same age. Teachers need to be trained to recognize these different needs, to not let the needs be hidden by cultural differences, income, or family resources.
As a whole community, we need to advocate for all kids. We need to know that, for better or worse, “gifted” is just a word in educational law that says this kid needs some different help to make it.
That these kids with unusual learning patterns don’t deserve stereotypes that say, “other kids need and deserve help, but you don’t.” Drop-out rates say differently, case studies say differently, achievement data says differently, research says differently, these kids’ stories as adults say differently, and Colorado law says differently.
If you see a parent who has a “gifted” kid, please give them a pat on the back and a smile of encouragement. Please refer them to the Colorado Department of Education’s website for its resources, to the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented, to the National Association for Gifted Children, and to their school district’s website.
Parents need to know where they can go for answers, ideas, and encouragement. Because as a community, all of our kids need us — the adults who surround and support — to reach their highest potential.
Nikki Myers is the academy director and principal of Academy for Advanced and Creative Learning, a charter public school of choice in Colorado Springs District 11 since 2010.