Friday, April 27, 2012

Elitism? Walk a Mile in My Shoes

In the past few weeks, there have been online discussions and blog posts concerning charges of elitism directed at gifted children and their parents. Honestly, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Looking back over the past 15 years, I’ve decided that 9 months of expecting the arrival of those precious bundles of joy was akin to waiting in line at Disney’s Space Mountain. Little did I realize what lay in store … the ups and downs, the fears and joys, the extreme range of emotions that were to come.

I’m often reminded of the saying, “walk a mile in my shoes.” Believe me … it was no walk in the park. Some days felt more like being on a field-mine retrieval team as you tried to avoid making a wrong move!

 Elite? I don’t think so! Blessed? Definitely. Feeling alone? Often. Looking for answers? A never ending story. Dealing with extreme behaviors? Unfortunately.

Parenting a gifted child can be as much about sitting in the audience of an award ceremony as waiting in an emergency room. Gifted children come with their own set of rules, idiosyncrasies, special needs … almost from the moment they draw their first breath. There are over-achievers and under-achievers, profoundly gifted, highly gifted, creative types … the list goes on and on.

What does one say to the critics who think we “have it so good?” Ohmmmm ….. How do we cope with our situation? We become informed parents. By the time your child has grown into adulthood, you’ll be wondering why some institution of higher learning has not offered you an honorary degree ~ because you will have earned it! Nothing trumps a good education, and in this case; consider it to be an independent study.

Whenever confronted with an issue dealing with my gifted children, I would scour the Internet looking for articles; go to the library seeking books; seek out professionals who I thought might have ‘the’ answer … someone to solve my perceived problem. Too often, it simply did not happen. You see, all bets are off when parenting gifted kids.

Ultimately, you will find your answer. It becomes easier the more you learn about gifted children. You’ll also learn that charges of “elitism” are voices of the unknowledgeable. Always remember, you are not alone. Keep searching. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gifted Education in Rural Areas

    Does it make a difference where a child lives with regard to their education? Why, yes … yes it does! In fact, it matters a great deal. In the U.S., 40% of American schools are considered rural; towns with populations of less than 2,500 people.[1] In other parts of the world, the percentage is even higher.
    The University of Iowa conducted a survey of rural educators and found some strengths in rural education overall. As might be expected, the role played by the community-at-large was greater than that of an urban area. Smaller numbers of students allowed for more inclusive participation in activities of all kinds. Less mobility of students resulted in greater stability of cohesive classrooms. Teachers got to know their students and were more invested in influencing educational outcomes.
    What does this mean for gifted education? How do these factors influence the way in which teachers deliver services to gifted students? There are pros and cons to rural life when considering the education of academically gifted students.
    Many advocates today – me included – would like to see ability grouping in the classroom. In rural communities, multi-grade/age classes are more common than in other settings. It’s an easy transition for teachers to segue into grouping students by ability without regard for age. If truth be told … it’s a rather ‘natural’ way of educating children. Now if we could only convince other educators of the benefits of this method!
    For one reason or another, people in rural areas tend to value education more; another finding of the Iowa study. This is a huge benefit for schools; having the support of family and community members. Children are expected to work hard, complete assignments and generally to do their best in school.
    The cons of rural life for gifted students often involve lower actual numbers of students identified as intellectually gifted. In Mary St. George’s (New Zealand) excellent post, “Are Rural Needs Different in Gifted Education?”,  she wrote,

        “Whatever rural teachers in small schools can do, they can’t organise

        rural parents to synchronise the delivery of gifted babies in convenient

        batches so that gifted rural children can grow up rubbing shoulders

        with others like themselves.”

Parents of gifted children often struggle to find intellectual peers for their kids, but this can become a more daunting task in rural areas. One response to finding peers for your child is to search online gifted communities. Parents need to be active participants in connecting their children, and it can be a very rewarding endeavor.
    In an article in The School Administer , Donald Kordosky suggested 4 key points to improving gifted education in rural areas. They were 1) raise awareness of the needs of gifted students, 2)establish clear standards for identification/eligibility for gifted programs, 3) professional development in gifted education for regular classroom teachers, and 4) GIEPs for all gifted students. Come to think of it … those are excellent suggestions for all gifted education.
    Dr. Susan Assouline of Belin-Blank at the University of Iowa offers the following strategies for gifted students in rural school districts: 1) meet the child where they are at, 2) utilize acceleration when appropriate, 3) utilize online classes if available, 4)increase opportunities for students to come together  (such as at competitions and conferences), and 5) consider mentoring or study abroad opportunities.
            I would leave you with these sage words penned by Dr. Joy Lawson Davis in her blog post entitled, “Rural Area Gifted Learners” ~ “While we are considering the needs of gifted learners ... this is just a brief appeal to NOT forget about the young scholars sitting in 'the country' in classrooms where they are bored, looking out of windows contemplating the solar system, the earth's ecology, designing a futuristic vehicle, writing the next classic novel in their minds, creating poetic verse, or developing a solution to world peace OR the cure to cancer.. these students need our attention too.”

[1] Gifted Education in Rural & Small Districts, Colorado Department of Education, 2005.