Q. "I have a 7-year-old who was identified as gifted by the Prince George's County school system last year. They promoted him to third grade, but they still could do little for him. He showed the classic symptoms of the bored/gifted: failing grades and behavior problems. His classroom teacher and principal have suggested (almost insisted) he be enrolled in a private school.
"It makes me quite angry that equal education doesn't extend to the gifted.
"I'm at a loss to find the right school, public or private. This is complicated by the fact we really can't afford tuition. Going through the phone book doesn't give much help, and the packet of information sent by the Office of the Gifted and Talented was interesting but too general.
"I'd truly appreicate any help you can give. We may even have to move."
A. It's a good thing this didn't happen 10 years ago. Most teachers were not trained to spot gifted children at all.
Today, as you probably know, the designation in PG County is made by a group of teachers and the school principal -- the Talented and Gifted (TAG) committee -- and is based on the results of three IQ tests and a survey. Although the tests are administered to a group -- which isn't as good as an individual test -- a child is considered gifted if the score is in the 97th percentile and if a child meets seven of 10 criteria.
The committee looks to see if the child learns quickly, observes keenly, has many interests, reads and understands beyond his age level and has a big vocabulary. There are other signs, too.
A gifted child not only remembers well but processes information differently. He reasons abstractly much earlier than other children and puts people, ideas and events together in novel ways. Indeed, everything about him may be non-conforming.
There is a quickness about this child, and he is full of energy, both physcially and intellectually. He is very alert, very independent, very persistent and very sensitive. In fact, if you used one adjective to describe him best, it might be "very."
As in, you're very lucky.
Giftedness, however, can cause many problems, as you know, for it carries the regular vicissitudes of childhood and some unique ones too. The same sensitivity that makes him so emphatic also makes him discouraged easily, and he may become afraid to take risks, afraid to fail.
Although you may feel very helpless, there is a lot more support for you in Prince George's County than you may know. It's a matter of reaching out, and once you do, you may decide that private school is not the answer.
Actually any good school -- and everyone knows how much schools can vary -- will offer a great deal to a gifted child, if it can include some enrichment. If you stay in PG County, you'll be pleased to find that the TAG program, headed by the innovative Jane Hammill, is expanding to reach all gifted children in every school, starting in the second grade. Here gifted children work together for two hours a week.
There are also special pull-out programs in bigger schools, with time spent in a learning center or with a media specislist. They can work on open-ended projects, and the questions for them are on a more thoughtful level.
Stick around for a year or two and there's lots more. The system has an arts program for the gifted starting in the fifth grade, with the docents of the Hirshorn, and science programs in junior high, working with professors at NASA and PG Community College.
The Maryland State Department of Education also has a first-class summer camp program for the gifted, which your son will be ready for in a few years.
It's a matter of making the system work for you, and PG TAG, an excellent parents' group, can tell you how. Call Joan Rosenberg (249-6150). e
The organization also will remind you that every child needs a great deal of help from parents, but especially a gifted child, and he needs this more than anything else. He needs you to listen closely, to explore with him, to read to him. He also needs you to understand him better, so you can emphasize the positive.
For this there is the easy-reading textbook, "Teaching the Gifted Child," by James Gallagher (Allyn and Baker) available at the Maryland Book Exchange, and "A Handbook for Parents of Gifted and Talented" and another book called "Parentspeak." Write to the National State Leadership Training Institute at the Civic Center Tower Building, PH-C, 316 W. Second St., Los Angeles, Calif., 90012, for a catalogue on the prices of these and other books about the gifted.
There also is the Monday and Wednesday after-school program for the gifted at the Reading Center of George Washington University, which is geared to make learning so exciting that the gifted child discovers how to draw the most out of any school. Even if the $175 testing is necessary, the tuition of $325 a semester is a lot cheaper than private school.
It also would give your child -- and you -- the best of both worlds; a neighborhood school, some fine enrichment and another year to make the system work better for you.