Each school day Joshua Yamamoto, a fifth grader, takes a 45-minute bus ride past the neighborhood school where his friends in Fairfax County's Kings Park community attend classes. He goes to the Keene Mill Road Elementary School to take advanced courses with other gifted students.
By the time he returns home in the late afternoon, his friends already are playing. "They always want to know where I'm coming from so late," he said. "You feel like you're in a corner because you have to tell them where you're to be bragging."
The problem for Joshua is also one that is dividing educators: What is the best way to teach gifted students - in classes solely with other talented students or with ordinary as well as gifted students.
School system throughout the Washington area vary widely in how they educate their gifted students, with some pupils receiving extensive instruction with other talented studtents and others attending most of their classes with regular students. The gifted students often are 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 years ahead of their age group in learning various subjects.
"It is sort of our policy that there is no one good way to do it," concedes Joseph Ballard, an assistant director for the Council of Exceptional Children, a national clearing house.
"There are a lot of myths in gifted education," said John Grossi, an education specialist for the council, "People think (gifted students) will get along - just give them extra homework."
But he said gifted and talented children have problems similar to those of average students. "Gifted children are children first and gifted second," he said.
While educators debate the meerits of various types of schooling for gifted students, it is the students themselves who often are the object of ridicule by their friends simply because they attend the special classes.
In Fairfax County, where students are bused to special schools with classes solely for gifted students, the more talented students said they often are teased and called names like "weirdo" and "giftee" by students who are not in the specialized programs.
"They're jsut jealous," retorted one of the gifted students.
After being identified as a candidate for Fairfax's gifted and talented program in the third grade, Timmy Pulju, now a fifth grader, said he turned it down then. "I thought I would miss my friends. And I had to get up early in the morning (to catch the bus)," said Pulju, who is one of 12 children in his family.
In the fourth grade, Pulju decided to participate in the program after realizing that he probably would learn much more. "This (the center) helps you get an earlier start on life."
Most students generally praised the programs. "I think the program is great," said Matt O'Connor, a fifth grader at the Keene Mill Road School. "You don't have to sit around and be bored (in regular classes). Here you have a lot to do. You don't stay in the same book. We have literature, instead of reading."
"It's harder than the normal class, but I like it," said 11-year-old Elizabeth Weight, who is in the Lyles Crouch Elementary School program for the gifted in Alexandria.
Unlike Fairfax, Alexandria's school system classes only in subjects to which they are particulary talented. There students are then intergrated into regular classes in other subjects, a policy that is designed to give students a broader picture of society as a whole. In all Washington-area jurisdictions, gifted students are selected for the specialized instruction on the basis of test scores and teachers' observations. The standards vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
patt Caldwell, the teacher for gifted students at Lylles Crouch, said she tries to treat the pupils as if they were average. She often elicits a bit of discussion, even on a simple matter like turning in homework.
In a recent class, Caldwell found that several pupila weren't prepared to turn in an assignment. "Should they be penalized for turning it in late?" Caldwell asked.
Except for one pupil, everyone replied that they should not be penalized, and they weren't.
Caldwell said she thinks the gifted students should be included in classes with less talenteds tudents. "It makes the kids aware of the abilities and talents of others," she said. "They have to be honest. Not everyone in the world is gifted."
Donald E. Dearborn, director of elementary education in Alexandria, said the current program was created after studying a pilot program for the past three years. "We had a commitment to an integrated approach. We wanted the child to be with his peers . . . We try to get away from elitism."
It was the same philosophy that led Arlington school officials in the early 1970s to abandon teaching gifted students in separate schools.
"It was not popular," said Sharon Steindam, the specialist for gifted and talented students in Arlington. "The program was charged with being elitist because some kids were cut out."
Steindam said that after much pressure from parents, school officials initiated special program in regular schools. However, she said even now with the specialized programs, which are similar to Alexandria's, some parents still complain. "There are those who want to be separate (like Fairfax County's)," she said.
Fairfax County school officials began its special school approach to teaching the gifted in 1964 with nine students. Today that program has grown to seven centers and 731 elementary students.
Vincent Kashudi, coordinator of classes for gifted and talented students in Fairfax, said some parents voiced concern about the centers and requested an alternative. "They were afraid that kids would have a terrible time adjusting - that they would lose their friends," he said.
Fairfax officials bowed to those parents concerns and state education guidelines two years ago and started programs for gifted and talented students in other county schools, but kept the specialized centers as well. Those programs, however, are not as academically oriented as the centers, Kashudi said.
A recent Fairfax school study indicated that the school-based gifted instructional programs generally had a positive effect on the regular school program. "Teachers reported that teaching in the gifted program had improved their teaching in regular classes. Interviewed students repeatedly indicated that they carried into their regular classes knowledge and skills (especially discussion skills) they had gained in the specialized classes."
Despite the generally positive reaction to the school-based program, Kashudi said, "The (specialized) centers are scheduled to remain" because Fairfax officials still feel that gifted students learn more when they are taught with other talented students.
Other area jurisdictions have a variety of programs for gifted students. In Prince George's County, some elementary schools group academically talented students, while other schools pull the students out of their regular classes for certain periods of the day and week. Students in Montgomery County are groups in academic centers and placed in special classes in school-based programs.
District of Columbia school officials are developing systemwide developing programs for their gifted and talented elementary school pupils, although there are already some such classes in a few schools.
In Prince William County, seven teachers travel to elementary schools where they meet with gifted students at various times during the week. Students in Loudoun County are placed in special academic centers for one day a week or for a certain period of the day.
Most area schools also have advanced classes for gifted and talented students in high schools.