Helping Hidden Gems

While most of the nation was focused on Iraqi oil fields, on the weekend of March 21-22 in Montgomery County, nearly 500 parents, teachers and students from all over the country turned their attention to "Diamonds in the Rough."

Co-sponsored by Montgomery County public schools, the Association for the Education of Gifted Underachieving Students and Montgomery College, this two-day conference brought together 50 leading experts from around the country to explore practical strategies for uncovering the brilliance of gifted underachieving students.

U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who serves on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, opened the conference by calling for adequate funding and a commitment on the part of the administration to truly "leave no child behind," including those who require special education to reach their full potential.

Called "twice exceptional," students who are both gifted and learning-disabled present a special challenge to educators. They can be difficult to identify. Because their giftedness often compensates for some of their learning difficulties, they generally are not failing their classes. Pulling C's and D's instead of A's, these students are often labeled lazy, inattentive or behavior problems.

The truth is that they are suffering deeply, understanding the concepts being taught, but unable to produce work or answer questions at the rate of their classmates.

Keynote speaker Jonathan Mooney gave a dramatic firsthand account of what it was like to suffer through school with dyslexia and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Because of his learning disabilities, Mooney did not read until the age of 12. However, he then went on to graduate from Brown University with a 4.0 average.

As the parent of a twice-exceptional child myself, I am grateful to Montgomery County public schools both for supporting the "Diamonds in the Rough" conference and for paving the way for education of gifted underachieving students through their gifted and talented and learning-disabled classrooms.

These centers allow for children identified as both gifted and learning-disabled to be taught at a level commensurate with their giftedness, while accommodating for their differing learning styles.

Encouraging children to meet their potential while recognizing that they might not "fit into the box" is not just important for the gifted and learning-disabled -- it is simply good teaching practice.

Janet L. Price