There were many interesting reactions to Jacqueline Morgan's letter last week wondering about the effect of gifted programs on students who are not designated gifted. Here are a few. There will be more responses in future columns.
Dear Extra Credit:
I just read the letter from the mother who was concerned about her daughter's self-esteem crumbling as a result of not being accepted into the GT program. First of all, she needs to understand that being accepted into the GT program isn't all that it is cracked up to be. I know because I have a rising sixth-grader in a GT center.
While I am thrilled that her academics stimulate and challenge her, I am not always thrilled with the volume of homework she has and the inconsistencies between the teachers, their training and their abilities to communicate. Frankly, some teachers believe we should only focus on academics. This is not acceptable to us, because we are trying to raise a well-rounded individual who is interested in many things. Therefore, we are constantly struggling to find a balance between a happy home life, fun extracurricular activities and mounds of homework.
My advice to this parent is to enjoy her children and love them for who they are in this world. Read to them and read with them. Explore the world around them. And remember to focus on what makes each one of her children special and unique.
Greenbriar West Elementary
Dear Extra Credit:
A few years ago, I was in my daughter's first-grade classroom working on math problems with small groups of students. One group was particularly diverse and had a child who was obviously ahead of the others in math skills. When another child had a difficult time coming up with an answer, this first child began bragging about how good he was at math (which he was).
I began talking about what a great ice hockey player the second boy was: He could skate forward and backward and was a star on his team. Both boys left the group feeling good about themselves and respecting the other a little more.
What I had to remind them, and what all parents need to remember, is this: While one person may excel at something that we measure academically, another may excel at skills not measured in schools. We offer GT programs for soccer, basketball, ice hockey, etc. -- only we call them "select" or "varsity." If no one has a problem with GT soccer for those who excel on the field, then why should we hesitate to offer GT programs for those who excel in the classroom?
Colvin Run Elementary
Dear Extra Credit:
I read with interest The Post's online Extra Credit column today, where a mother expressed concern about her daughter's being upset to be in the "average" group, as two friends were placed in the "gifted and talented" classes.
My family moved to Fairfax County just before my sixth-grade year, from a school district in Illinois where I had been part of a gifted program that had pulled me from classes for a few hours a week. When we arrived in Virginia, I tested into the GT classes and for the first time in my schooling went to class with others who didn't tease me for being the teacher's pet, a fast reader or an eager student.
I truly feel that the GT track was a wonderful thing for me and helped me to learn more -- not only because of the enriched and challenging classes (which, believe me, occasionally led to tears as I earned my first-ever report card that wasn't all A's) but because I finally felt safe learning among my classmates. So it could be that my viewpoint is a little skewed!
However, I'm inclined to believe that the GT tracking isn't to blame for the 8-year-old being upset. Instead, I suspect that it's the children's perceptions and reactions (the very forces that work against so many gifted kids like myself). If children are told, and learn, that some kids are smarter while others are just average, it's a divisive start that will lead to cliques and feelings of exclusion and disappointment.
There are far better ways to express the fact that people learn better at different levels. Her gifted friends are getting more challenging work, which has benefits and drawbacks -- they are surely getting more homework than she is. However, she will now have more of her teacher's attention with her math, which she struggles with, and she is more likely to be taught at her level.
There is nothing inherently better about a child being gifted, just as there is nothing inherently wrong with being average. Each is simply a designation, framed to help teach children in ways that more closely match individual strengths and weaknesses. The more we realize this and emphasize it in schools, the fewer hurt feelings all around.
Correction: I erred in saying Fairfax picks students who test in the top 5 percent for the GT program. Fairfax schools spokesman Paul Regnier said GT coordinator Carol Horn told him that "it is closer to the top 12 percent, and that is just for the initial pool at second grade. After second grade and for second-grade referrals, test scores are one criteria, and there is a broader range of test scores."
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