Here are more letters in reaction to Jacqueline Morgan's May 26 letter wondering about the effect of gifted programs on students not designated gifted:
Dear Extra Credit:
My son entered Fairfax County schools when he was in the third grade. Like any doting parent, I knew my son was extremely bright, and as his first teacher it was my highest priority to ensure an optimal learning environment for him.
While I was enthused at the GT opportunities Fairfax County provides, my son's efforts have managed my expectations. Because he was enrolled in private schools from kindergarten through grade 2, I paid for him to take IQ tests offered at George Mason University the summer before he entered third grade in Fairfax County. His dismal results devastated him (and me), so I immediately focused less on those test scores and more on the importance of his being a well-balanced student.
He's now finishing fourth grade and we continue to focus on improving his study habits, reading and writing. His incentives for doing his best include participation in football, wrestling and summer camps.
Recently, he's been enrolled in a GT math "enrichment" class. Even though this added to his workload, he is motivated to prove he has earned a place in the math GT area. As for his other subjects, I'm still encouraging/threatening/begging him to give them his best effort.
While I still think my son is bright, I'm convinced that his intelligence is not based on GT enrollment but more on his efforts in performing his best, regardless of his grade-point average. When he knows that he's done his best, he can strut just as proudly as the kid who has the mind-set for the GT program. So I think he's right on target for being a well-balanced student -- and athlete. The bigger challenge we face is to make sure he's not burned out before college!
Cub Run Elementary School
Dear Extra Credit:
We empathize with Jacqueline Morgan, whose daughter is "average." We have 7-year-old twins in second grade at a private school this year. Our son has been accepted to the GT center at Bull Run Elementary. His twin sister was not accepted. Obviously, we are getting lots of questions from them, mostly along the lines of "Is he smarter?" "Why?" and "What about me?" Our answers have centered around the idea that everyone is different and everyone learns differently and at a different pace. We emphasize that the GT classes do not mean that he is "better" or that she is "worse" in school; they just mean that he learns some things faster and that each of them will be in a class that is just right for them. From what we can tell, Bull Run tries hard not to label the GT center kids as the "smart" group or set them apart within the school. But the reality is, that is why they are there.
Our son's level of learning and understanding exceeds that of many of his peers. We have encouraged both our children to learn, but he independently goes five steps beyond any guidance we give.
Unfortunately he, like many other gifted kids, is teased and set apart by other children in his class because of his natural desire to learn and his ability to do so quickly. We are thrilled that Fairfax County has the ability to provide a challenging curriculum for him, with other children who are at his level and will hopefully understand him. The biggest concern we have for him is that he will become bored and either lose interest in school or start misbehaving.
GT classes at a young age help us increase the chance that he will work to his potential. In addition, Bull Run's GT center program integrates various social development and practical lessons into the curriculum, which many gifted children are lacking. Our son will learn to relate to others, work in groups, organize his work and not demand an unreasonable level of perfection from himself. He will be challenged in his work so that he doesn't give up later in life when he attempts something that is difficult or takes extra time. And he will do this with other kids who need the same skills and who can relate to him and accept him as another kid, not as "the smart one" or "the know-it-all."
Our daughter, on the other hand, will be challenged very well in a standard class. She does not need an accelerated or more challenging curriculum to keep her engaged. Yes, she recognizes a difference between herself and her brother, but we are careful to emphasize that this is just one of many differences between them and that she has her own strengths that may or may not be related to school. Do I wish she were in the GT center program? No. She would not do well there.
We should be celebrating the fact that Fairfax County provides appropriate learning opportunities for all our kids, not just the GT kids, but also those who need extra help, those with attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder and all the other kids who don't learn according to a cookie-cutter standard. All our children should get the help they need at whatever age the need is observed. We don't wait until high school to identify and help kids who learn more slowly than their peers, so why should we wait until then to help kids who learn faster? And why should the label of gifted be any more obvious or singled out than a label of athletic or dyslexic?
St. Timothy's School parent
Dear Extra Credit:
The letter from Ms. Morgan seemed to reflect her own insecurities rather than those of her child. I was a mediocre student, as were my children and husband. I always told my own children, as my mother told me, "Smart in school does not equate to being smart in the real world."
My husband, a successful businessman, has two master's degrees (one from Harvard). I have two degrees from Columbia University and a PhD in economic history from the University of Virginia. One daughter is a stellar schoolteacher and trains polo ponies, the other is a communications specialist with SAIC, and my youngest runs a venture capital office in New York City. The point is, we are all different and excel at different things at different times in our lives. I do think that rather than moaning and groaning about her 8-year-old not doing as well as her friends, Ms. Morgan should concentrate on telling her child that she has other gifts, which I am sure she has.
Former Cooper Middle School
and Langley High School
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