Parents Find Programs Inadequate for Gifted Children at Some
by Jamie Malernee, Sun-Sentinel, October 28, 2003
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Alex Ruiz began
reading at age 3. Now the bilingual first-grader already is
polishing off Harry Potter novels and adding four-digit numbers.
His mother, Dalida, pulled him out of Peters Elementary in
Plantation recently, opting for a new charter school. She says
she couldn't get his previous school to give him the advanced
academics he needs.
"I'm bored," Alex, 7, sighed while still attending Peters, his
voice filled with a world-weariness beyond his years.
"Everything we do is kindergarten work. We're going out of our
Although all children are promised an equal education in public
schools, the reality is different.
Ruiz had her son tested a while back. The results put him in the
highly gifted range, near genius. The problem: Peters Elementary
doesn't have gifted programs for students as young as Alex, she
said. If Alex happened to live in an affluent part of Weston, he
could attend the public school Gator Run Elementary, where
gifted students from first grade on have access to
self-contained classes taught by one of eight specially
certified gifted teachers. But instead, he was zoned for Peters,
where half the children are poor and half are minorities. There,
few children are identified as gifted, and the school has only
one gifted teacher, who teaches only fourth- and fifth-graders.
"If that isn't discrimination, I don't know what is," said Lynn
Zophres, another mother whose first-grade son, Jake, left Peters
Elementary because he wasn't challenged there. She suspects many
other children at the school are in need of an advanced
curriculum but says the school caters to the lowest functioning
School officials could not be reached for comment despite
numerous phone calls, but inequity in gifted services is an
issue the School Board has openly acknowledged. Historically,
white students have been identified as gifted at much higher
rates than minority students, like Ruiz. Schools with more
gifted students get more money, which means they have more
teachers, resources and experience. This year, the School Board
approved funding to test all public school third-graders to
determine whether they are gifted, to try to level the playing
But Ruiz's case shows how a gifted student at one school can
receive a totally different education than a gifted student at
another. Both Ruiz and Zophres, who had enrolled their children
in private school before trying Peters, say they told public
school officials in May that their sons would need special help
to keep their minds busy. But five weeks into the school year,
both were still in regular classes with no extra services.
"We started learning `plus' today," recalled 6-year-old Jake
with a roll of his eyes before his mother pulled him out of the
school. "In kindergarten, we did plus, subtraction and word
Every time the parents tried to get more help for their
children, they say, they were met with bureaucratic red tape and
further paperwork delays.
Fay Clark, executive director of exceptional student education
and student services for the district, said of the boys: "If
they need a gifted program and it's not at that school, we'd
have to move them to another school or change programs. We have
to meet the students' needs."
The school's solution, Ruiz said, was to allow Alex to take
reading class with the fourth- and fifth-graders for one hour a
day. Although the subject material was at his level, his mother
didn't like the idea of having her 7-year-old trying to
socialize with 10- and 11-year-olds. And the plan didn't address
his other academic subjects.
Then, just as Ruiz decided to sell her house and move to Weston,
she got a letter in the mail telling her about an opening at a
local charter school, Somerset Academy in Davie. After a site
visit, both she and Zophres decided to enroll their children.
It's now a few weeks later, and both mothers are pleased. Their
boys did almost as much homework in the first two weeks of their
new school as in the previous five weeks at their old one, the
mothers said. They've gone from spelling "cat" to starting a
book report. Although the school is not teaching them a "gifted"
curriculum, students are encouraged to work in groups on
whatever level they find challenging. The boys, so advanced at
Peters that they were bored, find they are actually a little
behind their peers at Somerset. One weekend, the mothers
reviewed material the boys had missed to get them up to speed,
exploring the functions of the brain and heart.
"It's amazing, the difference. Everything is harder," Zophres
said. "Before, my son didn't want to go to school. Now, Jake is
up and dressed and it's, `We're going to be late!'"
Both mothers are happy now, but they say they worry about other
students at schools like Peters, students who aren't being
challenged and whose parents might not know their potential.
They blame the system, which they say is too slow and
"It's sad," Ruiz said, "but I'm happy I don't have to deal with
For more information on Broward gifted education, visit
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