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Article of Interest - Gifted

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Bridges4Kids LogoBroward Parents Find Programs Inadequate for Gifted Children at Some Schools
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 minds."

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 students.

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 field.

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 problems!"

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 inflexible.

"It's sad," Ruiz said, "but I'm happy I don't have to deal with it anymore."


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