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Article of Interest - Gifted Students

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Bridges4Kids LogoMeeting Needs of Gifted Students: Children Face Problems and Challenges Often Overlooked
by Tiffany Erickson, Deseret Morning News, January 13, 2004
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Maria slept with books — not stuffed animals — and was reading well before kindergarten. Zach was reading instructions to board games and teaching peers how to play them at 5 years old. And Rebecca could say the alphabet and identify letters at 18 months.

While gifted and talented students can be found in every ethnic and socioeconomic group, these three children all live under the same roof.

And, say parents and experts, gifted students are an often-misunderstood group, facing challenges and problems frequently overlooked.

Maria, Zach and Rebecca's mother, Ruthann Gibbs of Murray, said raising gifted children is a daunting and exhausting experience. Her first child, Maria, 14, was bright, but she began to show signs of sadness and frustration in kindergarten. In the following couple of years Maria basically started shutting down.

She was bored. Behavioral challenges increased at home and tests showed that she might have ADD. But Maria was doing seventh-grade math in the fourth grade and was reading everything she could get her hands on. She caught on to everything put in front of her and Gibbs realized that many signs pointed to giftedness.

Linda Alder, coordinator of gifted and talented programs at the Utah State Office of Education, said a gifted and talented student can be defined as a child who has some skills and abilities different than an average student in one or several areas. They range from reading, math, leadership to critical or productive creative thinking.

Nonetheless, boredom, frustration and losing interest put many of those students at risk.

Gibbs said critics feel that grouping and identifying gifted children is elitist, and that those children do not need special attention because everything comes to them so easily anyway. But after Maria was put in a gifted and talented pull-out program, which takes gifted and accelerated learners out of the regular classroom for a few hours a day for other activities, in the fourth grade things began to turn around. She started to like school. She was challenged and stimulated and began to progress again.

Alder said even though it is important to identify such students, educators with gifted and talented endorsements avoid dwelling on the label. It tends to be detrimental and leads to students feeling set apart or isolated.

Plus, the only accurate generalization that can be made about the characteristics of intellectually gifted young children is that they demonstrate their unusual intellectual skills in a wide variety of ways. They form an extremely heterogeneous group with respect to interests and skill levels.

Rebecca Odoardi, director of gifted and talented programs in Davis School District, said there are many different types of gifted children. Some are perfectionists. Some are challenging, noticing and addressing a teacher's mistakes. Some are quiet and don't want others to know or share their gift. Some have behavioral problems and may drop out. And some are autonomous, both socially and intellectually mature.

As they demonstrate above-average general performance, high levels of task commitment and high levels of creativity and applying these traits, experts say gifted students thrive with flexible pacing, more time on projects of interest and options in their assignments.

"You are typically not going to get a nice calm atmosphere in a gifted classroom," said Alder. "You will probably get a lot of activity, maybe noise and confusion and various things going on at really high levels."

But according to Scott Hunsaker, president of Utah Association for Gifted Children, the more time gifted children get to spend with others like themselves the better.

He said the National Research Center for Gifted and Talented found that when gifted children are put together in a learning setting they are more productive, motivated and meet higher achievement levels. Hunsaker attributes that to social acceptance and validation, whether it be in pull-out programs, magnet schools or gifted and talented schools.

Utah has more acceleration opportunities than many states. Most school districts offer gifted and talented pull-out programs and enrichment clusters along with magnet schools. Concurrent enrollment and early graduation are available to secondary students along with more advanced-placement classes than in any other state. Utah's AP classes also have the highest pass rate, far above the national average.

Now the Gibbs siblings are working to find their niche. After going through the frustration Maria had in her early years of education, Gibbs was able to more easily identify her other children's needs, even though they are very different.

Maria takes an Electronic High School course, has been an aide in the school's library and takes dance classes. Zach, 12, who is highly analytical and creative, is signed up for Electronic High School computer programming and plays the trumpet, piano, drums and guitar. And Rebecca, 10, was socially and intellectually developed enough that her parents allowed her to skip kindergarten and she now attends magnet programs.

But with three gifted, passionate and determined children in the home, it's not always smooth sailing, and emotional outbursts are routine. And with such broad interests, it is a race to keep them all challenged and in enough activities.

Gibbs would still like to see more attention paid to gifted students in the system.

Many educators are concerned that the federal No Child Left Behind law — which focuses on helping weaker students perform on grade level — might overlook the stronger students. They worry there could be a shift in resources.

Hunsaker said the accountability parts of the legislation focus on having students meet grade-level proficiency. It says nothing about encouraging students performing beyond those levels to meet their own capabilities. There is an imbalance in programs already, but with NCLB it may be offset even more, he said.

Odoardi said it is of the utmost importance to make sure these children don't disappear in the system or become bored, frustrated and drop out.

"We can't forget those kids," said Odoardi. "This is our national treasure —the ones that can solve future problems and find cures — we cannot lose these kids."


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