Gifted Diversity

by Kourtney Cockrell

A recent article in the New York Times caught my attention. It reported on how poverty continues to play a significant role in children’s access to gifted programs in New York City. The problem is growing at the kindergarten level.

I find it disheartening that in one of our country’s most diverse and populated cities, only five children from a poverty-ridden part of the South Bronx received a gifted placement for kindergarten, compared with 448 kids from a higher-income district which includes the Upper East Side, Midtown, and much of Lower Manhattan.

More often than not, we hear about the achievement gap from a basic proficiency standpoint. This article presents some of the challenges that New York is facing within the world of gifted such as too few services, inadequate identification and placement practices.  New York is not alone.  Their situation underscores the fact that educators everywhere need to be talking about best practices in identifying exceptional talent and opportunities to nurture it among all populations.

Models of success exist. Many of them involve collaboration between schools and gifted organizations.  One example is the work that we do at the Center for Talent Development (CTD).

At CTD, we offer a number of scholarship programs that identify and support underrepresented gifted students. All of our outreach programs are based on early intervention and provide comprehensive programming that includes: parental engagement, social and emotional supports and resources for college planning.

One program is Project EXCITE.  Each year, in cooperation with the Evanston school district, located just north of the City of Chicago, we select 20 – 25 third grade students.  We work closely with the children and their families through grade eight to help nurture their talent.

The kids participate in accelerated programming after school, on the weekends and during the summer. Additionally, we offer free tutoring in partnership with Northwestern University and coordinate family meetings that focus on academic achievement. We’ve made advancements along the way and each new class of students enter high school prepared and ready to succeed in honors and Advanced Placement courses.

Some of the most important lessons we have learned in working with underrepresented gifted students include: offering a flexible and multidimensional approach when identifying new students, engaging parents and families throughout, utilizing school contacts and counselors, and integrating a high level of cultural competency into the fabric of all programs, initiatives, events and communication.

We also recognize that there is no “one size fits all” approach when working with underrepresented gifted students. The issue is complex and requires educators and administrators to be inclusive, compassionate and committed to providing the necessary resources and time to sustain successful and thriving communities of underrepresented, gifted learners.

We hope that other teachers, parents and community leaders find our experience useful as they work to decrease the gaps – access, achievement and otherwise –  within the world of gifted education.

Kourtney Cockrell  is a native Evanstonian and is passionate about diversity work and education. As the coordinator for Project EXCITE, Cockrell works closely with the local Evanston community, the staff at CTD and the Evanston Public School Districts 65 and 202 to manage outreach programs and activities aimed at closing the achievement gap.

Choosing the Right School: Decisions, Decisions!

Get parents of school-aged kids together and talk invariably turns to education. “Where do your kids go to school? How do you – and they – like it?” We are all searching for that elusive “great fit” – the setting in which our kids thrive and we can relax, right?

Given my dual role as a CTD writer and a mom, I was all too happy to research gifted program options and school decisions for the winter and spring 2011 Talent newsletters.

I wish I could say my interviews led to the key to effective gifted education or one specific rubric for making the right school choice. Instead, I discovered that finding the right school for any particular child can not only involve a fair amount of trial and error, but sometimes re-evaluation year to year as well.

Two discussion-worthy ideas that emerged from interviews include the following:

1.    Knowing your Child and Asking the Right Questions are Critical

From special schools to cluster grouping to pullout or push in approaches, there are many different, and highly effective, gifted programming models. But, not all models work well for all gifted children. There are resources that can help you ask the right questions and determine the best fit. One good source of information is the NAGC web site.

What have you found effective? Share your story!

2. Acceleration as Key to a Good “Fit”

Both parents and educators commented that grade-skipping, when done with the right student at the right time, can make a difference in school “fit.” Resources cited for helping parents feel confident in the choice were the Iowa Acceleration Scale and the Institute for Research & Policy on Acceleration (IRPA). The IRPA web site has a thorough question and answer section on acceleration, and on January 29, IRPA will host a Webinar, Academic Acceleration for Advanced Learners: Practical Issues.

Has acceleration worked for you? Why or why not? Let us know what you think!

Audra Nelson is an education writer who lives with her husband and three kids, ages five and under, in the city of Chicago.