My son sits on his bed. He is leaning against his bedroom wall, legs crossed, and reading a book. The book he is reading is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This book is 700 pages long. My son just turned 9 years old.
A little girl sits in her second grade classroom. Her dark eyes look down on the desk as she breezes through a second grade math worksheet. Her parents know that she could be doing fourth grade worksheets. Her teacher probably knows this too. The girl finishes her worksheet first.
A group of first grade children work together on an art project. Each child draws an animal scene. One young boy draws an animal scene so vivid and accurate - his classmates look at the picture in amazement. So does his teacher.
These are our kids. Real Cudahy students. I know all three of them. They are, I'm sure, just a few of the many, many gifted kids in this area.
Maybe I just over-worry about things. I do that sometimes. I can't help it. From the moment my kids left my eyesight - into the care of someone else, I worried. Are they happy? Are they eating a good lunch? Are they making friends? Are they really getting a good education?
Specifically, are our smartest and brightest kids getting a good education? I worry.
Literally - every day - I read about education budget cuts. I hear about layoffs. I read about teachers who retire and are not replaced. And I see my third grade son - with so much potential - reading his sixth grade book. I watch the second grade girl - with a fourth grade intelligence - finishing her second grade worksheet. And I see the brilliant artwork of our first grade artist - doing a simple first grade project. Yes - I worry.
I know that my son belongs in a good gifted and talented and program. His teachers know this too; they've known for a long time. However, these days - as a parent, I really don't know how to make this happen. The gifted and talented program in our school, so far, plays a very small part of my son's life. And in terms of budget cuts in school districts, the gifted and talented program is usually one of the first things to go or change.
What can I do?
I know a few families of gifted kids in my son's school. One family just sold their house. They plan to move to another city this summer. Another family wants to send their child to another school district in 2-3 years. And another family moved to Franklin last year. These families all have the common goal - to provide a better future for themselves and their kids. However, will they really succeed - in an environment where school budget cuts - in all cities - seem to be an expectation rather than an exception?
Again, what can I do?
I don't want to nor plan to move. However - I do feel that my son - both my sons - all kids - should get an equal amount of academic challenge in their school day. This includes the children who are behind as well as the children who are ahead. Most schools pride themselves in helping students reach their academic potential. However, if that school gives second grade worksheets to a student who can do fourth grade work - then that school clearly, clearly, clearly is not achieving its goal.
Again, as a parent, what can I do?
Because of budget cuts, teachers are now required to take on so much more work. There are less teachers and bigger class sizes. There are less after school activities and a bigger need for volunteers. Instead of working directly with the kids - as they have done in the past - most gifted and talented teachers (usually one full time teacher - or two part-time teachers per school district) cannot do much of that anymore. Gifted and talented teachers are now advisors to the classrooms teachers. And it is now the classroom teacher's responsibility - along with everything else they do in their day - to take on the extra task of challenging our smartest kids.
Again and again and again. What can I do?
Well, I’ve done a lot of reading. And I’ve talked to a lot of people. From my minimal experience –here are some things I've learned in the past few months. I don’t know how to make the budgets cuts go away. But I do know that educating yourself is a start. If you have a child that you think is gifted, this information will hopefully help. Keep in mind, as you read this information - I am still learning. There are - I'm certain - plenty of people who know more than I do.
- Every school district should have some kind of document that clearly explains their gifted and talented program. Ask for this document. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
- It is a requirement of the state that all schools identify and provide a program for gifted students between grades K-12. The gifted and talented programs will vary from school district to school district. However, some kind of program must be provided - even to students as young as kindergarten. If you suspect that your child is gifted, get him or her tested. If your child is gifted and a program is not provided, then something is wrong and you need to question your child's school.
- Many schools in this area belong to a consortium of parents and educators called PAGE (Parent Advocates for Gifted Education). This group provides workshops, information, and networking opportunities for parents and educators of gifted students. Ask your school district if they are a member of - or would consider joining this group. PAGE is an inexpensive and invaluable resource that a school district can provide to parents and educators of gifted students.
- You must become familiar with the gifted and talented section of the Wisconsin's
Department of Public Instruction web site. This site informs you of the policies that
schools have to follow to test and service gifted and talented students.
Gifted and Talented Statutes and Rules
Gifted and Talented - Meeting Standard (t)
DPI Gifted and Talented Guide
- Finally, the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted is also a very active organization that consists of people interested in the special needs of gifted students. They offer workshops, a fall conference, forums, webinars, a speaker's bureau, and a psychologist and counseling bureau.
Remember - there is no better advocate for your child than you. This applies to so many things – to parents of children with disabilities, to families concerned about music or art program cuts in a high school, and to parents who worry (too much sometimes) that our best and brightest kids will someday just disappear in large crowded classrooms. We need to start somewhere.