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Experts Advise on Supporting Low-Income Gifted, Talented Students

While the problems with identifying and nurturing gifted and talented students from low-income and minority families are well established, despite years of attacking the issue from many angles, it remains, said speakers at a National Association for Gifted Children's national summit this week.

"It is time for us to be finished with this problem," said Joy Davis of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. "We've been at this for a long time. We've got to do better."

Too often, it's assumed these children don't have the same potential as their white, middle- and upper-class peers. But there are no rules about who can't qualify.

Tiombe-Bisa Kendrick, a school psychologist for Miami-Dade Public Schools in Florida, recalls the story of a 6-year-old she evaluated recently for his potential for gifted programs. The boy was born after just 24 weeks of gestation and arrived weighing only about 1 1/2 pounds. Early intervention services helped him develop his speech and other skills, and the boy, from a poor African-American family, has a very high IQ.

Thankfully, his general education and special education teachers thought to refer him for an evaluation. He might have been easily overlooked.

Once the students overcome the hurdle of identification, some must deal with programs that aren't equal to those in wealthier parts of town. At some of the schools she serves, students have access to a part-time gifted teacher a day or two a week. At wealthier schools in her district, students have several academic classes in a gifted environment every day.

Aside from missing out on enrichment opportunities and challenging classwork, these students are at a disadvantage in another way, said Tracy Cross, who specializes in gifted education at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. These children are often going against cultural norms.

"Our children of high ability desperately need a sense of belonging," Cross said. "They need to be together at school."

Their families may need extra support, too. Kendrick said she works with some students through high school in a counselor role, helping with college applications and applying for financial aid. She tells families about enrichment programs beyond school boundaries that many wealthier families seem to ferret out on their own. She even gives some students coping skills for living in violent communities, a reality for many of them.

Whatever skills some gifted students possess to rise above these challenges must be studied and explored, Davis said.

"Resiliency, coping... we need to have a better handle on these traits," she said.

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