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In and of Itself

Those of us who work with gifted learners know well the misperceptions that abound regarding what we do - and why. It's easy to judge something from a distance based on the glimpses one gets when passing in the hallway. But as with anything in life, the true picture is deeper and more complex than what a glance gives.

Gifted programs are often a target of budget cuts because they aren't seen by decision-makers for their true purpose and value. And with the advent of Response to Intervention (i.e. an attempt in schools to better reach everyone where they are), I have knowledge of some schools that are eliminating their gifted programs "because the new efforts to better meet kids where they are in the classroom means GT isn't needed anymore."

I fully support every effort and strategy that assists teachers in better meeting kids where they are, but for kids who are far outside the norm, that isn't enough. Just as Special Education holds additional and unique value in and of itself for the learners who need it, so does Gifted Education. These are not good students who need some extra challenge from time to time, they are radically different thinkers and learners whose needs go far beyond just academic challenge - just as students who receive services from Special Education need "something more" than just academic support.

But what is that something more? Who better to offer insights than the kids themselves. I asked my students (most of whom DO have the benefit of advanced math & reading classes, plus other in-class accommodations) to share with you what they get from GT that they don't get from anything else. (All names are student-selected pseudonyms.)

"I get hard challenges. In class, we never get challenges. It's all so easy. That's why GT days are my best days ever." Paige, 2nd grade

"GT gives me the nerve to speak up." Dricsa, 3rd grade

"It gets me used to being challenged." Spartan, 3rd grade

"GT gives me the courage to keep thinking hard." Nia, 3rd grade

"GT helps me know how to speak up and ask for what I need." Mack, 4th grade

"Without GT, I would be missing something that would actually make me think for about five minutes." Axle, 4th grade

"I get stumped! In my regular class I'm always the first one done and I'm always getting 100% and everyone tries to copy off my paper so they can get a good grade. Not here!" Pete, 5th grade

"GT helps kids understand if they need to be challenged, tell your teacher, don't hold yourself back. You want to learn more, don't you?" Pearl Girl, 5th grade

"GT gives me a chance to cut loose and work my hardest, but it also is a little fun whereas normal class is just hard and that's it. Thanks for listening." Ryu Kami, 5th grade

"There are a ton of things that GT can give you that other advanced groups can't give you. I could write a 60 page list, but I'll just give a few. How many advanced groups can give you advice on how not to be bored in school? Or where else is it that your goal IS to be stumped? Plus, here you don't work on just one thing, you work on like seven." Snickers, 5th grade

"GT helps me when other classes are not challenging enough for me. Here, when I'm stuck on something or think I'm not good at something, my GT teacher says I can do it. That makes me think I can do something at home that I thought I couldn't do." Smiley, 5th grade

"This class has helped me express myself." Boss, 7th grade

"Advanced Studies has allowed me to learn at my own pace instead of being held back or sped up too much. I also get to choose what I want to do (as long as it's productive). Aristocrat, 7th grade

"GT has always been somewhere where your frustrations could be vented, shared, and understood. It is the place where you can be understood and accepted. All of us have these problems and social barriers. We often have had troubles connecting with other people our age, but GT gives us a chance to understand our issues and obstacles. It has also always been a place where we can challenge ourselves and enjoy being bright and unique. It has given us ways to be independent, think outside the box, and tackle our own problems. It has given us so many opportunities that will stay with us forever. I will always be grateful." Mary, 7th grade

"GT has been, and is, a really great way for me to exercise my mind. In this class, the students have enough independence to challenge themselves and try new things. I can always be assured that I will be faced with many challenges. Things I get from this class, and (usually) not other classes, are how to manage time well, how to deal with stress, how to plan ahead, and the great feeling when you FINALLY solve something you've been working on for a while. I also have learned one very important lesson from this class -- learning how to deal with, work with, and use failures to my advantage. That's how GT has helped me and what I've learned from it." Jelly, 7th grade

"GT and Advanced Studies have given me freedom and responsibility. We are in charge of ourselves and are expected to figure out how to do things our way. We don't get this luxury in other classes. Because of this, Advanced Studies is my most-looked-forward-to class. I love this independence." Pudge, 7th grade

"I have learned to be patient and that for being more advanced I don't need to be frustrated about being farther ahead of everyone else. I would be increasingly not fun to be around if I didn't have GT." Mr. Panda Face Guy, 7th grade

"I have gained many friends who are similar intellectually to myself, which I believe is a rather important part of adolescent development. GT has helped me feel less like a child being told what to do over and over again and more like a child becoming an adult. Without GT, I would be forced to remain a child being directed without much freedom." Genome, 7th grade

"Without GT, I would be failing school and getting high. No doubt about it. Without any exaggeration, this class and the people in it have helped to define my entire character. I've been in this class basically as long as I've been a student, and this class is the reason I'm interested in things like math, science, and going to a good college. Without this class, I would never have cared about school. I would have driven my life into a hole and dragged my ambitions down with me. It's only a class, but through it I have discovered endless opportunities, a bright future, and almost all of my friends. This class doesn't just make it possible for me to achieve my goals, it makes it possible for me to know myself and to "be me." Allonsa of Gallifrey, 8th grade

"I think GT has given me a stable and yet free environment. I've been given everything I need to WRITE. During this class, the only thing in my world is my independent project. I am immersed. GT has opened so many doors, and it's helping me understand where my passion lies." Bosh, 8th grade

"Here we have the opportunity to explore our potential and be with people like us." Binary, 8th grade

"In GT, I get more advanced in my thinking, but in other classes I have to struggle just to stay awake because they're easy. With GT, I get to engage my brain more." Casi, 8th grade

"Because it requires us to be more independent in our learning, it has helped me to do other things by myself and has helped me to learn from my mistakes." Billy Bob, 9th grade

"It's a break from normal classes. This class has plenty of free thinking and you get to explore concepts that you don't otherwise get to explore. You may have an English class that's advanced, but it's still an English class nonetheless. This isn't a standard class. Here you get to just think. If you took average kids and gave them a class to just think, it wouldn't work. But the kids in this class are self-motivated enough and curious enough that there is actually quality learning going on independently." Clyde, 9th grade

"Opportunity! This class is an outstanding opportunity for me to challenge myself in the hopes I am passionate and therefore persistent. GT gives me a chance to learn the things that can't be taught, only discovered. You learn what you are taught, but you can know what you have discovered." Reagan, 10th grade

"HOW HAS IT HELPED ME?! To me, GT is freedom! It allows me and others to explore the fields of education not covered in Math, English, Science, or other mainstream classes. It is a place where you can think however you want, you are encouraged to think outside "the box," not just answer questions. Let it be known that this is not a class for "smarter" or "better" students. It is a class for people who think differently, who don't even acknowledge that "the box," which restricts thinking, exists! It vindicates those who are told, "Your ideas are dumb." It is freedom of thought, freedom of passion, freedom of perseverance. GT IS FREEDOM!" Umbra, 12th grade

"Hi, Ms. Fish! Since I last saw you, I dropped high school, got a GED, graduated from U of M with a Business degree, and now I'm in South Africa studying Physics. All through school, I got called out by teachers accusing me of 'trying to be smart' and I was very confused by it. (I did find the correct brick building, right?) It's always nice to see someone in the school system who actually values the practice of thinking, be it in or out of the box. As far as I see it, the GT program was my first introduction to the art of getting funded to work on a project, which is pretty much what keeps academia afloat. The process of writing a proposal, then doing a project and submitting a write up on it is a CORE academic skill, especially if you want to pursue anything cool and do sweet research, like I'm doing now." Walter, former student now in his mid-twenties

"Starting in elementary school, there were a lot of problems in my home life that really affected my schooling. It placed a lot of stress on the family as a whole. As a result, my grades suffered and I later battled depression throughout my high school years. If someone had looked at my report card at any time they probably would have thought I was below average rather than above average. I know I did, and sometimes even my parents did. Yet my 4th grade teacher saw something and referred me to Gifted and Talented. If there had been no Gifted and Talented at my school, there wouldn't be much of anything for me. I learned that some subjects I was advanced in could also be the classes I had the worst grades in. The explanation was that since it wasn't a challenge to me, I would procrastinate or skip assignments because they were too easy. I always got bad grades in math. However, when I got my first job my boss loved having me at the till because the money would always be right on. In GT, we would use projects, group discussions, and games/puzzles to challenge our logic, strategy, intellectual thinking, creativity, etc. We were also encouraged to take positive risks. These risks did not mean thrill-seeking, but rather getting out of our comfort zones to make a positive change. I now work in the ministry field, so the above has really prepared me for the different obstacles that come my way, whether that would be going to a foreign country and trying to get through a language barrier; overcoming shyness to speak to a group about suicide prevention; or trying to change a child's destructive behavior without hurting them more than he/she already is. Not only am I stepping out of my comfort zone a lot now, but I also need the thinking skills that I learned in GT. The Advanced Studies class gave me a time and place to study Native American beadwork, Creation vs. Evolution, ministry, basic web building, model rocket building, and American Sign Language, all with the underlying theme of challenging and teaching myself something new and thinking outside the box. I definitely needed every bit of learning and challenges that I received from Gifted and Talented and Advanced Studies. Gifted and Talented opened our minds up to thinking outside the box and Advanced Studies put it into action while allowing our strongest subjects to grow. I guess in a way these classes were a lot like group sessions for students who couldn't fit in to the average school curriculum. I am very grateful for that!" Gentle Rain, former student now in her early twenties

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