Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Education Challenge

I've expressed my son's intelligence before I'm sure.  He's smart.  And I don't just say that...he really has a high intelligence somewhere up between 140-160 in terms of IQ.  I'm not bragging - it is what it is and comes with it's own challenges, not the least of which is finding an educational option for him at his level even though he's only 4.  The state school systems are often setup better to assist children with learning difficulties or disabilities that place them on the slower end than they are to help the "gifted" children who are highly advanced, and all my mommy friends who have kiddos that struggle in some way with learning can testify how difficult even that can be.  The theory is that children who can be identified as gifted and talented have a leg up on everyone else and therefore they'll be fine - let the resources go to those who need it who happen to be either the lowest common denominator, average, or those who have identified learning challenges.  "Superstars" can fend for themselves.

Of course, they can't actually.  Kids like my son are not only highly gifted intellectually but also, often as a result, struggle emotionally or socially.  They often are intuitive beyond their years and don't fit in with kids their own age.  This is a challenge for the educational system (and for parents) - what do you do with them?  Do you allow them to advance at their own (often rapid) pace - then what?  Do you move them through the grade system faster than others so they end up being years younger than other kids in their classes?  Do you keep them with their own age knowing they will either not fit in or they will limit their own ability to "be like everyone else"?  How can teachers manage them in their classes while helping those who are learning on the "average" pace?  Is it even possible to do that?  Instead should you have special classes or special schools where these children are isolated with others "like them" and then what? 

When you break it down, the challenges are very similar to those experienced by children who have learning challenges or difficulties which is why more and more programs/schools/districts lump giftedness and disabilities into a single department often nicely worded something like "special programs" or "learning differences".  Bottom line, all of these kiddos need special help to develop on their own pace/schedule and according to their own needs and it is very difficult to figure out exactly how to do that in a school system that is designed for the masses.  I don't have a solution here - I unintentionally got off a bit on a ramble.

I too am "gifted" and lived through this growing up and the thing about giftedness is that most often times the kids know what's going on and are very perceptive to how they are different than others and are a bit burdened, even at a young age, with balancing "maximizing your potential" with humility and grace.  So I'm the gifted mother (who happened to pursue a few graduate degrees in education) of a gifted child and though I'm very blessed to be where I am I'm still trying to figure out how to do the right thing for my son.  Mix that in with being a foster parent to children who are often struggling to meet their potential sometimes because of biological learning challenges and the situation that led them to be in foster care and the challenge becomes more complicated.  Each child needs and deserves their own opportunity to thrive which may or may not make their "challenge" more apparent to their siblings.

For example, right now we are placing our son in private Kindergarten.  He is reading a little, writing a ton, and overall is ready for Kindergarten (actually, probably 1st grade but I'm not pushing it).  Unfortunately his birthday is about a month past the cutoff date for school entry which means he should be starting a year from now, not this fall.  Last year, in pre-k 3 (when he was 3 years old and 3 weeks) he passed the kindergarten assessments with flying colors.  Now he's had an additional year of prek and as a former GT student, a current scholar, and least of all his mom know that putting him into another year of preK waiting to join kindergarten "on-time" will not be good for him.  So, either way I have to pay for school, whether pre-K or K, I might as well put him in kindergarten (and his school agrees).  Unfortunately, this quality Kindergarten does not accept state daycare funds so my other kids go to another school, which is fine but whose K program isn't of the quality that my son will need. 

The plan is for him to go into 1st grade in the gifted and talented school in our district.  Of course, this means that he will first start kindergarten there and then 3 weeks after that test and (if passed) move into the 1st grade classroom (3 weeks after everyone else did).  Let me break that down for you from a gifted perspective - remembering that their emotional/social perception is usually much higher.  Not only will he be aware that he's going into kindergarten AGAIN when all his friends in private K will be going into 1st grade, but he'll be going to a different school where he will by hyper sensitive about being the new kid.  That probably would be fine (at that point, kindergarten, they will all be the new kid), until they test him (which can often be fun for GT kiddos) and if he passes now he gets moved to 1st grade, again being the new kid, this time with a group of kiddos who all know each other - even the kiddos who were new to this class in 1st grade have had a chance to get to know others.  You may think I'm overthinking it - I am but that's how GT kiddos do things.  So then he gets in that class and it will be a better class for him and he's ready and challenged and learning with them like he should have been in the first place.  Why put him through all the drama of putting him in K again and provide a way for him to enter K early OR go straight into 1st grade rather than start K and get moved up? 

Ahem...sorry.  I get a little heated about this.

So, assuming we keep our current kiddos - #7 will be rightfully ready to enter kindergarten too.  If you know our kiddos - it is clear that these two should not be in the same grade even though #7 is smart in his own way.  Not even close.  Nevertheless, next August we will start "first day of school" for both of them in two different schools - he wouldn't be qualified or best served in a school that is dedicated to GT.  So, though they are in the same grade (temporarily) he'd be in two different schools.  Which is probably fine early on but will he feel "less than" or Logie "more than" because they are in different schools?  Like one is "better than" or "less than" the other?  I would hope not and we can do what we can do in our family to honor each kiddos own unique specialness, but there's only so much a parent can do.   Let's say we adopt from foster care all of our current kiddos who are not showing signs of giftedness - then we send our biological son to the gifted school (in my most arrogant accent) and our foster kids to the regular school (in my most evil step-mother voice).  Is there not a worse way to separate your kids and make them feel different rather than like one family?  Oh the dilemmas.

This is not the reason I started this post but, seeing as how long this one is now I've decided to change the title and instead write a separate post on the much lighter topic I started writing about.  We'll see how far I can get into that one without getting overly dramatic or heavy on you.  I decided to go ahead and finish writing this out as a way to give it up and let God take control of all of it.  It is my new life theme you know...

1 comment:

Sunday Koffron said...

Oh. My. Goodness I feel your pain! My oldest walked at 8 months and was reading and writing at 3 she started my copying the newspaper and asking questions, finely I got her how to teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons (I highly recommend it) and by lesson 25 she was reading on her own.
We started her in a gifted private school for K. the discipline was off the hook and I had to pull her out a couple of months into first grade become a kid was hitting and throwing chairs at the teacher and returning to class several times a day (being a former foster I am a bit hypervigilant about my kids and their safety, but it was just nuts.) I home schooled for a couple of months while we tried to find a new school. We looked at everything and ended up putting her in public school and they moved her to 2nd grade fast track class. She is at least a year and a half younger than her classmates, it has not been much of a problem for her yet…but having just turned 13 and going into HS is making me a bit nervous…not too, too much because all of her friends are going with her…and then there is that whole graduating at 16 (or earlier because she took advanced classes in 8th grade) thing, college at 17 thing.
I don’t think I am being helpful at all, I don’t know that we have done the right thing, but that is what we did. I wish I was more organized and not so ADD, because I think homeschooling would have been the good way to go with her.
Being a parent of a gifted child can also be a bit lonely, people either you are tooting your kids (or your own) horn or say, things like “I wish I had your problems”….so you really can’t talk about your options of fears with most people. They don’t seem to understand that kids on either far end of the spectrum need accommodations to get them what they need.