Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Let's hear it for the girls

It happens this time of year every year. Parents come to my office to inquire about enrollment for their son. He is bored in school, getting in trouble often, having difficulty sitting still, and generally frustrated. We talk about why Seabury might benefit him. We would challenge him and give him a group of peers he could relate to. We would place him with teachers who understand his needs and would be patient and positive about his incessant questions and his need to move.

Often these parents also have a daughter. When I ask whether they might also be looking for a placement for her, I am often met with this response: "Oh no, not her." She loves her teachers. She has friends. She gets along with everyone. She's happy. When I ask if they have considered having her tested alongside her brother, I am often met with resistance. But statistically, siblings typically have IQs that are within 5 to 10 points of each other unless there is a developmental disability. So I know that there is a good chance that if the family has one gifted child, they probably have two gifted children. If I can talk the parents into testing their daughter, they are often shocked to find that her IQ is as high or higher than her brother's.

I worry about gifted girls who are doing "fine" in regular classrooms. I was one of them. When I was in elementary school, if you had asked my parents whether I needed a different kind of educational setting, they would have said no. If you had asked me, I would have said the same thing. With my limited experience, I didn't know that school could be an engaging place filled with deep thought and interesting investigations. I thought it was a place where you did what you were told and all was well as long as you made the teacher happy. As an introvert, I was happy with my few close friends. It wasn't until junior high when I was placed in a gifted program classroom that I finally understood what school could be. It changed my life.

What fascinating discussions we had – discussions that spilled over into lunch and left me thinking about possibilities long after school was over. We considered questions I had never encountered. I was given the opportunity to really think and work that was challenging and not just tedious. 

My own school experience led me to the field of gifted education. I want all kids to have the experience of being challenged at school – of getting to wrestle with difficult questions and intriguing possibilities. I worry about our gifted girls who, research says, are more likely to go underground with their abilities than boys. I worry about those little girls who figure out at an early age just what to do so that they don't stand out from the others in their class. They wonder "how many times can I answer questions before the others decide I'm a know-it-all?" 

When gifted girls who've learned to fly under the radar get straight A's without needing to work hard (maybe long, but not hard), what do they learn about how to deal with challenges? How do they understand what their true abilities are? If they expect that everything to come easily, what happens when they hit college, and it isn't easy any more? Will they doubt themselves and their previous successes ("imposter syndrome.")

Parents often struggle to find right educational placement for their child. When their girls have friends and get good grades, parents believe they are ok. In a sense, they are. But is ok enough for our gifted girls? 

Be on the lookout for gifted girls. Let's give them the chance to be stretched and challenged every day – to see that school is more than slumber party invitations and turning in the paper with the neatest handwriting. Let's give them the chance to see that they can think hard and ask incredible questions. Being in a gifted program changed my life. I am committed to giving today's gifted girls the same amazing experience.

– Sandi Wollum 

(For another personal perspective, read this powerful piece by Erin Brooks, the mom of one of our Jellybean students. It appears here in Crushing Tall Poppies, a blog focusing on gifted education.)

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