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How Can I Choose a School for my Gifted Child?
Choosing a school for the gifted child is never easy, and the choices, as
well as the right answer, varies for every child, every family, every school,
state, and more. Some families have access to
Schools for the Gifted. But these schools, too, need careful
consideration. Their definition of a gifted child may not describe your
child, or your child's educational needs may not fit in their school.
There are characteristics of schools that every school decision should
consider. Please use this list
as a guideline, not a bible. And remember, like other decisions about our
gifted kids, the decision for a specific school may not be right forever.
Raising these gifted kids is always an experience in flexibility!
Characteristics of schools
|Passionate, well-educated teachers. This may manifest in teachers
with advanced degrees in their subject, rather than in teaching. It will
manifest in teachers who are enthusiastic about their subjects.|
|Flexibility. A good school for gifted children isn't the school with
a canned gifted program. Instead, it's the school that offers
flexibility, an individualized program based on the needs of the child.
In some states, that's state law (but that doesn't mean all schools in the
state comply). But in most states, flexibility occurs because of the
administration and teachers understanding of the needs of ALL children, not
just gifted children.|
Flexibility also dictates that some gifted children will need higher level
academics in some subjects but not others, and some gifted children are twice
exceptional, and will require remediation / accommodation in their LD areas,
while still receiving appropriate academics in their areas of strength.
|Ability grouping for all subjects, beginning at the earliest grades.
This goes hand-in-hand with flexibility. The school that relies on the
student's level and pace, rather than age and grade, for subject placement,
will be a much more comfortable school for every student, not just the gifted
student. This is much harder to find, however, than general flexibility.|
|Low student to teacher ratio. Some folks prefer a small school, but
the odds of the gifted child finding peers increase with a larger class pool,
or a more selective classroom / school.|
|Very low tolerance (not zero-tolerance) for bullying and mean-spirited
behavior towards and from students and teachers. It's important that
both students and staff feel safe and connected in the school environment.|
Zero-tolerance policies tend to result in ridiculous stories, like the 3rd
grade recently expelled for the year for bringing scissors to school to work
on a project... she didn't threaten anyone, or even remove them from her
backpack, but they were cited as a "weapon" and the zero-tolerance policy
caused her expulsion (yes, she was reinstated, but not without publicity and
|Parent participation is welcomed, wherever school need or parent expertise
|Field trips and enrichment opportunities are available for ALL children.|
|Well-rounded curriculum, including major subjects, computers, art, music,
sports, and community service.|
|Rigorous curriculum is offered, with limited use of calculators before
pre-calculus math, and limited use of learning groups in all subjects.
Learning styles are taken into consideration. Little or no "teaching to
the test" occurs. All children have the opportunity to learn to deal
with challenge in their early years of schooling.|
At the middle school level, rigorous curriculum is offered, including leveled
classes in all major subjects, with differentiated curriculum at each level.
At the high school level, Honors and AP courses are offered in a variety of
subjects, which differ significantly from the regular and remedial courses
|Excellent facilities, including grounds, physical building, science labs,
photography labs, fine arts workshops, performing arts theatre, and
especially, well-stocked and comfortable library|
|Lots of clubs and extracurricular activities for kids to explore new
subjects, learn new things, meet new people, and shine|
|Multiple grades, as many as possible. K-12 would be best, so that
flexibility in classroom placement would encompass all grades. If this
isn't possible, no more than 2 or 3 school divisions in K-12.|
|Outdoor education is an included component, with camping, orienteering.
|Community / village environment, where school and children become active
part of their community. School has many traditions that create
Styles of Schools
A few specific types of schools are discussed regularly for gifted children.
Whenever considering a specific style of education, it is far more important to
consider the specific school, more than the philosophy. Schools can vary
dramatically within a philosophy. Teachers and administrators can affect
the whole school. Interview the school, visit the classroom, and if
possible, have the child visit the classroom. Ask questions, tell them
your concerns, and trust your instincts.
|Charter School. Some U.S. state's education codes allow for the
creation of charter schools. Charter schools are nonsectarian US
public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the
regulations that apply to traditional public schools. US Charter Schools|
The "charter" establishing each such school is a performance contract
detailing the school's mission, program, goals, students served, methods of
assessment, and ways to measure success. Because of this contract,
charter schools vary in their suitability for gifted students. Some
charter schools including gifted students explicitly in their contract,
others deal with gifted students as one of many special populations, and
still others are not appropriate for gifted students.
|Montessori. The name Montessori is not legally protected, and can be
used by anyone, for any purpose. Anyone searching for a good Montessori
school must be aware of this. Montessori schools may be of three types:
AMI (Association Montessori International), AMS (American Montessori Society),
or independent. But again, this affiliation means nothing in terms of
the school environment that you'll find within.|
"Montessori educational practice helps children develop creativity, problem
solving, social, and time-management skills, to contribute to society and the
environment, and to become fulfilled persons in their particular time and
place on Earth. The basis of Montessori practice in the classroom is respected
individual choice of research and work, and uninterrupted concentration rather
than group lessons led by an adult."
The International Montessori Index
Montessori is often seen as "the solution" to gifted education, and it may
be... but it may or may not be. A gifted-friendly Montessori classroom
would allow above-grade-level work in any subject, bringing in materials from
the next level. It would allow the child to move up to new levels of the
school, as the child needs (usually called Assistants to Infancy (ages 0-3),
Primary (ages 3-6), Elementary (ages 6-9 and 9-12), and Middle school (ages
12-14). Maria Montessori said, "the successive levels of education must
conform to the successive personalities of the child."
|Waldorf. "Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf education is
based on a developmental approach that addresses the needs of the growing
child and maturing adolescent. Waldorf teachers strive to transform education
in to an art that educates the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as
the head." Association of Waldorf
Schools of North America (AWSNA)|
Waldorf education is more strictly controlled than Montessori. Waldorf
education is very structured, though it focuses on play as learning,
especially in the early years. It is assumed that no child can pass
through developmental stages earlier than another, and as a result, Waldorf is
sometimes a poor fit for the gifted child. For example, many Waldorf
schools do not teach reading until the
third grade. Instead, they teach handwork for eye training, and a rich
language of storytelling. However, in some Waldorf schools a child who reads earlier than
third grade may feel out-of-place,
or the school may assume that the parents "forced" the child to read, and
attempt to "undo" it. While this strict adherence to an imposed
developmental schedule is said to be against Waldorf teachings, it is
reported often by parents of gifted children in Waldorf schools across the
country. Specific Waldorf schools may or may not follow this
interpretation of Waldorf teaching.
A Look at Waldorf and
Montessori by Barbara Shell (Note: this is from a decidedly Waldorf
Private School Considerations
If you are considering a private school, there are a few more considerations:
|Tuition. What are the pros and cons of the costs of education?
Are you spending your child's college fund? Is this option significantly
better fit for your child than the public school options in your area?|
What are your options if the school turns out not to be a good fit for your
child? Is there tuition insurance available? If so, does it cover
withdrawal due to educational misfit?
Inquire about financial aid. Many private schools offer some level of
financial aid to many or most of their students. It can't hurt to ask.
|Commute. How long will your child be on the bus or in the car to
commute to school? If you're driving, double that time for your
time-in-car. Is your child a reader, or a mover, and will s/he tolerate
that commute? How far away will the other children your child will want
to play with outside of school live? Will this affect his/her social
interaction in school? In the neighborhood at home?|
©2004-2005 by Carolyn K., director of Hoagies' Gifted Education Page
May not be republished without permission.
October 23, 2012