Radical Possibilities for the Profoundly Gifted
After homeschooling my then 9-year-old EG/PG son for three years, I began to subscribe to various TAG Forums on the Internet dealing with PG kids and their families. I became very disturbed as I read there the horror stories and angst concerning the battles PG families and their children endured every day in the traditional school systems and decided to write our story. Ours is a very different one because we took a different path, but ours is not the first or only story of its kind by any means.
We decided to homeschool our then 6-year-old son, A., after enduring battles with school administrators, teachers, and fellow students in pre-school and kindergarten. We looked very carefully at all the public and private options available to us and quickly decided none would be able to meet his needs. We live in a relatively small town so the options were not many. I was terrified about the prospect of homeschooling and had spent the previous two years researching the topic to learn as much as possible in order to be ready. I put my career on hold while we undertook this journey. We had A.'s IQ tested by a local psychologist, but both he and I did not know that the test being given would turn out to be inadequate. A. tested in the HG range, but hit the ceiling in several fields. I did not understand what that meant at that time and tailored his curriculum for that level. What a mess! We fought; we cried; A. was terribly unhappy with the way things were going, as was I. Some saw it as to be expected when you homeschool your child; I felt I was doing something terribly wrong. Other homeschoolers never talked about these kinds of problems. I read more; I tried more acceleration, but was worried that there would be "holes" in his education. Finally, my husband and I took A. to see a clinical psychologist in another state who specialized in gifted to reassess him and find out what I was doing wrong. We were shocked to hear that he was in the PG range, and while I did do many things correctly in his schooling, I didn't do enough. Barbara Clark had stated in her book Growing Up Gifted: Developing the Potential of Children at Home and at School that the first six years of schooling were a complete waste of time for PG kids. She was absolutely correct.
Soon I realized that the gifted correspondence courses he was taking at the time, Latin I - Honors with Northwestern and EPGY Math with Stanford, were not helping the situation. He made A's in the subjects he took, but he needed a live class at his level: college. He needed the direct one on one contact with a professor who knew his/her subject in depth, and he needed the competition of the other students in the class. We decided to enroll A. at age 9 in a 2nd year college Spanish class at a local community college. His Spanish tutors had said he was proficient at that level and would have no problems with the class. We started with a community college Spanish class because he had not been in a formal classroom and I wanted him to learn about classroom dynamics first without worrying about the subject matter.
When I first approached the community college about A., they were very shocked to say the least. It took them 5 months to approve his enrollment. I had to prove that he was gifted and able to handle the work. I presented A.'s high school transcript, which included complete course descriptions of courses he had taken, his official transcripts from Northwestern's and Stanford's gifted programs, and a copy of his IQ assessment. A.'s " official" high school transcript was created at home using ideas from Cafi Cohen's book, "And What About College": How Homeschooling Leads to the Best Colleges and Universities. They had to take it all the way to the President's office to get approval, but once they did, they went out of their way to make the experience as pleasant as possible for our son. He thrived there and loved going to class even though it was a two- hour class held right after lunch. He did very well academically, made many friends in the class, was elected Spanish Club Treasurer, and developed a warm friendship with the professor. This encouraged me to approach a local university about our son enrolling there in the fall at age 10 yrs.
Fortunately, my husband and I had lived in this relatively small town for many years and had gotten to know several of the administrators of this university as well as professors and students. For instance, A. has played chess with the Chairman of the Physics and Math Departments. The President of the university saw A. and I at lunch one day and introduced us to their new Dean of Academic Affairs who had just accepted the position and moved to town. They wanted to change the direction of the university and make it more of a "small Harvard/ Yale" type. With that in mind, they were eager to begin the process of evaluating A. for admissions. However, some on the admissions committee were not so sure. They had never enrolled a student as young as A. before and were worried it might negatively affect their accreditation. We presented to them the same material we had given to the community college.
The university took a leap of faith with us. They enrolled him under the category of "Special Student", which allowed him to take classes for full college credit. A. will be able to transfer those grades and others he has already earned at the local community college and petition for a change of status as a transfer student. The university desires to enroll more students that are gifted and, consequently, are modifying their curriculum to challenge them. Currently, upper level courses are independent and tailored to the individual's needs which is perfect for A. The department chairmen evaluate A. for placement in their various departments' courses of study. If he is ahead, he can skip the introductory courses and get into more advanced work. In addition, there is a share program with another local but larger university; if you currently attend classes at one university, you can take courses at the other for full credit if they offer a class yours does not. There is no additional application process; it is as if they are the same universities. I soon discovered that the Spanish Chairman at the other local university had been working behind the scenes to get A. enrolled there as well. A. had sat in before on some of her advanced level Spanish courses and she would like him to enroll in her Spanish III course. Several members of the faculty at both universities are familiar with A. through the various extra-curricular activities in which he participates.
During A.'s first semester at the university, he took 10 credit hours: six at the local university (Freshman English Composition and College Algebra and Trigonometry) and four at the local community college (Biology I/ Lab). He did well academically and earned a total of 18 college credit hours. During his second semester, he continued with his core curriculum requirements (including Biology II, and Freshman Comp. II) and added scuba so he could become certified and begin marine biology classes in the field!
All the instructors A. had that first full semester had been wonderful and A. was thrilled to be in their classes! Especially the Biology professor who is gifted himself and was eager to have A. in his class! He is considered one of the best in the area and is very tough (almost half the class dropped after the first lecture) but very interesting. A. could not stop raising his hand to ask questions during a lecture on genome research and gene splicing. (And the professor loved it!) The professor conducted the class in a seminar style, which suited A. best! The English Comp. Class went over basic structure for writing essays that A. covered quite some time ago with the Calvert School curriculum and more recently, again, through Stanford University's EPGY Expository Writing Class. Consequently, it was not as exciting, and was not as motivated despite his liking the teacher very much. The math course was difficult at first because A. wanted to do it his way and not the professor's. He soon learned that it would not work and changed his approach. He worked very hard and earned a 4.0 in the class with a 100% on the final.
While A. did very well academically, what surprised me most about the experience was how well he did socially. The other students have been very friendly and attentive to him and at the beginning of the semester, the fraternities were even competing to get A. to pledge (we will wait a while on that)! As others who have had their very young children in this same or similar college situation told me, word did spread about A. like wildfire on both campuses. Not only do all the students and faculty know who he is, but even recent graduates who were still in town spotted him when we are out and started conversations with him. In the past, A. had done quite a bit of theatre with the local Parks and Recreation's Children's Theatre as well as the local professional adult troupe. It was a perfect fit to have him audition for the university's Fall semester musical production. He had a blast and participated in all aspects of the production from acting to costume and set design to lighting. The best part was that he networked fully into the student community by the end of the play's eight performances. Even people he had never met were saying, "Hi" and addressing him by name on campus. A. has made many friends on campus and the students have accepted him very easily as a peer. In addition to various social functions to which he was invited and attended with them, a further demonstration of this was his recent invitation to join the university's Student Government Association as a Commuter Senator. (Another senator and class president asked him to join.) He attended his first meeting and was in heaven! He already knew most who part of the SGA through the theatre department.
A.'s confidence is high because of this early successful experience with college. Although he took a second year level Spanish course his first year at the community college, the same public reaction did not occur. I don't know if he was not as visible then or that it was just one course each semester that caused the difference. However, he has caused quite a stir on both campuses this year.
A. has added one more challenge to his college experience. He was accepted to a large state university in another city and auditioned and was accepted to their school of music. A. plays the violin and would like to receive a second degree in music performance. The local private university does not have a string program, but fortunately, the large state university not only has one, but has one of the largest and best in the southeast. It has opened a whole new world of opportunities for him consequently. Now, A. will work on a science degree locally, and we will drive 3 hours round trip for his classes for the second degree in violin performance. Is he happy? He seems excited and enthusiastic!
Many people question whether these children can really handle not only the academics involved in a university setting, but the social environment as well. In regards to academics, if they have a good foundation in study skills and note taking there is no problem. In regards to social skills, the bias is the same myth constantly perpetrated by many in traditional school administration about homeschoolers in general.
One President of an unrelated university stated in a press article recently that he thought that homeschoolers miss being able to relate well to other students (i.e., socialization). This university president obviously has no idea of which he speaks and A. is proof of that. One does not socialize in the classroom, but rather outside the classroom. This can be easily accomplished through extra-curricular activities. Homeschoolers have a great deal of time free to pursue their many and varied interests. For instance, while being homeschooled, A. participated in the following activities, many of which he still enjoys: he plays the violin and piano and is in a youth orchestra; he plays chess; he is a 3rd degree black belt in Taekwondo Karate, in which he is the youngest ever to receive a 3rd degree; he is competing in fencing at the college level with another private university's fencing club; he has enjoyed equitation and tennis; he was elected Treasurer of the local community college's Spanish Club; he takes a gifted art class; he belongs to a coin collecting society (numismatic society), as well as an archeological society; he is interested in model rockets and at the age of 9 had his science fair project published in the National Association of Rocketry's Sport Rocketry Magazine as well as their Technical Publications; he is actively involved in a local youth theatre, which has included lead roles, and he has performed with the local professional theatre. Needless to say, most of these activities involve interacting with other people. Those who say homeschoolers miss socialization just because they are not in a traditional classroom obviously do not know about which they speak and are making erroneous statements not based on facts.
A. gets along well with all age groups, not just his own because his activities bring him i n close interaction with all age groups. In addition, radical acceleration enabled him to avoid psychological bashing by age peers. College students treat A. with friendliness, respect and sometimes awe. They do not abuse him or pick on him. His social skills are very high as indicated by the invitation extended to him at the beginning of his second semester at the private university to join the Student Government Association. Homeschooling definitely did not isolate nor hinder him.
We are very fortunate to live near universities that are so willing to take a chance on A. and be supportive. A. loves knowing so many of the administration (including the President and Dean), faculty, and students to be able to greet them on campus and spend time talking with them. I don't think I have ever seen my son so happy and enthusiastic about his schooling!
Homeschooling is the best option for highly gifted children during the first few/ several years. Very early college entrance might be the best next step for many PGs. If more colleges and universities would be as knowledgeable as the one A. has enrolled in there would be less psychological stress on gifted students. They would be able to learn at their own speeds in accepting and fulfilling environments. My son is a happy, well- adjusted, and outgoing person, which surprised the psychologist who did his IQ assessment; only 25% of children at his level are outgoing. I feel he is this way because of the path we have taken in his schooling. I hope this opportunity becomes more readily available to others in the future and that others will consider it an option. It definitely has been the best one for us.
Copyright 2001 by Gay. All rights reserved.