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You can start a gifted school! We did!!
by Elizabeth & Larry Bruce, Gateways School
Have you reached the end of your rope trying to get the local school district to accommodate the needs of your gifted child? Are you tired of explaining why 90 minutes of enrichment classes per week arent enough for a boy whos shutting down from the sheer boredom of the other 33 ½ hours of excruciating drill and repetition? Is your daughter pretending that she doesnt read real books so shes not ostracized? Is bullying a part of your child's daily life? Start a gifted school. We did. And we did it with very little money, without an accredited teacher, without a grant, a curriculum or a building. Were in our third year and were still alive and growing. Gateways School for the Gifted in Tucson. If it was possible for us to start a school with as few resources as we had, you can start one too.
When I say we had limited resources, that doesnt include enthusiasm, commitment, drive, a willingness to experiment, chutzpah, two very resilient children, a few other desperate parents and some luck. These are the resources we started out with, and they are available to anyone with audacity. Of that, we probably have just a little too much. But it got us over most of the rough spots
In fact, the climate for starting a gifted school is better than its ever been. The long term crisis in public education has been accelerated by the pressures of No Child Left Behind. In turn, the public sector has been forced to increase resources on the remedial side of the equation, leaving even less for gifted programs. This creates some intense motivation for parents of gifted children to seek out other options. Your school can be a godsend to parents and children who need a learning environment tailored to their special needs. Those families will be your greatest resource in building a school for exceptional children.
Dissatisfaction with public education has also created openings across the country for a wide variety of educational options, as states relax draconian regulation of education in favor of experimentation. Whether you choose to pursue charter school status or remain independent, you no longer have to face a hurricane of opposition from the educational establishment.
How did we manage to wind up building a school for gifted kids? It wasnt planned. In fact, we traveled halfway around the world in order to begin. In 2000, we moved to Sydney to launch a new business for a former client. We had been aware that our two young children were very bright, but facing the prospect of several years of education in a school system we knew little about, we decided to have them tested. We wanted all the information we could get before sitting down with a school bureaucracy we were unfamiliar with. The Gifted Development Center in Denver gave us the news. Two exceptionally gifted children, one visual spatial learner and both with visual processing issues. They gave us something else, a contact name in Sydney, Miraca Gross, head of GERRIC, Australias pre eminent center for gifted education.
We tried our best to work our children into the educational system in Sydney. After consulting with Professor Gross, we made the decision to homeschool both our children, under the mentorship of a senior grad student at GERRIC, Bronwyn McLeod. That was the first real step on the road to Gateways.
Elizabeth entered a two year forced internship in gifted education. Following the lead set by Bronwyn and GERRIC, she gained invaluable experience in making a gifted classroom work. Acceleration, compaction, differentiation and mentoring were all part of that homeschool classroom in North Sydney.
Due to a family illness, we returned to the US in 2002 and again tried to manhandle the educational opportunities in Tucson to fit our two square pegs. It was back to homeschool. We joined a local homeschooling group that met weekly. Over the next few months, a couple of the parents asked if Elizabeth could put together a class for some of the other children.
We found a failing private school with an extra building, rented the space and we were in business (if you can call losing money a business.) When that school went under, we took over the property. Larrys full time job kept food on the table and supplemented tuition payments, while he managed the business side of Gateways and served as janitor/groundskeeper. Elizabeth designed curriculum, served as lead teacher and principal and lived our vision. Over three years, that division of responsibility has continued, as the school has changed and grown. We began with 4 students, and now have 10 full time and a half dozen part-time students working on and off campus. We have 5 part time specialty teachers who handle advanced math & physics, Japanese, biology, theater arts, music and art.
What is Gateways School? We serve highly, exceptionally and profoundly gifted students of middle school age. This fall we will be adding a K-2 program at the request of three local child psychologists who were treating several young children for not fitting in. (That happens to exceptionally gifted kids). Our school is located on five acres in a converted barn of a 100 year old ranch on the east side of Tucson.
What path would we recommend to start a gifted school? Here are the key questions you need to answer:
In retrospect, what we thought would be the most difficult part turned out to be manageable how to create a curriculum. The resources now available on the internet are nearly infinite. Whatever you want your students to learn is at your fingertips. Thats actually the problem, sorting out what will work for your classroom and your students. But our biggest fear, that we couldnt create a challenging and rewarding curriculum, turned out to be almost a paper tiger.
If your child needs a gifted school, start one. It will take sacrifice, as we can attest. In the last three years weve given up a lot. We have one car thats nine years old. We sold our interest in the family farm back in Indiana. Our one vacation was a visit to the in-laws. We eventually moved into the 100 year old ranch house on the school grounds and living in 850 square feet with two adults, two kids and four cats is my definition of sacrifice. On the other hand, our children arent bullied for being different. Community college professors bring college level material to the students, who are energized by the challenge. We take time to explore issues and time to explore the emotional challenges of giftedness in depth. It continues to be a sacrifice, but worth every moment.
If youve started a gifted school, or are considering it, wed love to talk with you to share ideas. Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can start a gifted school. All you need to do is feed your audacity. The rest just happens.
©2006 Elizabeth & Larry BruceLast updated
June 01, 2019