By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
“High school has been a great experience,” says Paris Doby, a senior on the verge of graduation. “I have a kind of legendary feeling; I feel almost obligated to do great things. I am very excited about attending UCLA next year.”
Doby lives in South Central — one of the roughest areas in Los Angeles. He attends the Crenshaw Gifted Magnet High School (CGMHS), a “school within a school” at Crenshaw High School. Enrolling in a school for gifted students has made a huge difference in his life.
Attending CGMHS offers a “lifeline” for 157 bright inner-city students who might not be challenged academically in regular classrooms, says Rochelle Hall, a member of United Teachers Los Angeles who serves as the school’s coordinator and speech teacher. Gifted students take separate core classes but share elective and physical education classes with other students on campus.
This is one approach to reaching gifted students. Other methods include clustering gifted students within a regular class and pulling students out of class for enrichment activities.
Separate gifted classes
“One of the advantages of having classes just for gifted students is the grouping of like minds, so students can be in an environment where they are challenged and can engage in friendly competition with each other,” Hall relates. “Classes for gifted students allow teachers to offer rigorous curriculum that goes above and beyond what is required by the state.”
When students are challenged, they stay focused, says Noren Osman, a senior. “The classes are very, very hard, and because of that, we work harder. Also, we are not in classes with students who might hinder our achievement with, well, distractions.”
Rochelle Hall, United Teachers Los Angeles
Osman will attend CSU Northridge this fall. “I come from an underprivileged family with no father,” she says. “Nobody in my family has gone to college. I’m the first, so it’s a big deal. The gifted magnet program has given me the resources to do that and has made me more aware that there’s a big world out there.”
Several students admit that without a challenging program like CGMHS to meet their needs, they might have become dropouts. Instead, they are allowed to shine.
“Our students have a wonderful college acceptance rate,” says Hall, who was identified as being gifted as a child. “Our students attend every Ivy League college you can name. I firmly believe gifted education can be a ticket out of poverty.”
A cluster of gifted students
In an elementary school in Bakersfield, two groups of students in Erika Tindell’s classroom are discussing By the Great Horn Spoon!, a novel by Sid Fleischman in which characters face difficult choices during the Gold Rush. One group discusses the transformation of the main character. The other group looks at life-and-death decisions that take place in the novel from the viewpoint of multiple characters — and debates the implications and morality of events that transpire.
The students are all fourth-graders at Independence Elementary School in Bakersfield, but the more intellectual discussion takes place within a “cluster” of students who have been identified as gifted. The cluster model is used in the Rosedale Union School District until students attend junior high school, where they enroll in classes for gifted students.
In some ways, the “cluster model” is similar to teaching a split-grade combination class, says Tindell, a member of the Rosedale Teachers Association. She uses differentiated instruction to meet the needs of Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) students as well as general education students, including those with learning disabilities and English learners. It’s a constant juggling act that might be impossible without professional development offered by her district, which enables teachers to push students on the “high end” while also helping those who are in the middle or struggling. But the best thing about having a cluster of gifted students, she says, is the “trickle-down effect” from their presence that motivates other students to try harder.
“Lots of times gifted kids get left out,” says Tindell, who received the 2011 Distinguished Service Award from the California Association for the Gifted, an organization of parents and educators striving to improve education for gifted individuals. “Then students get in trouble because they are bored. Some teachers think the answer is giving them more work, but that’s a disservice. I believe that instead of giving them more work, it’s important to give them different work, so that they can learn and grow and be challenged with greater depth and complexity.”
For student Maggie Mosher, the approach works just fine. “I like being in a cluster because it’s more challenging. For me, it’s actually easier to do harder things. I like being a GATE kid, but I also like being in a regular class with regular kids.”
Tindell says she tries not to make a “big deal” of the GATE kids in her class and treats them like regular kids.
“Everyone has talent in my classroom, and people may be different, but nobody is better than anybody else,” she says. “Some parents may want their children to only be in GATE classes throughout their education. I feel that when GATE children are in mainstream classes, they can learn how to deal with people and diverse situations on all levels. To me, it seems like a great preparation for life.”
Jordan Turner’s favorite day of the week is the day he spends with teacher Kathy Scrivner at Stockdale Elementary School. He and other gifted fifth-graders throughout the district are bused to her GATE classroom for enrichment activities that expand upon the core curriculum in their regular classrooms. With Scrivner, they enjoy creativity, critical thinking and philosophical discussions that might leave their other classmates in the dust. Students also explore new and different topics of study and are offered opportunities for independent study projects.
The Panama Buena Vista Union School District in Bakersfield offers a “pullout” program for gifted students in grades 4-6. If they score at the advanced level on the STAR test, they are eligible for further testing with the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test. Of the district’s 15,000 students, nearly 400 have been identified as gifted, including Jordan Turner.
“We can learn about things much faster here, and it’s fun,” he says. “We don’t have to wait for the slow kids like we do in other classes.” On this particular day, students are studying modern art and creating abstract sculptures in the style of Spanish surrealist Joan Miró fashioned from wood blocks, coat hangers and plaster gauze. On other days, topics might include architecture, paleontology, Greek mythology, Italian or higher-level math.
“These kids love learning and are hungry for the kinds of challenges we offer in GATE,” says Scrivner, a member of the Panama Buena Vista Teachers Association and one of three district GATE teachers.
“Our district really values this program, and they want to keep it,” adds Scrivner. “It’s expensive, but it’s important. In some ways, it evens the playing field for some of our low-income kids who don’t get extras at their schools. I think gifted kids deserve equity, and we give them a place where their needs can be met.”