A couple of weeks ago I posted some thoughts and advice about educating gifted children. I feel it is important to share real stories about this process to help families make informed decisions about their own children’s education. In the above linked post, I list a host of gifted advocacy groups where you can talk to families all over the nation who are making educational decisions that are outside the norm.
But today I’ll share our own little success story. As you may recall, 8-year old Eva, who was subject accelerated in public school during her pre-homeschool days, has requested an additional subject acceleration in science and band; this would place her in the 6th grade in those subjects.
One might think that since we’ve already done a double grade skip for our son, we parents would not hesitate on this request; her test scores certainly make her eligible. But one would be wrong. Husband-Jamie and I talked to Eva about her request for weeks. We wanted to make sure that she wanted this for her – not because she wanted to be like her big brother. Ian, who has had plenty of ups and downs through his academic life, is right now extremely happy with his accelerated part-time public school situation. He is making a lot of new friends through his various music-related school ventures, and has happily embraced the land of texting; things are really falling into place for him. I was concerned that Eva would expect similar social success right away, and forget that it took Ian years to get to this place.
But I, as usual, underestimate my child. She was able to speak articulately about each point that I raised. She recognized that she would feel shy at first, but pledged to make choices to be friendly and open and not wait for her older classmates to make the first move. She acknowledged that it may feel awkward at first, but she felt confident that she would make it work.
Ultimately, it turns out that this really isn’t about Ian. Band here isn’t offered until the sixth grade, and Eva is eager to put her private trumpet lessons to good use. She doesn’t want to be in two different grades, but she loves science and wants to try this in a classroom setting; these points led to her request. And, from a teacher’s perspective, it all falls into place pretty nicely; biology was on our science agenda for next year, and this is also what is taught in the sixth grade.
We began this process by meeting with our former school principal. Since we are relocating to a downtown location, we will be dealing with a new school. To make things trickier, the principal at that school is retiring at the end of the month. Our former principal advised that we meet with her anyway, and try to get this arranged before she leaves. So we did.
And this is where the magic of long-term positive advocacy came to fruition. When we arrived at the new school for our advocacy meeting, we sat down at a table with three very friendly and familiar faces. This is who was there:
- The principal. The principal used to serve on the board of a nonprofit I created; this nonprofit (called the Arlis Saxon Eco-Kids Project, in memory of my grandmother) offered grant money to elementary kids for well-written proposals to improve the environmental footprint of their schools. The students had to write the proposals and administer the funds. I ran that organization for four years and raised and granted thousands of dollars to kids and their schools. This school was also a grant recipient of the Saxon Project.
- The guidance counselor. Back when Ian was double grade-skipped in full-time public school, one of our arrangements was that he received time with this same guidance counselor to assist him with the transition. She has remained involved and interested in both kids over the years, and is responsible for recruiting them both as presenters for the district-wide sixth grade career days.
- The school psychologist. Another friendly face, this psychologist helped us set up IQ testing for both children (IQ testing is necessary for any kind of acceleration consideration). She also served on the committee for Ian when he did his double grade-skip.
Though it took Jamie and me over a year to get approval for Ian’s acceleration plan four years ago, this meeting was self-contained, and Eva’s request was approved on the spot. Each person around the table already knew about Eva’s work as an author and public speaker. They knew that Jamie and I were researchers and wouldn’t be at the table unless we had already identified and found answers to concerns they might have. They also knew that we would provide the parental support to make this a success. We had all the appropriate test scores in hand (IQ, and national and state assessments), because we had learned from experience what all we needed to move forward. We also had teacher recommendations ready.
In short, our “quick” success was due to years of positive advocacy. We as family advocates are persistent but friendly, homeschoolers but public school supporters. We are involved communicators, and will always be prepared with the research to support the radical acceleration and unusual educational arrangements we are requesting; we will also maintain our involvement once the plan is in place to ensure its ongoing success. We feel that though we are dissatisfied with the way public education is offered, it is our job as parents and community members to work together with teachers and administrators to improve it for the sake of all our children and the adults who support and teach them.
Though every situation is unique, advocacy doesn’t by its nature have to be adversarial. We can use our personal situations and issues to work for the good of all involved. And that, for me, is the kind of world I want to live in.