According to the Colorado Department of Education, there were 54,705 gifted and talented students formally identified by Colorado districts or educational services agencies as of the last day of the 2007-08 school year.
Janelle Goldberg was identified as gifted in third grade. She skipped fifth grade and eventually found her way to one of Boulder Valley School District’s talented and gifted pilot schools. This fall, she’ll walk into Fairview High School at the age 13.
Janelle’s older brother, Barry, 17, was taking 10th-grade math classes in eighth grade. Now at Catalyst High School, a private alternative school in Lafayette, he leaves the facility once a week to study DNA at CU. He successfully wrote a grant to acquire funding for a CCTV show focusing on global climate change. This fall, Barry will apply to a number of colleges, and after he tackles his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and PhD, he’d like to cure major diseases.
The lives of the Goldberg kids, on paper, sound pretty cool. They were smart kids who found the basics, well, basic, and they are smart teens who excel where other students their age fail. And as adults, they’ll likely be incredibly impressive human beings.
But being “gifted and talented” is not all Noble Prizes and Tony Awards. For the Goldbergs and kids like them, the school years are a test in finding the right schools, classes and programs.
“I started at basic high school. It had a lot of honors classes. So, I felt like I was choosing between being in a normal class and being bored out of my mind and being in an advanced class and having piles of useless work,” Barry said. Later, he defines useless work as exercises that don’t increase his knowledge but instead encourage rote memorization.
The traditional school model did not work for Barry, who is twice exceptional, which means he is both highly gifted and has a disability; his is a physical disability that impairs his capacity to write fast. Barry, who is known for wearing a hat with his name on it, finds Catalyst is a much better fit for him.
“I like that you go at your own pace. You may be the only person in your class who is studying one topic,” he said. “It is not a gifted school, but it’s a model that works well for gifted students.”
Similarly, it took Janelle Goldberg a while to find an ideal spot in the district. Even after she was identified as gifted, she thought her schooling was going incredibly slow, and there was initial resistance to allowing her to accelerate. Janelle switched schools, and she eventually found her way to Manhattan Middle School, which worked well for her.
“I could go to whatever level I wanted. I had more advanced books to read,” she said. “I got more diversity, which I enjoyed. It’s not perfect but it’s pretty good. They also added an extra period in the morning for only TAG (Talented and Gifted) kids. It was nice to be around other people like me. And we got to go more in-depth, which was really nice.”
Debra Goldberg, Barry and Janelle’s mom, said the district has wonderful TAG coordinators and teachers, but there are educators out there who are still ignorant to the needs of gifted students.
“The standard-operating procedure seems to be, do everything that everyone else is doing and then we will give you more work,” Debra said. “It might be more interesting or challenging, but you need to do everything else first. Not all gifted kids are faster. Just because they are gifted does not mean they have more time.”
Debra offers this example: Imagine, if you will, sitting in a classroom taking a class on writing. After the teacher gives a lesson on writing your name, you are given a worksheet to practice. Once you finish the worksheet and are given an A+, you are handed another name-learning worksheet. The next day, you do it again and again. That’s a lot like being gifted; most high ability individuals master a lesson after one or two repetitions, while it may take a bright person seven to eight times.
“There was a time in fourth grade, when I was like, does anyone else realize that we’ve been doing the same thing for the past three years?” Janelle said. “But no one else seemed to care.”
But one thing Janelle wants to make sure our readers understand: They may be labeled as gifted, but they are normal people.
“We can’t be treated as a machine. Sometimes they’ll pile work on and have huge expectations,” the 13-year-old says. “It’s been assumed that I have a whole bunch of extra time on my hands and that I don’t even know what to do with it. I do things. I have a life. I don’t focus everything on school.
“I consider myself good at math,” she continued, “but recently I haven’t been enjoying it as much. Just because we are good at something, doesn’t mean that we love it and that we’ll do it forever.”