“District policy doesn’t allow us to teach next year’s math. And it wouldn’t be fair to teachers to require them to be able to teach it.”
This statement by my daughter’s teacher exemplified the struggle we were having in the classroom, school and district. And it told us that except for the rare bright spot — like a principal dedicated to academic growth for all learners, but who went on sabbatical a year after we changed to her school, and a teacher who volunteered to teach sixth-grade math in a fifth-grade classroom — we would not be getting the services needed for our children. Most districts don’t have teaching gifted children as a priority and teachers don’t have the time or resources to make it a focus in the classroom.
These situations are shared by many families of gifted students: a school system locked into academic levels and pace of learning based on age; school districts that have few honors classes; and students not allowed to accelerate and required to re-learn material they already know. Parents of gifted children want them to have the opportunity to learn, but more importantly learn to work hard, overcome obstacles, and recover from failure, experiences many gifted learners do not get.
In Oakland County, where we live, there are very few educational options for the around 14,000 gifted children. Gifted programs are almost non-existent. Differentiation is the policy in most places, but seldom extended above grade level. It is a group forgotten.
Now a new opportunity is coming to Oakland County. Working with a team of parents, Avondale School District is launching a gifted magnet program at Woodland Elementary. Starting in September 2017 with third/fourth grade classrooms and expanding every year, this program will be open through schools of choice to county residents. Through project-based learning and adapting instruction to the student, gifted students can learn at an accelerated pace, explore subjects in depth, and discover the interconnectedness between fields of study. Students will be challenged by the teacher, themselves, and each other to soar in their learning.
This is good fortune for gifted students in Oakland County and a template for school districts around the state that want to expand gifted services. This often overlooked segment of the student population needs education at their level and pace of learning. These students help determine the future of Michigan, as identified and supported gifted students are more likely to obtain patents in STEM areas, hold advanced degrees, and become entrepreneurs than non-identified gifted learners. We need these children to drive Michigan’s economy forward and these children need Michigan’s schools to support their education.
It’s starting in Avondale. Where will it begin next?
Joshua Raymond, Rochester Hills
Michigan Association for Gifted Children