Updated: Dec 22, 2020
The pros and cons of the gifted program told by real gifted students.
By Lily Patterson
Image via https://bestofsno.com.
In regards to this article, being gifted consists of a few traits noticed most commonly by teachers and occasionally parents. The gifted program is known as a highly regarded section of schools around the country. Students in the program are classified as having more complex thought processes and often fit more successfully into advanced classes that can offer more creative learning methods. Usually, students who demonstrate an IQ of 130 or above are considered to be ‘gifted,’ and parents are then faced with the decision of placing their child in the program. Claiming to offer catered curriculums for students of all ages who qualify, the gifted program is a brilliant concept that intends to help students who benefit from more advanced classrooms than in typical class environments. However, the program is by no means perfect, and every student who was considered ‘gifted’ has faced different benefits and disadvantages.
Despite its criticism, the gifted program does provide beneficial opportunities for students, and members of the program don’t let the advantages go unnoticed. Gifted student Grace Schroder (she/her) recognizes the benefits of “specially certified teachers and an Individualized Education Plan” within the program, and student Sky Orosco (they/them) agrees, saying that the program “gave kids an opportunity to expand their learning and other abilities.” Long time gifted student Arlene Nagtalon (she/her) builds on the advantages of having well-trained teachers. “The best benefits of the gifted program are having access to some of the most accommodating teachers who give rigorous work that continues to challenge me even now,” she expressed. “It recognizes the unique difference in gifted people and how they learn,” adds student Khushi Patel (she/her). “Rather than dismissing a child as overly sensitive or emotional, it recognizes that gifted children tend to be more aware than their non-gifted peers,” she continues. Gifted student Astro (she/they) agrees with Khushi’s recognition of how Gifted students were made to feel more comfortable with their gifted tendencies. “Although the isolation came with its fair share of downsides, I found that being in a classroom with other kids who were maybe more socially awkward or had hyper-specific interests was relieving as a young gifted student. I didn’t feel so out of place,” they said.
Despite this praise, the program isn’t without its damaging pitfalls. “For all of its successes, I think the gifted program has instilled the idea in many people that perfection and intelligence are linked,” explains Khushi. “...Schools unknowingly pit students against one another to see who has the highest grades. This will inevitably lead to students defining themselves based on grades rather than personality and other unique traits they may possess, which does a lot of detriment to their mental health,” mentions Arlene, who is now a gifted senior. Grace Schroder also comments on the mental health aspect of the gifted program, particularly the development of “perfectionism, god complexes, crazy self-worth issues, and more.” Astro focuses on the unfortunate social issues that students like herself faced. “It’s a huge shift to go from isolated classrooms of the same peers for a number of years to the exposure of an entire student body. High school is a tough enough transition on its own, and the addition of that culture shock made it so much more difficult.”
In schools where the gifted program is only a certain portion of the student body, a large divide can be created between the groups of students. “It's pretty ironic how teachers and adults always tell us to ‘stick to our own paths’ and ‘don't worry about anyone else,’ when we're valued more on how we do in classes as opposed to values like kindness, honesty, and empathy,” says Arlene. “Gifted students were viewed as strange and stuck up, while non-gifted students were thought of as dumb,” adds Khushi, who feels that occasionally mixing all students together could relieve the stigma about both student bodies. Astro feels that a lot of the diction used to describe gifted and non-gifted contributed to this divide. “We were meant to seem ‘better than,’ but we were all just kids,” they comment.
With the recognition of these downsides, these gifted students have given ample thought to the many ways the program could be improved, each with their own perspective on how to make the program a better place for future gifted students. “I believe that the gifted program should become more inclusive. Rather than taking a test at a young age that defines whether or not they are part of the program up until high school, it should be administered from K-12, for if they don't pass the first time,” offers Arlene. Sky contributes by saying, “I think that not putting so much pressure on young kids to be their idea of ‘perfect’ would be very beneficial as well as possibly having teachers trained for understanding students who are typically discriminated against in one way or another.” Relieving the pressure and ensuring teachers are properly trained is a common goal among many past and current students of the gifted program. Particularly Arlene agrees, stating that, “...it would really alleviate a lot of overwhelming stress we have from just purely focusing on academics.” Khushi and Astro share a similar idea of how the program can work to help students instead of hurt them. “I think the biggest change needs to be in communication. Gifted kids need to know what it means to be gifted, and so do students who aren’t in the program,” begins Astro. Khushi agrees, adding “I also don’t think the program did a very good job of explaining to us exactly what it meant to be gifted; sometimes it felt like we were just slapped on a title and put into a separate class without understanding what exactly about us was different.” Astro continues, saying that they lived a lot of their life thinking that their, “anxiety disorder, social phobia, and OCD was just a ‘gifted quirk,’ because the true definition was never really given to us in school.”
Overall feelings towards the gifted program vary drastically, even between those who attended the same school and were a part of the same program. “I really believe that a lot of my anxiety disorder issues stem from being in the program at such an early age…” says Sky. “I felt as if I was doing something wrong by not having my future planned out by the age of 12, which shouldn’t ever happen to a child of that age,” they finalize. Grace takes a similar approach when looking back at her time in the program so far. “The downsides to this program outweigh the benefits in my opinion,” she states bluntly. Arlene is also wary of the program’s effects but feels that there’s hope for improvements. “I believe that being part of the gifted program should be meant to help rather than hinder a student's way of thinking… it's crucial that changes are made and quickly implemented to prevent more harm than good to the overall population and competitiveness of the student body,” she offers. Khushi also believes in the opportunity for improvement, but views the program as still a relatively positive experience. “Though the program can be improved, it allowed me to stay curious and excited about new concepts,” she comments. Astro describes her time similarly, expressing that the benefits are still to be appreciated. They describe their experiences in the program by saying, “It’s undoubtedly a double-edged sword. The gifted program is necessary, but some of the takeaways aren’t. But despite all of that, I’m incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of a program that knew how to cater to all of my oddities and educational needs.”
Written by writer Lily Patterson