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Leaving No Stone Unturned

This is a long post where I muse aloud, trying to make sense of the conflicting thoughts in my head and heart.  If you have no interest in the education system, you may want to skip it.  If you do have kids, even if they’re young, it’s worth thinking about these things now, before you get to the place where you need to make a decision.  If your kids are older than mine, you may have already made these types of decisions.

I’ll start by saying that we’re lucky: we have a decision to make.  I mean that in the sense that we lucked out with having kids in general, but also that they are intelligent, thoughtful human beings who excel in the classroom.  But there is so much more that we want for them than admission to the college of their choice.

*******

First they are babies and you worry about what to feed them.  You worry about brain development and weight gain.  You pepper the pediatrician with questions; you stress over the milestones listed in popular baby books.  Then they grow a bit and you worry whether you’re providing them with the right toys, the ones that will develop that part of the brain that can do high level math.  You worry about their classes and whether they have enough play dates and whether they’re really playing with other kids or engaging in sideways play beside them.

I’ve learned by this point that the worrying never ends; it just changes in shape with each stage.

Because this is it.  This is their foundation, the brain and body on which they’ll build the rest of their life.  I mean, what if a choice you make now negatively impacts them in the future?  What if Cheetos are found to stunt reading ability or you discover that your child has behavioural issues later in life because you never soothed them with Baby Einstein?

We may worry about different things, but I think all parents worry that we are fucking things up.  That we are in charge of raising another human being towards adulthood, and we are accidentally screwing up some piece of it.

*******

We’ve hit that education turning point year, third grade.  For those unfamiliar with the American school system, third grade is a transition year where students start getting sorted in categories.  GT is code for gifted and talented. (Not, as the Wolvog thought, short for GT Racing, one of his favourite video games.  He thought perhaps those initials meant that the teacher had figured out just how much he loves cars.)

In third grade, students have the opportunity to apply to a GT public school.  They are specialized programs in the county, usually placed inside a school with lower test scores in order to raise the profile of the general school.  In exchange for parents lending their children to another school in order to raise their scores, they are given extras through the program.  I know that is a very bitter, very negative way of viewing these programs, but there is a lot to feel bitter and negative about when it comes to these programs.  Unless activities can miraculously be scheduled around that school schedule, many programs preclude kids from having the well-rounded life we want them to have outside of academia.  They may be with like-minded kids, but those kids don’t live in their neighbourhood making it difficult to continue the friendship outside of school hours.  A 45-minute commute is tacked onto both ends of the school day making school pretty much the only thing that happens from Monday through Friday.  Admission to these programs means moving from school to school (and new set of kids to new set of kids) every few years, applying and holding your breath over and over again.

Moreover, the school is dangled before parents like a jewel, and as we reach out to touch it, our hand is slapped and we’re reminded that maybe two kids will get in.  30 may apply and two will get in.

I don’t know how I feel about GT schools.  Actually, I’m not sure why I said that.  I obviously know how I feel: I feel like labeling has just as many drawbacks as it has advantages.  That for every kid who feels great about themselves in the moment, that they will also feel the sting of that label in the future when their preciousness is not cherished or recognized.  Because it won’t.  There will be future endeavours where they will fail because everyone has endeavours where they fail.  And kids who have been set up to believe that they are better, smarter, more capable are more likely to suffer from greater hurt and a deeper fall than those who believe that they are no better, no more deserving, no more fantastic than anyone else on this earth.  That we all have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s better to stick together in a diverse community.

I know what you’re thinking right now.  You’re about to suck in your breath and skip right now to the comment section to tell me about how brilliant your child is, and how they can’t possibly function in a regular classroom.  And if they can’t, then the GT school is right for your kid.  But my kids can thrive in a regular classroom.  They’re happy learners at the moment.  They have good friends.

And this is my blog, and right now, we’re talking about my kids.  So…

*******

I want my kids to be more than book smart.  Book smart I can teach at home.  There is nothing they can learn at this point that I can’t teach them better in this one-on-one space after school.  I am foolish enough and lucky enough to be able to fit my life around theirs and give them that attention.  I know that isn’t usually the case.

What I want them to be is life smart, because life smart is applicable beyond academia or their future career.  Life smart will carry them through all their relationships.  It will teach them when to stay somewhere and when to leave.  It will help them read people (and not just books).  It will make them into good spouses should they choose to get married or good parents if they choose to have children.  Those are the skills that when applied to problems change a community.

I think that sucking it up and learning to roll with things is part of growing up into an intelligent, wonderful human being.  That when we constantly snatch kids out of their current environment, telling them they are ultra special and therefore destined for special spaces, we don’t teach them how to make the best of a bad situation or how to be the change they wish to see.  I want my kids to learn to get themselves interested in something, even when it seems overwhelming or dull at first glance.  And I want them to learn how to do something well even when it’s boring since all jobs have boring parts.  Can you imagine teachers saying to kids, “you know what, I didn’t do your report cards since assessments are boring.  I just like the teaching part of teaching.”  There are always going to be things we don’t want to do, meetings we don’t want to sit through, and minutiae that bores us.  But we learn to slog through.  And I guess I want the twins to learn that slog.

I want my kids to love learning.  I want them to be almost 40 years old and learning something completely new.  I want them to have life-long curiosity.  I don’t want them to ever accept the first answer; I want them to be question-asking information seekers.  I want them to get as excited about books in their middle age years as they do in their mid-elementary school years.

Those are all the things I want.  And I want my kids to have the best childhood filled with amazing opportunities.  You see the conundrum.  Because it all goes back to those early fears: am I giving my children the best nutrition, am I signing them up for the best classes, am I providing them with the most mind-enriching toys?  Do I turn my nose up at those programs just because they’re elite and I don’t think they send a great life message to kids?

Or do I join with the panting masses, hoping that the GT school will give my children the best education possible on our budget?  I don’t want to ever look back with regret at the road not taken and say, “crap; I wish we had chosen that path.”

We all want what is best for our kids, and I think all parents need to do what is best for their kids.  That may translate as sending them to private school or applying to a GT program.  And it may translate as keeping them where they are and doing enrichment outside the school.  That’s what we’re still trying to figure out.

*******

Maybe we just need to be our own GT program operating like a bubble within the general population of our local public school.  A GT program for two, mostly held during after school hours.  Maybe with a program that small, we could do it even better than the main GT program, even if our homespun one comes without the prestige of the formal one.

A case in point: Josh took the ChickieNob downtown to meet Lemony Snicket (fine, Daniel Handler).  The GT school also attended the event.  The school left at the end of the event in unison after hearing him read.  The ChickieNob got to stay and speak to him for a bit, and he signed all her books.  Doing it our way resulted in a better experience than if she had been part of the school.  Granted, mileage may vary, and what we may be willing to do or can do is different from another family.  But again, I’m not making this decision for anyone else.  We’re just making it for ourselves, and we’re struggling between a dislike of the system and feeling as if we can’t leave any stone unturned.

And I guess the long answer is that I don’t know.  I know how detrimental that GT program will be to our overall happiness as a family — the long commute, the separation from friends, and constant judgment — but I don’t know how beneficial that GT program could be.  I guess I’m throwing this out there because I’m looking for any thoughts I haven’t yet considered or your thoughts on the ones I have.

All of this comes to a head with Marjorie Ingall’s excellent article on ethical parenting and schools that Josh sent my way as we debate this out at night.  I agree with her wholeheartedly.  And wherever we go, I will give that school my 100% to help instill the wonder I want all the kids to have.

The application deadline draws near.  I am 99% sold on staying put.  Of doing the extras our way.  But it’s that 1% that is ruffling my mind, even if the whole thing is a moot point since, you know, it’s all about judgment and gatekeeping.  I could go through all of this worrying and in the end, if they don’t get in, there is no choice to make.

41 comments

1 Dora { 10.28.13 at 8:00 am }

Oh! I needed this now! G&T testing is at age four here. I have to register Sunshine for the test by the beginning of November if she’s going to take it. I have my own GT post swirling around in my head. More later!

2 jodifur { 10.28.13 at 8:05 am }

We didn’t do it. For a lot of reasons, I lot of the reasons I’m not talking about on line, but we decided not to even bother to apply.

3 Orodemniades { 10.28.13 at 8:50 am }

Thankfully there are no such schools in my area. Having said that, the Chieftain attending kindergarten in our small (93 students) K-8 public school. He will have a choice of high schools, public and private, to attend, as well as a charter school.

What I love about his current school is that it’s there to serve the students…more than the tests. Maybe that’s because it’s a small school and they can afford the time to spend to tailor lessons? Or just pay attention? All I know is that he’s happy, the school is incredibly pro-active, and there’s the community is involved – even people who don’t have children, or whose children are long out of town, attend events or go to Sing. I think, ultimately, that’s more important than any GT program.

4 nicoleandmaggie { 10.28.13 at 8:58 am }

Well, I guess this is the point where I say that my kid is so g/t that ze can’t function in a regular school (true– ze is in third grade right now, but ze is 6 and a half). However, we are sending hir to private school rather than moving to the next town which has one of these g/t programs inside a lower performing public school. Things like commuting are important.

I would caution you about thinking that a kid in a g/t program can’t be normal and have friends and have a normal life. Most kids who get picked for these programs aren’t off-the-charts gifted unless you’re in a major urban area or it has a boarding program that draws across a wide area. (I still could have used a grade-skip or two in my home town’s G/T program before they disbanded it– I didn’t fit in with kids my age until I went to a boarding school program.) Most of them are also normal kids who play sports and what have you. Maybe the after-school activities in the particular program you’re talking about preclude that, but most of these programs keep the mandatory g/t stuff during school hours.

oops late for class

5 Bionic { 10.28.13 at 9:04 am }

Hiding in the bathroom from my MIL, so must be brief, but: a good GT teacher does not let students avoid work because of being smart. The best one I had was specifically interested in forcing us to get better study skills, etc. — exactly the things we did not need to do in our regular classrooms because the work there was easy for us and we could do it well whether we were organized and focused or not. This class was explained to me by my parents as sort of a reward (and I was happy to have one, because yes, I had advantages, but I also did work harder in school than many of my peers) and sort of boot camp to be sure we didn’t get bored enough in school to start drug businesses on the side.

That said, this was many years ago and not in your state, and that teacher was a rare bird. I am horrified by the real politic of g&t in my current city. Whole thing makes me want to homeschool, and I assure you, I do not want to homeschool.

6 gwinne { 10.28.13 at 9:16 am }

My kid is a year ahead of the twins academically (4th grade). And let me tell you her third grade year sucked, largely because our district REFUSES to do anything systematically for gifted kids (and in a university town, this is a huge problem). There is no GT classroom at all…

But if the twins are happy and thriving where they are…I’d be much more conflicted about moving them. What a tough choice!

7 {sue} { 10.28.13 at 9:19 am }

Maybe I shouldn’t be expressing an opinion because my kids are not in public school, but I feel EXACTLY what you just said. It’s a different issue if the school where you are is completely not working. But in every school, there will be things that work and things that don’t, and you would be trading one set of those things for another no matter what.

I do feel that community is important and having kids go to school with the kids they play sports with or are in scouts with or see riding their bikes around the neighborhood has great value.

I also know that your kids are always learning when they are with you and that their enrichment happens all the time. They aren’t missing a thing.

8 Anjali { 10.28.13 at 9:27 am }

I read this post with my jaw open. I’ve never even heard of such a system.
Here, in our school district in Georgia, the gifted program, as well as advanced (1/2 year ahead academically in language arts or math) and accelerated (full year ahead academically in language arts or math) programs are fully integrated in our neighborhood public schools. Kids are screened for gifted/advanced/accelerated twice a year, every single year. The gifted program meets within the same school, the same school hours, one day a week. Students who are in advanced or accelerated language arts or math, switch classrooms so they are with the teacher and students learning the level. And these kids are screened twice a year as well. So a kid can be doing 2nd grade math as a first grader, or stay on level and suddenly be doing 5th grade math as a 4th grader.

Siblings will always be in the same school, together, no matter whether they are “on level,” or several years ahead in a given subject. For all the flack that Georgia gets for education, I think our school district gets it right.

Best of luck to you, Mel. Your kids will do great either way, and I really don’t think where they attend school matters in the long run, because they have you as a parent.

9 Kathy { 10.28.13 at 9:32 am }

Great post, Mel and I get it. Though I rarely blog about or mention that our son goes to one Chicago’s Public Regional Gifted Centers/Schools, it is something that is always on my mind and in my conversations with family and friends.

It wasnt ‘t easy decision to choose to send him there, beginning in Kindergarten, but we don’t regret it. I do think it is worth having children tested for programs and schools like this, because at least you then have information and possible options that aren’t available to you if you don’t.

I appreciate all sides of arguments related to gifted education and do believe that our son is in the best place for him, at this time in his life. I feel blessed and lucky that he got into the school that he did, though the experience certainly has it’s challenges, different that what we might be dealing with at our neighborhood public school.

But I respect that each family needs to do what they believe is best for their children and look forward to hearing what you decide. If you want to discuss more offline, feel free to contact me that way.

Also, this blog: http://cpsobsessed.com has helped me over the years to process our experience with the Chicago Public School system.

10 Justine { 10.28.13 at 9:42 am }

We don’t have gifted schools in my county, only gifted and talented programs within the schools. And even those aren’t all that different or advanced. Which in some ways makes me sad, because I think my son could be doing better if he were challenged to do so. And because I’ve made the choice to work full time, and commute to where I do, I don’t do the after-school enrichment you describe here (which, I think, is really the best possible combination of homeschooling and public schooling); for my kids, school (in its less-preferred version, perhaps … I am not good, unfortunately, at instilling after-hours wonder) will be what happens on Monday to Friday, 7:30 to 5.

Looking at a place like where I work now, which *is* sort of a “gifted magnet” of its own, I can say that there is value in being challenged among peers who are just like you. But many of the students who are here would find that challenge anyway. Yes, they get an additional dose of humility, but I think that a parent who THINKS about that can infuse humility into everyday life lessons, which you already–obviously, to anyone reading your blog–do.

I think that the choice might be different if your local school is dangerous. If the choice is gifted (and safe) or local (and subject to a drug and gun and gang culture). I think the choice might be different if your children were being bullied, and the school system did nothing to stop it. If there were nothing redeeming about the public school program. For me, it’s not an argument just about gifted/nongifted education, but about the whole community in which we raise our children. Because a lot of what they learn, in ANY school, is completely out of our control, too.

11 Mic (formerly Raising Mavis) { 10.28.13 at 9:58 am }

I want to re-read this and absorb but I wanted to comment now.
My first thought is YES. YES. Finally someone is talking about this. Because even though my kid is 3.5, I’m thinking about this, stressing over it, and have identified potential issues with how I think my family would face this situation.
So yes. I understand why you are processing this information and I agree.

12 loribeth { 10.28.13 at 10:08 am }

At the time & place I was growing up, there were no such things as special “gifted” programs. If you were judged smart enough, you were sometimes offered the chance to skip a grade. I didn’t know until years later that my Grade 1 teacher offered my parents the chance to skip me, because I was already reading Bobbsey Twins & Nancy Drew books, while my classmates were struggling through Dick & Jane.

My parents decided to keep me with my classmates, & the teacher would sometimes give me a little extra work on the side just to keep me busy & avoid boredom. Throughout my school career, I was often singled out & bullied because I was “smart” (& not athletic) — but I’m not sure that simply putting me with a group of older kids would have helped matters any.

When I was in journalism school, I saw an ad in the paper for a meeting of a group called ABC (Association for Bright Children), & did an article on it. I met with some parents & got to sit in on a G&T classroom at a local school. They had a fabulous teacher & I was blown away by — and yes, I’ll admit, just a little envious of — the things they were doing.

If your kids are happy & feel sufficiently challenged at their current school, and you are giving them plenty of enrichment opportunities at home — and it sounds like this is the case — then maybe they don’t need to attend a G&T program.

Are there other points down the road where they could switch to a G&T program if they/you wanted to do so? — A friend’s daughter tried out for the local arts-focused school. They only accepted new students in Grade 7 & again in Grade 10, I think. Her mom wanted her to wait for Grade 10, but she begged, tried out — and got in for Grade 7, among stiff competition. She is happy & thriving there.

13 Ellen K. { 10.28.13 at 10:17 am }

Terrific post, Mel. And I will add this is a particularly rough topic for parents of multiples because we know that it is unlikely both kids will get in — or that one family will be allowed 2 spaces at once (although younger siblings will get preferential admission if an older sibling is at the school, at least in our city’s G/T magnet system) — and also, knowing your kids’ “IQ scores” (quotes intentional) can have a very real effect on the way you perceive and parent them.

I am not a big fan of G/T programs. My experiences were mostly negative. I had far more friends, and fewer competitive relationships, when I was in a regular classroom and simply sent up to the next grade when it came time for reading/language arts, compared with the exclusively G/T classroom. I was up until 11 or midnight most school nights in 6th grade, on bullshit brainteasers that made me feel stupid (and many parents complained about this type of homework). Also, I was extremely good at reading and language arts and biological sciences, but average at math and physical sciences, so going along with the herd — the G/T herd — did not help. I felt really behind, doubted my own abilities, and learned to give up or coast along. Now this was at the beginning of my district’s elementary G/T program, and I am sure a LOT has changed, but it left a bad taste in my mouth and, yes, it ruined existing friendships because I was no longer with my friends for most of the day or in those valuable downtime moments. Also, discipline was a real problem in our classroom. There were 13 boys and 6 girls.

And again, I am sure these programs are much better organized now, but I still maintain that labeling is more harmful than boredom, and a good teacher and good parents can find ways to help advanced students enjoy a regular classroom experience.

BTW, our city’s (very poor) public schools have added another G/T program in an existing regular magnet elementary: 2 preschool classes, beginning 2 years ago, and as the kids advance, the school will become exclusively G/T. An equivalent IQ of 130 is necessary for new PK applicants. Word on the street is that there is little mingling among G/T first graders and the regular 2nd graders, and very little mingling among the parents. The parents of older kids justifiably feel upset that the administrators are concentrating on the more attractive G/T program.

Have you read “Nurture Shock”? It discusses the negative aspects of G/T tracking at an early age.

Good luck.

14 Ellen K. { 10.28.13 at 10:20 am }

Oops – that was not the ending I wanted to type. It should have been:

“Good luck. I am sure you will make a good decision. You know and understand your kids exceptionally well. And you know, there is always another year, although it sure can feel like windows close and remain shut.”

15 Alex Block { 10.28.13 at 10:38 am }

Your reasoning sounds right to me, Mel.

Boy, I hope CA doesn’t have this kind of system — what a drag.

16 Christina { 10.28.13 at 10:54 am }

As far as worrying about doing all the right things, this article puts it into perspective nicely: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/opinion/sunday/notes-from-a-dragon-mom.html?_r=0

I am a “dragon mom” and a “tiger mom”, and my daily struggle has included balancing the two – really every parent should, to some extent. Mel, yes, you are incredibly lucky to have this decision to make. I know that you know that – and that means a lot to someone like me.

My experience is this (take if for what it’s worth in applying it to your own situation): My (living) child is a kindergartener diagnosed as clinically gifted. We live in a small town in SD, where there isn’t funding for a GT program in the public schools (the few private – i.e. Christian – schools don’t offer anything either). The schools are forced to simply pull gifted kids out of their regular classroom for the subjects they excel in and let them learn at their level with the older kids. Otherwise, teachers are tempted to give the gifted kids busywork and who would want the “reward” for completing their work quickly and accurately to be more of the same?

To quote Dr. Sylvia Rimm: “The surest path to high self-esteem is to be successful at something you perceived would be difficult. Each time we steal our students’ struggle by insisting they do work that is too easy for them, we steal their opportunity to have an esteem-building experience. Unless kids are consistently engaged in challenging work, they will lose their motivation to work hard.”

My child is very smart, but she is no prodigy. I have no disillusions of her becoming something she isn’t. However, I don’t want her to ever stop learning – none of us should. It’s the kids with the IQ’s in the upper 2% that will learn the least in the regular classroom – especially with NCLB.

I would encourage you to read a book titled “Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s Regular Classroom” by Susan Winebrenner http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Gifted-Kids-Todays-Classroom/dp/1575423952/ref=pd_sim_b_3
It’s written for teachers, but it’s a great resource for parents to help their child’s teacher as well. It offers some great ideas for implementing a system in the classroom that will benefit the entire class, not just the gifted, without singling out anyone.

Good luck!

17 magpie { 10.28.13 at 11:34 am }

i can’t speak to this, because in our town, our county, there is no such thing. if i were so inclined, i could send my kid to private school – or homeschool her – but public school is public school. no options.

but all of your points about loving to learn are spot on.

18 LC { 10.28.13 at 12:39 pm }

This is something DH and I started talking out before LO was even born. She’s only 2, so we haven’t had to do anything about it yet. For her, our options are public charter school (that normally gets twice as many applicants as they have spaces), local public elementary that can feed into local public middle or local public STEM focused middle that feed into the public high schools that have “focii” like STEM or international languages or …. And we’ll probably do the afterschool supplements you mentioned…

Anyway, that doesn’t help you. What might help is a little bit about what happened when I was in school. In 1st grade, on the day of GT testing, one of the students who was supposed to take the test wasn’t there. So my teacher had me take it. Being a first grader, I went home and told my mom all about it. She was FURIOUS. Complete with calling the teacher the next day about how dare they test me without telling her and getting my hopes up, etc. The teacher was suitably contrite but (because she couldn’t just tell my mom the scores) tried to talk my mom down from her high horse. Even though I’d been in the 2nd reading group, I tested into GT for language… (I’ve always risen to expectations and done just enough to get by). I did not test into GT for math. So, I started getting pulled out for language in the same school. Fast forward 4 years and we move to a different state. In that school system, I tested into GT for math but not language. Again, same school just different classes. This was also middle school, so everyone was moving around from class to class and it wasn’t as obvious. That year I was SOOOO bored in English (brand new teacher just out of school herself, didn’t know how to deal with various ability levels in the same class) but I did get a good background in parts of speech and grammar that served me well through the rest of school. After that year, I got to go back into GT English until high school when I got put into a class with students from all levels of language ability that was discussion based (more like a college class) to see how it would work for these students of various abilities. After that, we were at AP vs non-AP and I could choose for myself.

So, with all this in GT, out of GT, half-way between, I would say that I had a great experience (for the most part ’cause middle school is rarely a great experience) and I’m glad things turned out the way they did. So this also means that if the choice you make this year turns out to not be the right choice, you can change it without damaging them permanently. 🙂

The one GT-type choice similar to what you’re talking about is that in 5th grade I was able to play in the middle school orchestra (had been playing since pre-K) which meant my mom dropping me at the middle school early, orchestra practice, then catch a special bus back to the elementary. It was a great experience and I loved the orchestra, but the commute hassle was, well, not worth it.

Now that all of us kids are out of the school system, I’ve had a chance to talk to my mom about the choices she made as the parent. There are a few things she wished she’d done differently (more along the lines of whistle-blowing on the alcoholic teacher or the teacher with “anger managment” issues than course choices). One thing she’s glad she did was this: During my brother’s 8th grade year, his teacher made a point to make them learn parts of speech and grammar that had been, well, glossed over before then. While volunteering in the library, my mom ran into this particular teacher and thanked him for doing that. He in turn thanked her for saying that in front of the principal (which my mom hadn’t even realized that she’d done).

19 deathstar { 10.28.13 at 12:50 pm }

Here where I live, I have to make a decision to just go along and go with the elementary school in our catchment or sign up for 2 more choices out of our neighbourhood. THIS IS FOR KINDERGARTEN. The choice of school is apparently important before certain elementary schools feed into certain secondary (high) schools. 2 schools are international baccalaureate schools which have programs that teach the kind of things you are talking about and encourage global citizenship. Both of them are out of our area. Sounds so fancy and important. I too am now thinking about if we happen to get in the “preferred” schools how will my only child develop friendships if I have to ferry him back and forth to school, and never see the mums or their kids in our area? Frankly, we may never have a choice in the end anyway.

You’re a great teacher, Melissa, and your kids are lucky to have you so engaged in their education. Frankly, all these gifted programs don’t really matter too much when it comes to the real adult world, does it? Every parent wants to have their kid succeed and get whatever extra advantage they can get. Every parent wants their kid to do better, have more success and buy more things than they ever did. So you have to examine your values as to what you really consider success to be and you already have. Follow your gut. Trust your kid’s innate abilities and be there for them.

20 It Is What It Is { 10.28.13 at 1:00 pm }

My thought was about what Kelly said above, which is what if both kids don’t get into the G/T program? Then what?

Our public school system is a shambles so our son is in private school. I SO wish it were different. I, too, want him to have as much life skill as book knowledge and I precisely know how that combination will serve him well. Being well-rounded is KEY to having a successful live.

Good luck and I’ll read, with interest, how things develop for you, for them.

21 Mrs T (missohkay) { 10.28.13 at 1:03 pm }

We are just beginning to think about schools, and I can already tell that our perspective will be different than people around us who say “oh, she can’t go to your neighborhood school, it’s terrible!” and we say “well, she can’t go to your kids’ school – she’d be the only black kid!” Everyone has different needs and priorities and it sounds to me like your holistic approach to the problem will work out for all of you.

On another note, my parents let me choose between a private high school and a public one, and I picked public based on its extracurricular options (marching band and newspaper). That might not have been the best choice for everyone, but it worked for me!

22 nicoleandmaggie { 10.28.13 at 1:31 pm }

You asked about other things to think about.

I think the judgement/labeling thing is a red herring. Or rather, I don’t think it’s important to worry what other people think about your choices. There’s a strong anti-academic strain in the US and SO WHAT? (Also competitive in the opposite direction in NYC and maybe one or two other places in the US if you believe the NYTimes). That wouldn’t enter in my equation at all. (Here’s our post on labeling: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/on-labels-a-deliberately-controversial-post/ ) Note that you can still label for purposes of sorting and have growth mindsets, and that the gifted/mindset literature is pretty clear that not getting challenges leads to fixed mindsets. A good gifted program will know not to praise kids for being smart, but will praise them for effort. That’s like gifted education 101. (And it’s good for gifted kids to occasionally not know how to do something– just like everybody else! It’s not a bad thing to be challenged!)

I do think you can do a pros and cons analysis like you’ve been doing, but put concrete things in there. How much better is this school really? One of the reasons we didn’t seriously investigate moving into the next town is because none of the other professors who care about education do that– they all live in the wealthy town as far away from the poor town as they can. That leads me to believe that the little g/t school in the bigger poor district probably doesn’t have enough resources and may not actually be doing a great job of educating g/t kids. Otherwise these rich parents who care about education would be moving there. I don’t know that for sure, but that’s my first pass. Nobody has been telling me what an awesome opportunity this is, although folks know it exists. I also don’t see these students at the various academic meets (robotics, decathalon etc.) that other schools are at.

Some of the folks who care about education in our town are trying to force their wealthy K-4 to put in a gifted program but it’s been uphill because they already get high test-scores so the school has no incentive to do anything different than aim for the middle. So the parents complain about lack of challenge and the kids get in trouble for running wild and they have meetings but so far not much has changed for them.

We also have a science charter open to both towns and that seems to be more represented both with university kids and at meets (although they’re over-crowded at the K-6 level because the poor town really doesn’t have a lot of resources).

So how much of a benefit is this gifted school really over your other alternatives?

What kinds of things do they do in your school? Do they still do cluster grouping? (It sounds like they don’t do tracking.) Do they still get challenges? How do kids from both schools do when they go on to the next level? One of the private schools here in town has a reputation for sending kids to public unprepared. Our public elementary schools are supposed to be bad at differentiation but our public middle schools are supposed to be great. How much better is one option over the other for your kids?

It also makes sense to put in commuting time and hassle into that equation, just as you’ve been doing.

For my sister, it made sense for her to drive 30 min to go to a private high school (though she had friends and was doing fine, she was never challenged at the local public), and for me it made sense to go to boarding school in high school. It doesn’t make sense for us to commute an hour and a half each way to send our child to the nearest gifted school. But our current private school option is working well for us. If it weren’t we might consider moving closer to another option and a commute might make sense… depending on how good that gifted school in the city really is.

And, of course, a lot of how good an education experience is going to be is going to depend on the individual teacher. If you have a good teacher it isn’t as important what the school or modality is. Though at least for some gifted kids, there’s a benefit to having classmates who are also gifted, though that’s more important for some than for others.

23 Turia { 10.28.13 at 2:13 pm }

This is a really interesting post. I don’t know very much about the US school system (and it is sounding like that is as much of a misnomer as saying the ‘Canadian school system’ when it is a provincial responsibility and things can be SO different), but some of your issues are ones that I think about a lot.

Q. is Australian. If we lived in Australia, E. would go to private school. It’s that simple. I think something like 50 or 60% of students in Australia are in private schools (which get government funding). Q.’s name was down at a school from birth, and he went to one of the big Catholic private schools in Sydney, where he received an exceptionally good education.

I went to public school in small town rural Ontario, and turned out just fine, and I have an instinctive aversion to the idea of private school, especially private school in our big city.

This is not the same situation that you are facing, but one of our (ongoing, even though E. is only two) debates is private vs. our local elementary school. It matters to me that E. goes to a school with the kids in his neighbourhood. It matters to me that he’s not on a bus for hours each day. It matters to me that he has time for other activities because he’s not commuting.

I think Q. and I have agreed on the local elementary school, IF E. is in french immersion, which is freely recognized as the public system’s private education. It attracts a particular demographic of parent and student, and it does act as a filter to some degree. We’ll see. If E. doesn’t get in, that will be another whole kettle of fish.

The questions that I have been thinking about a lot, and I think maybe do apply as well to your situation are:

1. How much does in-school learning matter in the elementary years, if there is a parent available after school for enrichment activities? I was tested as g&t very early- they tried to get me to skip grade one, but my mother resisted, correctly recognizing that I would have floundered socially even more than I eventually did if I had been a year younger- but being a military family, I moved schools every year. Some years I had extension programs, some years I didn’t. Some years I was bored, some years I wasn’t. What stayed consistent was having my Mum at home when I got home, ready and able and willing to read things with me, to challenge me, to take me to museums, etc.

2. If one decides that the elementary years (I am thinking here of up to grade six) are mainly about socializing and navigating through school and building social skills, etc. etc., and that any skill set shortages that are missed out because of circumstances (bad teacher, bad school, problems at home, illness, or whatever) can be made up with a caring parent’s help, what about high school? If I don’t put E. in a particular stream by a particular age, does that affect his ability later down the track to get into the high school that I think really will make a difference in his love of learning?

3. What about teachers? It doesn’t matter how good the program is, or how bad the school is supposed to be- it is the individual teacher who makes or breaks the year. Would a G&T kid do better in a ‘normal’ classroom with a brilliant teacher than in a specialized program with a bad teacher. Maybe this is not politic to say, but I used to be a high school teacher. I know there are bad ones, and I know what they can do to a child’s love of learning, especially if they get them at a vulnerable point.

You know your kids, and you know your options, and you (and Josh) will make the right decision in the end for your family. If you apply, and they don’t get in (or only one of them does), are there later options to rejoin the program? (For us, we either start E. in french immersion in SK, or that’s it until grade four.) I don’t think that you should underestimate the power of having you at home, able and willing to provide extension activities: they are getting the chance to explore further while also getting quality time with a parent. That is a powerful combination, and I would think any GT program in a school that would require a lengthy commute would have to be pretty damn amazing before the opportunities could trump what you are able to offer.

If you weren’t able to be at home, and the twins were at school, and then at some sort of after school care until 5 or 6 at night, I think it would be a different scenario.

Best of luck. It is a tough tough decision.
T.
PS. I am also 100% one of those gifted kids who is afraid to fail because I always did everything so well and everything always just assumed I would succeed, and nothing was ever hard for me all the way through school. Now I am 34 and I still have a terrible time taking risks, or finishing things when they get hard. I think if you can keep the twins from developing this type of thought process, no matter what school they go to, they’ll be ok in life.

24 nicoleandmaggie { 10.28.13 at 2:20 pm }

@Turia… it is never too late to develop a growth mindset. (Once you internalize that, you’re set!) Read Mindset by Carol Dweck if you need more convincing. 🙂

25 Christine { 10.28.13 at 2:45 pm }

In our county, in our school, they get the TAG testing in 1st and 3rd grades. If your kid is marked TAG, they get the option of entering a lottery to go to a specific TAG program in another school – thank you for explaining why it’s a school so far away in a not-great neighborhood – or staying in our school to join the TAG program there. In 1st grade my son did not test into TAG but we already knew we weren’t interested in doing the lottery. I don’t want to sacrifice all that time on the school bus and all that time doing homework just for the sake of going to “the” school. Not at this stage.

I really don’t feel that pressure, though, that any single thing we do might mess up his life forever. I figure if our kids are bright and resilient and decent and thoughtful and read books and ask questions, they’ll get to where they’re meant to be in life. And if they don’t figure out where that is until they’re 50, then they’ll have had a lot of experience on the way there.

26 FishyGirl/Mary { 10.28.13 at 3:05 pm }

I understand a lot of your concerns, Mel; we live in the same county and I’ve had 3 kids go through that whole thing so far. One stayed at our home ES, one attended the magnet and I probably would make a different decision all over again if I could, and one is there now in fourth grade and it’s absolutely the best place for her. It’s a complex decision that needs to be based on your kids, their needs, the quality of the school they’re coming from and the quality of the school they’d be going to. It was a very different decision from us looking to go from one red-zone, diverse socioeconomically challenged school to another than it was for my nieces who would have gone from one green-zone fairly homogenous school to a school that had greater challenges. If you are interested in my thoughts on all this which are way to numerous to type here and will bore anyone who doesn’t live in this school system, email me and we can meet up for coffee or something. I’m more than willing to share. No matter what you do, your kids will be fine because you pay attention to these things and get involved. They know Mom’s got their backs.

27 Aisha { 10.28.13 at 3:46 pm }

I’m in a different stage with the kids now, as W is a year from preschool, and this post has me completely stressed out—- it is such an honor and incredible responsibility to have a child and I don’t want to F#!& it up. Schooling is one of many other stresses that plague me at the moment. Glad to know that I’m not alone. No matter the decision its never easy but we have to hope that we tried our best and that they will be okay.

28 vablondie { 10.28.13 at 4:47 pm }

Great post, and brings up a lot of topics we all wrestle with!
For what it is worth, I grew up in NoVa, and never took GT classes. Ended up with one AP class, but that is about it. I came into my own as a student in college. I generally did just enough to get by. Once I caught the learning bug, I just kept going. I now have two bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees.

We send our child to a private Montessori school, mainly because we want nothing to do with SOLs. I understand what they are trying to do, but we actually want our child to learn think, not just learn what is going to be on a test. Also, that is a lot of assessment over the course of your school career. Unfortunately I think we are going to have to deal with it eventually, as our current school only goes through 6th grade. Sigh.

Good luck making your decision about what to do. It is not an easy decision.

29 Amy { 10.28.13 at 7:42 pm }

our school system is really f-ed up. we have neighborhood schools, and then we have magnets and fundamentals (both of which are by lottery) and we also have a school for gifted students. BUT, at all fundamentals, magnets and neighborhood schools (you’d have to take a bus then) there are pull-out gifted classes. Dorothy is at a fundamental (with her brothers) and she’s in the pull out gifted program. We LOVE it. it gives her a challenge in math, and lots of interesting stuff to learn and think about. I know several people who are at the gifted school, and the general consensus is that the school is harder, but not more interesting. Plus there is the long drive that you mentioned. We never even considered it.

Good luck with your decision.

30 chickenpig { 10.28.13 at 7:49 pm }

They have nothing like a GT program here. There are magnet schools, but they are on a lottery system. But since I am on the other end of the spectrum fighting for my son to have an “equal and appropriate” education I can’t really appreciate what you’re saying. You are unbelievably lucky to not have your children labeled on the flip side of the equation. My son is gifted, talented, AND disabled and fighting every day to stay with his peers. You are lucky, lucky, lucky. Lucky to have wonderful kids (which you guys played a huge part in 🙂 and lucky to have the choices you have. Now…good luck deciding what to DO about it.

31 Jo { 10.28.13 at 7:49 pm }

I dropped GT after one year as a kid. I found it frustrating and not-relate able to my life. (I don’t WANT to take apart a phone and put it bak together! Or drop eggs from a rooftop!). I still got a quality education, scored a 32 on my ACT as a sophomore, and had my pick of scholarships at numerous high-profile universities. In short, public school served me fine, even without GT.

32 Sara { 10.28.13 at 8:50 pm }

This stuff is SO hard. We live in a very small town in the middle of nowhere (college town, but nothing else at all), so we don’t have the kind of choices that you do, and I still thought I’d give myself an ulcer over Eggbert’s kindergarten. She is on the older end of the age range for the normal school schedule, so she was scheduled to start kindergarten at age 5-and-three-quarters according to our state laws. Since she was reading (spontaneously–her preschool teacher swore she didn’t teach her to read, and I didn’t either) at age 3, this worried me a bit, but she is also tiny and kind of immature in other ways, so I just let it be. In our area we have three choices–our district public school, a charter school, and a private Montessori. The Montessori is expensive and doesn’t have a great reputation, so that left the two public choices. We entered her into the lottery for the charter school, where I was assured that she would be taught Spanish from kindergarten (the only school in the area that has any language before junior high), and that they were well-equipped to handle her advanced but uneven academic skills. She didn’t get in. I was bummed. Two days before school started, we went to the getting-to-know-you picnic at the local public school. Eggbert LOVED it. There was a great playground, her teacher was young, fun, and enthusiastic, and she made friends instantly with several of the kids. Best of all, 8 out of the 18 kids were children of color, like Eggbert, and at least four are also children of immigrants, like Eggbert, and three were bilingual, like Eggbert. The next day, we got a call that the charter school now had a spot for Eggbert. We took her in to visit, since school there had already started. There was no real playground. The teacher was spectacular, as advertised, but Every Single Child in the class was white and blonde. I asked Eggbert where she wanted to go, and she said “the playground school!” And to the playground school she went. Her teacher is pulling her out for special reading time and has asked for permission to place her in an in-school enrichment program for kids in her situation. I do still have occasional twinges of doubt, but on the whole, I think I did the best thing for the whole child. I think. I hope. This stuff is so hard. Good luck making a decision.

33 Alexicographer { 10.28.13 at 10:09 pm }

Erm, based on what I know about you, I’d keep both kids in the local school, enjoy their shorter commute, and spend lots of time with them as we have established you enjoy and are able to do. And not look back (unless things got dicey, in which case, sure. But you’ve stated they’re not dicey). But then, I’m a notorious satisficer.

34 Queenie { 10.28.13 at 11:42 pm }

Someone may have already said this, but I’m too tired tonight to read all of the comments before I comment. So. . .I think you DO have the answer. You just need to trust yourself, which is so hard when it comes to figuring out what the best is for your kids. But think. . .Why is a G/T program “better” than two happy, thriving kids with a kickass mom who does cool stuff with them after school? It’s not. It’s just. . .not. We are in this crazy rat race in America to have our special snowflakes be the best, have the best, do the best. G/T seems to maybe be a good fit for a few kids, but by and large a separate program for this age group seems kind of crazy to me. It feels like yet another way to keep up with the Joneses. “If my kids is going to be the best, have the best, do the best, he MUST be in G/T.” But smart, happy, engaged kids is the goal, and there are lots of ways to get there, and you’ve got that. Sure, maybe the G/T program offers something positive for kids. But everything has its upsides and its downsides. You’ve already highlighted all of the things that your kids would lose out on in the program. You’ve already got smart, happy kids. I don’t see the net gain here from pulling them out and sticking them in the program, even if they do both get in.

And, awesome, timely post–as always. We are in the process of choosing a new school for our almost-4 year old, and struggling. Do we go with the “top” school in the city, which would involve a 45 minute (!!) commute each way? (Hells no). The fancy school near our house that the elite fawn over, but seems to lack in values? (another big fat no). The school nearest our house, which lacks amenities and doesn’t rate as well in national rankings, but has a nice community and good solid teachers? I’ll admit, my knee-jerk reaction was “I want her at the ‘best’ school, whatever that is.” My immediate second thought, though, was that my child isn’t exactly going to be disadvantaged by going to kindergarten in a “second-tier” primary school. . .she is going to still come out of the experience bilingual, after all, and with the extra time she won’t be spending on a school bus going to to “top” school, we can do other stuff together.

35 mel { 10.29.13 at 2:10 am }

As a teacher, I am fully against a self-contained GT school. I totally applaud you on seeing that’ book smart’ is not what one needs to succeed in life. I do agree with enrichment programs that challenge gifted students, but DIFFERENTIATION in the classroom should be happening. However, let’s not blame public school teachers who are forced to follow Common Core (Common Crap) and meet test scores for not being able to do their best with differentiation.

Anyway, I digress…a well-rounded human being is the one who will function best in society, not a genius lacking social skills. It is so important to look at the WHOLE child and foster the needs of the WHOLE child, not just academics. Furthermore, I have to deal with many pushy parents wanting to put their child in an ‘accelerated’ program where their child does not actually belong. Many times parents and teachers alike forget about cognitive development; there are reasons why certain things are taught at certain ages. I most often see this in reading. As a third grade teacher a classic example of this is with reading. This is the age when we start focusing on higher order comprehension skills like predicting, inferring and making connections from text to self,etc. There is a reason for this, very few second graders can actually developmentally do this. Yes, your child may be able tor ead fluently and with expression, but do they have a deepr understanding of the text? If you want to extend your son at home, my advice would be to focus on these skills with both fiction and non-fiction texts.

Teaching your child a foreign language, exploring (really exploring) parks and zoos, visiting museums , learning about geography, travelling and experiencing new cultures is honestly far more important that skipping three grades in school.

Ok, I will now get off my soap box. Thank you again for your post!

36 luna { 10.29.13 at 3:00 am }

I love how you describe “life smart” and it’s so true. the truth is your kids will be life smart. they will continue to be enriched by the love and attention and energy you and Josh pour into them and by the values you instill. besides, you teach by example and you are already helping them grow into curious and compassionate members of their community and citizens of the world.

I know these decisions are so tough. we’re already feeling it as we face kindergarten registration in a few months. here the charter schools often offer a more enriching classroom experience and more alternative approaches to learning that could be more conducive to our 4yo’s learning style (or what we think it is now).

ultimately we want an environment for our children to thrive. trust your gut.

37 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 10.29.13 at 3:57 am }

Here’s my thoughts.

Learning to be life-smart also involves learning that you win some, you lose some. That they have a win now and have to sort out a loss later may be a great way of teaching them that – especially if you are there to coach them through it. They can learn that they were good enough and that maybe they’re at a plateau but maybe they can push ahead again with either extra effort or when things click in to place for them. Or they can be special for five minutes, followed by ordinary. Not a bad lesson.

I think children to whom everything comes easily, because they are inadequately challenged, will have trouble the first time things don’t. This is basically more of the above, but not pushing the limits of success because it’ll make failure hurt extra hard doesn’t stack up as an argument to me.

I think children who are not adequately challenged can *sometimes* learn to resent their peers and, by extension, people in general, and it may be difficult to get over this in the long run. They can learn to feel lonely because nobody around them seems to be like them or to share their interests. They can learn to resign themselves to always being alone/out of synch with those around them.

Now, of course all that screams “send him!” so now let me qualify a bit. I think the home environment and what they get there (and/or extra-curricularly) is very important as well, and you are in a great position to fill in some or all of the gaps. If your kids are really enjoying school and you can do stuff for them outside of school, a lot of the above won’t apply, or at least it will apply to a lesser extent.

But you asked for food for thought so there’s my offering 🙂 .

Good luck making your decision.

38 Lisa { 10.29.13 at 9:00 am }

I tested ‘bright’ in primary school and was given the option to go into special schooling but my parents chose not to pursue it – even going in the opposite direction for high school where they applied for me to go out of area to a non-streamed, non-academic school instead of the streamed one in my area that my clever friends went to.

As a teenager and in university I resented that decision. I wondered how much more highly I could have achieved and what opportunities I could have enjoyed had they put me in a more academic environment that was tailored to fast learners.

But twenty odd years later I look back and think they made the right decision for me. I already gave myself advanced work, following things that interested me and became a voracious reader, but their decision to send me to a community oriented school made me a much more well rounded person.

I think I was lucky that in my school, once I had met the standards of the curriculum, the teachers would offer me extension work or ask if I could work with classmates who were slower grasping the concepts so I didn’t get particularly bored. I found helping the other students valuable in so many ways. In addition to reinforcing my learning, it taught me about dealing with life – with people of different abilities and different backgrounds, how to communicate at different levels, how to deal with frustration and boredom (mine and other student’s) constructively, and how to teach myself, which has developed into a life long love of learning.

I also learned persistence and resilience – qualities that have served me well in university and my career and that my friends who did go down the other route still struggle with today.

I just wanted to give you that perspective.

Its a tough decision and I wish you all the best with making it.

39 Aislinn { 10.29.13 at 10:27 am }

When I first started school, my parents wanted me to be in a school that did a lot of self taught learning as compared to a “main stream” elementary school. The new school had a waiting list, and I got accepted at the end of my first grade year. My parents gave me the choice – stay in the “main stream” school that was a 5 minute drive from my house, or go to the new school that was across town. They told me the pros and cons of each school, but ultimately gave me the choice.

I chose the new school, for reasons I don’t remember, but I’m so glad that I did. The self taught way of learning was more my style and carried me through college.

I guess where I’m going with this is, could you have the twins take the test and if they get in, explain to them the pros and cons of both schools, but let them choose? They may have a different perspective than you and wish to stay at the school they’re at.

If you did let them test, and one got in, but not the other, would you keep them together in the school they’re in now, or would you split them up?

40 Silver { 10.29.13 at 7:36 pm }

I am a teacher in the UK – 17 years experience of the UK’s state primary system – and a firm believer in two things. 1) there is more to school that book learning and 2) your parents will have a much bigger effect on your educational outcome than your school. I LOVE what this post says about your attitude to your kids’ education and I reckon that your gut feeling and your input will take your kids far and help them to grow into well-rounded wee people.

41 Tiara { 10.30.13 at 1:11 pm }

I am desperately behind in my blog reading while studying for my exam (this Saturday! Wish me luck!!) Anyway so I am obviously late to this party & since I am supposed to be studying right now, I haven’t been able to read all the comments…but in case no one else mentioned it, what if 1 of your children is accepted & the other not? This happend to my brother’s children & it was very tough on the one who wasn’t accepted.

And Life Smart…very wise perspective. that was my favourite part of this post.

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