Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why GIFTED Students STILL need GIFTED Education!!

by Joy Lawson Davis

(with Donna Y. Ford & Josh Shaine)

Yesterday I read with dismay and irritation a commentary published in the Washington Post entitled: ‘Why Geniuses Don’t Need Gifted Education’.  After reading I immediately thought of all the gifted children in schools and communities across the nation who may be placed at an even greater disadvantage simply because of the publication of that brief and poorly justified commentary. I also thought of the thousands of times I have in my thirty year career heard a parent, school administrator or teacher say that gifted services were in jeopardy of being dismantled, cut from the budget or reduced to almost nothing all because new leadership were of the mindset that is perpetrated by articles like the one in the Post – that gifted students or ‘geniuses’ as Mathews specified would make it anyway without specially funded, specially designed, specially set-aside services just for them!

My head was spinning after I read the article and I shared feed back with two colleagues (Donna Y. Ford and Josh Shaine) whom I greatly respect and the three of us decided that together we would share our ‘retort’ to the Post article here on this blog hoping that a wide audience would read and respond sharing their feedback as we will do here. We were especially concerned that this article which was written to speak specifically to one type of genius or gifted child- the one who is born in circumstances where it may be likely that parents or school resources (without special services) would be sufficient to nurture and help them develop their high intellectual capacity. The article made absolutely NO MENTION of the genius child who through no fault of his or her own would be born in a household where parents are working day to day to make ends meet, where resources are limited, where the nearest university campus is an hour away, where they may sit in classrooms idling away their genius because ill-trained teachers don’t recognize or respect the gifts they have. Worse, there are some children & youth in communities whose teachers don’t believe that they can even BE GIFTED or PERFORM AT A GENIUS LEVEL.

What about gifted services for those types of geniuses? Those children still need and will probably always NEED GIFTED SERVICES. I will take my position even further to suggest that ALL GIFTED CHILDREN WILL ALWAYS NEED GIFTED SERVICES. Why?

The gifted education classroom for many will be the first and only place that they actually find a set of peers who think like they do, enjoy and have passions like theirs, where they can find a friend and in doing so – find themselves.

And what about Black geniuses? It was obvious that Post article was not making reference to those students. Black geniuses are being discovered and increasingly spoken about. It was Dr. Martin D. Jenkins in the early 20th century who noted that Black gifted students would continuously have difficulties accessing services that are more freely provided their White peers. In his early work, Jenkins and his mentor, Paul Witty studied a black female genius with an IQ of 200. When Mathews mentioned the Termites studied by Lewis Terman in his article, he was certainly not speaking of Black geniuses or even females for that matter!! It is well known that Terman’s study group were white , middle - upper income males (Davis, 2013).

In my work with Black gifted students over the past three decades, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told personally by someone that the gifted program ‘saved me’ or from a parent – the gifted program or the summer enrichment program ‘saved my child’ turned his/her life around…

The gifted education program, well designed and well implemented is the only place a bright, creative student with high energy, and a voracious mind can have opportunities to experiment with ideas, be challenged to think beyond the norm and  be challenged to create new knowledge.

The gifted program, well implemented and accessible to all geniuses, regardless of their ethnicity, can provide a global think tank for gifted children from other cultures, other neighborhoods, and provide opportunities for them to be compete at a level that cannot be provided for in the regular school environment.

I believe there are thousands of genius children and youth who are Black, Brown, some poor, some rural, urban, who are craving Gifted education programming. These young people need more advocates, more attention, more programming- not LESS. As we compete globally and recognize that our students in the U.S. are not performing to up to par with their foreign neighbors, this is hardly the time to say: GENIUSES DON’T NEED GIFTED EDUCATION!

Josh Shaine provides key pluses and minuses in the Mathews commentary here: https://www.facebook.com/joshshaine/posts/10100181937811968?notif_t=like

While there may be some geniuses who may fare well independently, we believe that for most - special programs in public schools, support programming funded by private entities like the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Oliver Scholars Programs, SEED program, University programming (summer, after school, early college, etc), State and regional Governor’s schools (like those in VA and NC) are GREATLY NEEDED.

From where we sit, gifted children need more!! We are under-serving students of color, poor students, rural students, urban students at astronomical rates (Ford, 2013). We MUST DO BETTER! WE MUST SERVE THESE CHILDREN AND MEET THEIR NEEDS FOR INTELLECTUAL, ACADEMIC, AND CREATIVE CHALLENGE. Less programming, less attention to the geniuses in America’s communities is definitely NOT the answer!!

For more reading:

Davis, J.L. (2013). Martin D. Jenkins: A Voice to be Heard. In A. Robinson & J. Jolly (Eds), Illuminating Lives: A century of contributions to gifted education. New York: Routledge Press.

Ford, D.Y. (2013). Recruiting and retaining culturally different students in gifted education. Waco: Prufrock Press. 


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Facing Race in Gifted Education

”Adding the element of race to a discussion makes people uncomfortable.  It is as if some illusive, powerful force has entered and takes up all the air. For all the hope we hold as our national image, we can be a hard place” Berkowicz & Myers, Education Week, Nov 2013 

I returned exhausted and exhilarated last Sunday afternoon from the 60th Anniversary Convention of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). My sole purpose in continuing my involvement with organizational politics is to ensure that I do my part to help ‘disenfranchised groups’ get the attention they so justly deserve in Gifted Education programming, research, policy development, and educational practice.

Just before I left for the convention, I read a post in Education Week entitled ‘Facing Racism’. It was right on time!! It reassured me that working so hard to ‘face race in gifted education’ with the goal of eventually combating racism in this field is the right thing to do and that do any less is immoral and unethical.

Fighting this ‘race’ battle can sometimes be draining! My energies are always restored, however, when I come into direct contact with other scholars and advocates whose passions are as intense as my own. It is exciting for me to sit with them, have lively and intense conversations about their experiences, successes/victories, and the continuing barriers we all face in this race towards equity. (Upcoming blogs will feature a few stories from professionals in the field of gifted education..if you have one to share, please contact me).

The NAGC convention provided many avenues to discuss race and its impact on culturally and linguistically diverse students and their families and the educators who advocate for them! For me, it was probably the most exciting convention that I have ever attended! I presented at my first NAGC Convention over twenty years ago. But, twenty years ago, among the participants there were only a few educators of color. Going to the NAGC convention back then was a very lonesome experience. It was quite disheartening at times.

Twenty years later, the group of scholars of color in our field has grown. The number of sessions reflecting scholarship and practice related to Culturally Diverse learners has also increased. It was very affirming to walk among the group in Indianapolis. BUT, even with the increase in participants, we are still a long way from fairly and equitably addressing the needs of racially diverse gifted students in schools across the nation.

At the convention,  we had several opportunities to engage in dialogue to move forward with ‘Facing Race in Gifted Education’. A new initiative of the Diversity & Equity committee holds great promise for getting materials out to local leaders to address these issues. Dr. Tracy Cross, our new president is a strong advocate for equity. His leadership will be important as the organization moves forward.

Most impressive, however, was a panel discussion hosted by the Special Populations Network.  The session was ‘standing room only’ as Dr. Tarek Grantham of the University of Georgia, masterfully moderated a panel of five leaders as we responded to implications of a recent court case in Elgin, Illinois. In this case, it was determined that the district discriminated against Hispanic gifted students by sponsoring separate gifted programs. Other implications from the case included the use of culturally biased testing materials and unequal access to information about gifted programs.  The questions below were posed to the panelists and may be helpful in your school districts to help close ‘race gaps’ in gifted programs:

  • What do successful approaches/models for addressing racial disparities in gifted program student enrollment look like?
  • How do you address biased attitudes and behaviors of people to improve the climate and culture for Black and Brown students in gifted and advanced programs?
  • In what ways can you collaborate with students, families, community members, school personnel, organizational leaders, and policy makers to confront racial disparities in gifted and advanced programs?
  • How can policies and procedures be changed to improve screening, referral, identification, assessment, eligibility determination, placement, and retention of under-represented groups in gifted education?

Another historic presentation was a session on Black Geniuses, co-presented by Dr. Donna Y. Ford of Vanderbilt University and myself. To my knowledge, this was the very first session on record to focus on the legacy of one of the early pioneers in our field, Dr. Martin D. Jenkins, Father of the Study of Black Giftedness. This session shared Dr. Jenkins' legacy and featured profiles of black prodigies from across the nation. Our plan is to continue honoring Dr. Jenkins annually at NAGC and honoring contemporary Black Geniuses at future Conventions.

While these sessions and others were well received, there is still so much work yet to be done!!

I continue to appeal to parents, community leaders, educators and other advocates of ALL students to do your part to ensure that we ERADICATE UNDER-REPRESENTATION of racially diverse students in gifted programs. To advocate, we must do more to pull the ‘cover off’ of discriminatory policies, and stand united until all high ability and gifted students have equitable access to challenging and nurturing educational environments, elementary through secondary school and beyond.

In a nation which is without a doubt the most racially diverse of any developed nation in the world, it is a travesty that we continue to waste the intelligence, creativity, psychosocial gifts of so many children and youth and judging them more on the color of their skin, the neighborhood they originate from THAN the power of their intellectual capabilities.



NAGC Position Paper on Identifying and Serving Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Gifted Learners: http://www.nagc.org/index.aspx?id=9430 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why We Homeschooled Our Gifted Black Boys

by Paula Penn-Nabrit, Parent & Author of:  Morning by Morning: How We Home-Schooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League

Usually my answer to Why references Aristotle, All men by nature desire knowledge. As parents, we knew black boys were at the bottom of every measurement standard other than athletics and given Aristotle’s statement, we concluded the problem was 'process based'.  We were interested in how the process of institutionalized education shaped the psycho-social development of gifted black boys and the cultural implications of institutionalized racism on all inhabitants.

We began homeschooling after much prayer and the formulation of mission and vision statements derived from our Allegory of the Blue Cars. In our allegory everyone’s actively involved in automobile production, yet somehow many of the blue cars come off the line missing a wheel.  Some community members are convinced the missing wheels are evidence of a conspiracy to destroy blue cars, while others are convinced it’s evidence of a lack of commitment by the blue car segment of the community. Both are wrong. The missing wheel is evidence of a design flaw and emotionally charged accusations and problem repetitions will not fix it. Instead the design process must be re-tested and all cars, including the blue cars must be dis-assembled, re-examined, re-designed, re-engineered and then re-assembled.

Transferring Allegory of the Blue Cars to institutionalized education we determined Aristotle’s premise meant the absence of seeking must be a reaction to an external design flaw. Our homeschooling vision was our gifted black sons emerging as holistically healthy adults, contributing rather than merely consumptive citizens. Our mission was to create a space where holistic health would be nurtured and promoted as the telos or highest good.

The vision and mission were supported by three constructs with cultural components, namely that holistic health requires: i) acknowledgement and validation of the child as a spiritual, intellectual and physical being; ii) the study, growth and development of each aspect of the child; and iii) the child surrounded by adult versions of himself.
In traditional educational institutions 85% of teachers in K-12 are Caucasian/white women. This is part of the design flaw. It inhibits the ability of the gifted black male child to see himself mirrored in his exploration of the life of the mind.  We hired African and African-American graduate students, mostly male to teach Mathematics, Biology and French.  The history of global education speaks to the viability of single-sex education as an option.  As Caucasian/white women have benefited generationally from institutions designed for them, deductive reasoning indicates an equally specific environment designed for them would be beneficial for gifted black boys.

Our school year was expanded to a 12 month calendar to develop life-long learners committed to interdisciplinary, subject matter mastery and expertise rather than mere testing competence. Our curriculum was repetitive, deep and narrow with limited extracurricular options. Each year they studied Ancient & Global Literature; Biology; Global History & Geography; Mathematics; Philosophy & World Religions; and Politics, Governments & Current Events. Athletics including fencing, football, golf, swimming, tae kwan do and tennis were experienced through Columbus Parks and Rec Centers because gifted black boys must develop social skills to interact across broad economic sectors. Community service and participation in the arts also included. Our sons were active (if not always willing) participants in The Church of Christ of the Apostolic Faith’s Bible Bowl teams, choirs, camps and VBS. (They are 5th generation members of this 100 year old congregation!) By “graduation” each had over 2,500 hours of volunteer service at Columbus’ COSI (Center of Science and Industry) where Charles and Evan developed operant conditioning techniques training rodents for Rat Basketball and Damon created an independent exhibit, The Physics of Juggling. Until his voice changed, Charles was a member of OperaColumbus’ Children’s Chorus performing in Puccini’s Turandot while Damon performed in Mozart’s The Magic Flute as a member of the Opera Guild. From age 7 Evan attended Saturday School at Columbus College of Art & Design and by 13 was working as a protégé with the acclaimed African-American artist Roman Johnson. They attended YMCA Camp, Space Camp, Engineering Camp and Oceanography Camp, traveled through 40 states, much of Canada, and parts of the Caribbean, Asia and Europe.

Our experiment spoke to Erickson’s 4th and 5th stages of psychosocial development with a specific emphasis on culture. The 4th stage, psychosocial conflicts around personal competence, was met by an environment designed for them, populated with adult versions of them and premised upon a quest for holistic health where their spiritual, intellectual and physical selves were nurtured. Each came to a deep knowledge of himself, his competence and capacity to determine, define, do and be good as a prime mover rather than a reactor.

Their movement through Erickson’s 5th stage, identity and confusion, also was enhanced by homeschooling.  One of the greatest challenges for gifted black children is moving beyond what I’ve coined The Myth of the Exceptional Negro.  This myth takes the normative status of institutionalized racism and creates a neurological pathway internalizing it-convincing the gifted black child there are no others. When a black boy is identified as gifted, he’s relegated to conspicuous other status, standing alone as he’s told You’re not like them, I don’t even think of you as black.  Coming on the heels of the ever-present, I don’t see color, this requirement to stand alone is poignantly conflicting. This stage also presents challenges for non-black children affected and infected by institutionalized racism. How is an Asian or Caucasian/white child (or their parents!) to process the results when a black boy excels beyond the group? How do teachers and administrators cope with such an outcome? Too often the gifted black child is expected to navigate that complex maze while acting as spirit guide for classmates, teachers and administrators. Homeschooling allowed us to deduct this variation of the so-called black tax from our sons’ educational revenue stream.

It was not always a particularly pleasant experience, but I am very thankful we had the opportunity to homeschool our gifted black sons.


Guest Writer's Bio: Recently widowed after 36 years, 8 months and 24 days, Paula Penn-Nabrit is 58 and still challenged by the struggle between power and submission. She married Charles Madison Nabrit in 1976 and after law school helped raise and homeschool their sons, Charles, Damon and Evan. Paula’s written several books, including Morning by Morning: How We Home-Schooled Our African-American Sons to the Ivy League and The Power of a Virtuous Woman, lectured extensively around the world with her consulting firm, PN&A, Inc. www.nabrit.com/pna, teaches Sunday School at the church where her family has worshipped for over 100 years and is passionate about her501(c)(3), Telos Training, Inc. Visit Paula and Telos Training, Inc. @ www.telosinc.org and on Facebook.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Anti-Bullying Signs & Symptoms ALL Parents should know!!

by Carolyn Strong, anti-bullying activist, doctoral student & parent of a highly gifted teen

Bullying is a very pervasive issue, particularly as it relates to gifted children of color, often those unique, quirky qualities that define giftedness can be the same things that bullies use to target a child on the playground. 

These are things that we do not like to think about; but as summers comes to a close, bullying and the gifted child is something that we have to once again pay attention to.

As the beginning of the school year is upon us, I would like to take moment to address some issues that may have forgotten while enjoying the summer.  While students file into classrooms and pick up where they left off with their friends and classmates; there are other, more ominous relationships that will continue as well, the relationship between the bully and the bullied.  

In the interest of full disclosure as it relates our children, we should understand the signs and symptoms of being bullied, along with strategies for intervention.

If a child is being bullied, they may not necessarily come right out and say so. It may be up to us as adults to read between the lines and figure out when a child is having an issue. This is also when knowing your child becomes essential. There is finite list of behaviors that I can give you that will indicate that a child is being bullied; however there are some behaviors that may suggest there is a problem.

Prior knowledge of the child’s disposition is always helpful. For example, one of the symptoms of bullying is a child becoming shy and withdrawn; if this is a part of the child’s personality already, it is probably nothing; if this demeanor is new, then it is probably a red flag. Below you will find a list of behaviors that may be associated with bullying; please use them wisely and take the child’s personality into account when applying them.
-child has become shy and withdrawn
-child no longer wants to attend school
-child has become fixated and begin to come home talking about one child’s treatment of them constantly.
-child may no longer enjoy things that they once enjoyed.
-sudden change in grades and/or school attendance.

If you notice that your child is exhibiting these behaviors, please talk to the child and try to ascertain what may be going on. If you determine that further intervention is needed please seek help, and do not try to tackle the problem alone (see below for Ms. Strong's website).

This week's guest blogger is Carolyn Strong. Carolyn is a parent of a highly gifted teen who is also a blogger and entrepreneur. 

Carolyn is a motivational educator with an anti-bullying  message of hope for children, families and schools.  Carolyn holds multiple Master’s degrees in both Curriculum and Educational leadership. Carolyn is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in curriculum and social inquiry.  

Carolyn's research focuses on bullying, bullying and the black aesthetic, girl bullying, minority bullying, and minority representation in gifted education. 

For more information about her anti-bullying research and work, go to: http://www.bulliesstink.com

Monday, September 9, 2013

Parent to Parent: Reading Tips Everyone can Use

By Dr. Andrea Blake-Garrett, Parent, Science Educator and Author

“To go from poverty to the professions, you must first cross a bridge called books”.
Dr. Samuel Betances

As parents we love our children. We want what is best for them. We want them to live a better life than we did – right? If your answer is yes, then you must start reading aloud to and with your children now!  Let them see and hear you reading.  As you read point to each word. Speak loud and proud. Allow your voice to fill the room you are in. 

“There is no time to read. Nonsense.” Make time.  There is no law that says you have to read the whole story in one sitting. Ten minute in the morning and ten minutes at night equal 20 minutes a day. That is over 2 hours per week. 

“ My child won’t sit still for me to read to him/her” Who cares? As long as they are in the same room and can hear you keep on reading. In the beginning, my son would never sit still not even for 5 minutes. As time went by he began to settle into his routine and began to sit for longer and longer reading sessions. If there is a bible in the home start reading it.  

I can’t afford books.” Plan a trip to the local library every week. Borrow books to read. Just be sure to return them. Always have at least 3-5 books that are 2 grade levels above your child’s current grade. One of the most important benefits of habitual reading is the growth of your child’s vocabulary. Build both of your vocabularies. Read so often that to them it becomes a habit – a normal routine like washing your face. I even read to my twins while they are sleeping.

“ What to Read”  Start with books where there is a connection – Autobiographies and memoirs. An autobiography tells the story of a life, while memoir tells a story from a life. Require children to write a book report  summarizing the story and indicate important lessons learned.

Be encouraged. Keep On Reading!

Guest writer’s bio:

Dr. Andrea Blake-Garrett is a science educator, consultant and CEO & Founder of Dr. Blake-Garrett's Educational Solutions. LLC. She has taught science to students K-12 in East Orange Jersey City and her home city of Newark. If the authors name sounds familiar that is because she has worked for the Jersey City Public School over 12 years. She challenged the city’s children to “put on the jacket of science” as science supervisor before moving to work in the areas of Science, Home Instruction, Nonpublic Schools & Interagency Task Force. “I live in a scientifically fabulous world and could not write a book without including a little science.” says an animated Dr. Blake-Garrett. She no longer wears her trademark colorful white lab coat but she still has a smile as big and her personality.  She has earned two Masters Degrees from Montclair State University and a Doctorate from Seton Hall University. Born in Jamaica, West Indies, Dr. Blake-Garrett immigrated with her family to Newark, N.J. as a small child, where she now lives with her husband and twins.

To see Dr. Blake-Garrett’s book series written to provide a story for her twins, go to: http://theadventuresofizzyandjuju.com

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Desegregating Gifted Education:Lessons to Learn from Illinois School district court case

Lessons to Learn from Discrimination in Illinois School District Court Case
Donna Y. Ford, PhD.
2013 Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professor
Vanderbilt University

On July 11, 2013, Illinois Federal District Court Judge Robert Gettlemen issued a decision holding that District U-46 (Elgin) discriminated against Hispanic students in the district’s gifted program until at least 2009 (see McFadden vs. Board of Education for Illinois School District U-46). Both intentional and unintentional discrimination were found. As the Plaintiff’s expert witness in the case, I urge all school districts to learn from the case and eliminate barriers to gifted education for Hispanic and Black students.

Hispanic and White students both represented 42%-46% of the school district, depending on the year. At the elementary level, the district has two gifted programs that begin in grade 4 – SWAS and SET/SWAS. SWAS (School Within a School) was comprised of majority White students (98%); SET/SWAS (Spanish English Transition School Within A School) contained only Hispanic students who had exited ELL classes (they were bilingual and/or English proficient). Note that there were no Black or White students in SET/SWAS.

Each year, White students in U-46 were over-represented in gifted education while Hispanic and Black students were extensively under-represented in gifted education, specifically the SWAS program. Despite the over 40% of Hispanic students in the school district, in most years, they were only a miniscule 2% of SWAS classrooms. As the Court found, even Hispanics born in the U.S. (20%) were not allowed – denied the legal right –to attend classes with gifted White students. SWAS and SET/SWAS were located in different school buildings; these gifted students never attended classes, events or school trips together.

Using the equity formula that I shared, which provides a 20% allowance, the Judge indicated that Hispanic students should have been at least 32% of gifted education in this specific district. The equity or allowance formula is available in Ford (2013).

Specifically, the Court found that the district discriminated against Hispanic students who had exited from the district’s ELL program by segregating them into a separate gifted program, not allowing them to be in classes and activities with gifted White students. Judge Gettlemen’s decision renewed the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) principle that ‘separate is inherently unequal’.

… the District had viable proven alternatives to the segregated SET/SWAS program, the most prominent and obvious of which is a single, elementary gifted program that provides individual students with language supports when those students needed it. The District chose instead to separate gifted Hispanic students from their white peers, thus perpetuating the cultural distinctions and barriers to assimilation that our nation’s civil rights laws are dedicated to prevent. That this segregation occurs at the stage of a child’s education and life when he is most vulnerable to identifying his opportunities by cultural differences only aggravates an otherwise disparate impact on these children (p. 29).

In addition to physically segregated programs which he found to be intentional and based on race, the Court also found that policies, procedures and instruments used by the district to screen and identify gifted students resulted in a “serious disparate impact” on minority students. Judge Gettlemen found a combination of intentional and unintentional discrimination regarding (a) screening and identification tests, (b) designated cutoff scores, and (c) criteria in weighted matrices. Noteworthy is that a nonverbal intelligence test (i.e., Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test) was deemed culturally neutral and effective at identifying Hispanic students for admission to SET/SWAS but was not used for admission to SWAS. Equally important, it was found that teacher referrals were biased against Hispanic and Black students and, thus, contributed to their under-representation, a subject which I have written about extensively.

These issues raise serious questions and reservations regarding the educators’ and decision makers’ intent, along with measures, policies, and procedures to increase – or deny – access to gifted education for Hispanic and Black students.  This is also a pipeline issue – lack of access to gifted classes in elementary school contributes to closed doors in middle school, high school, college, and careers. Sadly and empathetically, as Judge Gettlemen stated:

“one can only wonder how many other highly talented and gifted Hispanic children were educated in an unnecessarily segregated setting rather than integrated with the full range of children in the District” (p. 30).

In U-46 and many other school districts (New York City and Florida are often in the news), the gifts, talents and potential of Hispanic and Black students have been compromised and denied, representing a great waste of human capacity. Not only do these non-White students suffer – our nation suffers. Education is reportedly the greatest equalizer – a believe that I support with all of my heart; thus, our Black and Hispanic students need and deserve access to gifted education. To deny them this right is indeed inexcusable, indefensible, and intolerable! As Judge Gettlemen noted, giftedness exists in every racial and ethnic group (p. 21). The sooner educators and decision makers accept this reality, the better off we all will be.

The entire court consent is available beginning on page 21 at

Recommended reading: 

Ford, D.Y. (2013). Recruiting and retaining culturally different students in gifted education. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Our guest blogger this week is Dr. Donna Y. Ford. Dr. Ford is our one of our nation's foremost experts on multicultural & gifted education. Author of numerous books on the subject, Dr. Ford is a sought-out speaker, expert witness, and highly respected scholar. See more information about Dr. Ford's work and history on her website: http://www.drdonnayford.com.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Helping Native American Visual-Spatial Gifted Students ‘Leap Ahead’

The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: artists, inventors, storytellers-creative and holistic "right-brain" thinkers whose abilities mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn't. - Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future

What a privilege to again be invited to write for 'We Are Gifted 2' on the topic of Native American education.  It was an honor and nice surprise to see excerpts from my last blog in NAGC’s Teaching for High Potential.  I am very grateful to Joy Davis for her dedication, encouragement, and support.

Much of what we advocate for is based on what we have learned from Native students, families, and members of the Native community.  I referred to students as “hidden gems” in the previous article and we wholeheartedly believe in them.   Many of the strategies and practices we have implemented are based on our own core beliefs and inspired by the White House Initiative on American Indian Education.

The White House Initiative on American Indian Education has laid a solid foundation for significant progress to be made across the country in tribal school settings as well as urban settings.  Director William Mendoza and others have met with tribal and education leaders throughout Indian Country to gather input and to share the goals of the initiative.  After attending a Tribal Leaders Roundtable session in Rapid City, Steven Haas and I feel helping educators understand Native students’ visual-spatial strengths is a very important component of that progress.

At the recent Wyoming Indian Education Conference at Central Wyoming College, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell were on a panel together along with local education community and tribal government representatives.  This was as an historic event and an initial indication that the two departments will be working together for the betterment of American Indians. 

The secretaries spoke of their commitment to American Indian education and expressed their concern as to how the sequester has affected funding.  Community members expressed their appreciation for the secretaries’ attendance but asked specific questions as to what they can expect in the future from the collaboration between the two departments.  Many left the one hour panel discussion with sense of hope but also with a wait and see impression based on what they heard. The White House Initiative cites the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which states we need to “teach and address the needs of students with different learning styles.”  

As the keynote speakers for the Wyoming Indian Education Conference, Steven Haas and I of Indigenous Students Leap Ahead! (ISLA), made the point that when Native students’ strengths are understood and nurtured, they will be better prepared for the future. Established under Dr. Linda Silverman’s Gifted Development Center and the leadership of the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development, Indigenous Students Leap Ahead! (ISLA) is our effort to advocate for strength-based programming.  Combined with 21st Century technologies these students can not only achieve, they can build the confidence and self-esteem that will prepare them to compete for high tech positions in the future.

According to Gifted Development Center research, approximately 65% of mainstream students have Visual-Spatial strengths.  Close to 80% of Native American students have Visual-Spatial strengths.  Awareness and insight for educators into understanding the needs of Visual-Spatial learners is essential.   Realization of the importance of including practices and strategies designed to enhance opportunities for Visual-Spatial students is important for mainstream students, but especially for the future of Native students.

Education as a whole, but Native education in particular, needs to reject deficit-model programming and offer opportunities that will help students “leapfrog” ahead.  ISLA believes these students are uniquely suited to become leaders and innovators for the 21st Century. 

Guest blogger, Jerry Lassos is a recently retired educator, American Indian resource specialist, member of the Tongva nation.  Jerry and his colleague, Steven Haas are currently working with Fremont District 38 and are reaching out to several schools on the Wind River Reservation to involve their students in ISLA. Jerry wrote a blog for WeAreGifted2 last year. I am always pleased to connect with Jerry and I sincerely believe that the field of gifted education has much to learn from his commitment to developing the gifts of Indigenous students across the nation.

Recommended Reading:
Fixico, D. (2003) The  American Indian Mind in a Linear World: American Indian Education and Traditional Knowledge http://www.amazon.com/American-Indian-Mind-Linear-World/dp/0415944570/

Pink, D. (2006)  A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future http://www.amazon.com/Whole-New-Mind-Right-Brainers-Future/dp/1594481717

Silverman, L. (2002) Upside Down Brilliance: the Visual-Spatial Learner http://www.amazon.com/Upside-Down-Brilliance-Linda-Kreger-Silverman/dp/193218600X

Monday, August 19, 2013

Top 10 Advocacy Tips for Parents of Black & Hispanic Gifted Students

{Pt 1 in Series of 6 ‘Going Back to School Empowered’ articles}

School districts nationwide are being challenged by scholars, families, educators to do a better job of including more students of culturally diverse backgrounds in gifted education services. Your role as an advocate for your child is critical. School districts will become  more responsive when parents speak up and stand up for their children’s rights.  

If you believe your child/teen has high potential/ is gifted as demonstrated by their unique responses to the world around them, school performance, exceptional gifts as demonstrated in community or church related events, arts activities, test scores or school grades and they have NOT been considered for the school district advanced learner or gifted education program services, use the following ten advocacy strategies to  help get your child noticed, identified, and served in gifted education or advanced classes.

Resources at the end of this list will also provide additional support for your advocacy:

1-      If you would like to have your child evaluated/tested for the gifted program, at the beginning of the school year, check the district’s website, gifted education section for the evaluation timeframe. Check specifically for dates that schools are collecting/soliciting referrals or nominations from parents/family members.  If the school does not list this information online, call the district office, ask to speak to the Gifted Education Specialist/Coordinator for more information (Bright Talented & Black provides information on testing and evaluation procedures used in gifted programs nationwide).

2- If you believe that your child needs additional academic challenge based on their experience the prior year, make an appointment early in the year to speak to your child’s homeroom teacher or content area teacher to ask how the school intends to challenge your child and what services are available (Books listed below & facebook pages have information on special program services for gifted students).

3- Keep a diary/scrapbook/electronic journal to collect artifacts and samples that demonstrate your child’s unique performances/work production over time. Share this journal with school personnel. Include letters from community members, out of school teachers/instructors that describe your child’s behavior and exceptional gifts & talents.

4- Attend all parent-teacher conferences, make sure you ask at least three questions during the Q& A time during group meetings. Show up at school often within district guidelines of course. (In research studies, high achieving African American & Hispanic students note that their parents were ‘always at school’, helping, talking with teachers, seeking out information).  

5- Ask school about intellectual and problem solving competitions (Destination Imagination; MathCounts; Math Olympiad; Olympics of the Mind; Chess; National Society of Black Engineers programs, etc). Offer to coach, share information with other parents of culturally diverse students. Far too often, these programs exist but are segregated and limited to students whose parents are better informed or have available funds to pay extra fees.

6- Volunteer to serve on the district Gifted Education Advisory Council or school based advisory council.

7- Find out more about how your state supports gifted students by reading the ‘STATE of the STATES report’ published by the National Association for Gifted Children. (Reports are available at a minimal cost via www.nagc.org)

8- Be patient with the evaluation/referral/nomination/evaluation process, however, if you sense inconsistencies or inequities, keep notes, and make an appointment with school district coordinator/principal or other personnel to discuss your concerns.

9- If your child is already identified and served in the gifted program, monitor instruction  to ensure that-
a.  materials are ‘culturally responsive’ and challenging, and
b.  your child is not singled out as ‘the only culturally different’ child in the program. If this is the case, ask district personnel what is being done to improve services for more students. (see Recruiting and Retaining Culturally Different Students for more information)

10-Always remember, you know your child best, you are their first teacher and they will count on you more than any teacher to ensure that their intellectual, psycho-social, and academic needs are met and to come to their defense when others simply don’t believe in their potential. Please, don’t let them down.

Below are other helpful resources. If you would like to share more, please write in the comment space below or send me an email. My best to all of our gifted students for a school year filled with challenge and positive, productive opportunities!!



Bright, Talented & Black: A guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners by Joy Lawson Davis http://www.amazon.com/Bright-Talented-Black-Families-American/dp/1935067028

Retaining & Recruiting Culturally Different Students in Gifted Education by Donna Y. Ford 

African American Students in Urban Schools: Critical Issues & Solutions for Achievement by James L. Moore III & Chance Lewis http://www.amazon.com/African-American-Students-Urban-Schools/dp/1433106868

Special Award Competition:

CTY Announces New Award to Support Pre-College Math and Science Research 

BALTIMORE August 15, 2013—Young scientists ages 13 to 18 with promising research ideas can now be awarded funding of up to $600 through a new annual competition sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY). CTY is establishing the CTY Cogito Research Awards to help offset the costs associated with conducting research in math and science for selected middle and high school students.  
More information is also available on the Cogito site at: https://cogito.cty.jhu.edu/?p=39168.

Log on to Facebook, search for the following pages:

Parents Advocating for Gifted Education
International Gifted Education
Mirror Books: the Power of Positive Images
The Brain Café
Prep For College
Uplift, Inc.
National Association of Multicultural Education

Upcoming Workshop:

National Harambee Education Summit Sept 19-22, 2013 Washington, DC
For more information: www.sankofaed.org

Upcoming NAGC Webinar:

Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 7-8 EST Beyond Colorblindness: Building a Gifted Education Classroom that Honors Cultural Difference

Your comments and ideas are greatly appreciated!! Dr. Joy

Sunday, July 14, 2013


We're midway through the summer break for most educators and families. I hope by now, you've had some time for a break, vacation or will be going soon.  If you have more time for summer reading, please consider one of the books below.

These books have been selected because they will help as you reflect on what more you can do to contribute to making a difference for young people in our schools today and thus, change the course of their life chances and success for tomorrow.  I believe that these books should be on every educational advocate's reading list.

If you have read any of these books, you are among our nation's more progressive educators, parents, community leaders, political leaders who are truly interested in shaping schools across the nation to more fairly and equitably serve the needs of ALL learners.  (If you have not, you can access each of them by clicking the links below).


The ten (10) books listed here are just a few of the many critical readings that will help you in your efforts to create more effective and culturally responsive classroom conditions in schools everywhere, bring out the best in our children so that more and more of them can reach their highest potential, and help school leaders engage in very important conversations that will challenge the failures of schools in the past while creating new paradigms for successful schools in the future.

Your feedback and additions to this list are welcome! 

Bright, Talented & Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners. By J.L. Davis
Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, 2nd Edition. By R. Delgado & J. Stefancic
Helping Hispanic Students Succeed. By P. Quinn
High Schools, Race & America's Future: What Students can teach us about Morality, Diversity & Community. By  L. Blum
Implementing RtI With Gifted Students: Service Models, Trends & Issues. By M.R. Coleman & S.K. Johnsen, Eds. 
Multiplication is for White People: Raising Expectations for Other People's Children. By L. Delpit
Recruiting & Retaining Culturally Different students in Gifted Education. By D.Y. Ford
Special Populations in Gifted Education: Understanding our most Able Students from Diverse Backgrounds. By J. A. Castellano & A.D. Frazier
The Young, Triumphant & Black: Stories of Life & Liberation by Talented Black Students. By T. C. Grantham, M.F.T. Scott, & D. A. Harmon
Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. The Truth about Talent, Practice, Creativity and the many Paths to Greatness. By S.B. Kaufman

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Create, Engage, Experiment, Excite, Immerse: Summer Focus on STEM!!

An immersion experience is one during which learners are deeply engaged and actively learning, creating, and producing over a period of time. Like a foreign language immersion school or classroom, when you immerse your students/children & youth in STEM- STEM becomes a part of their everyday experience!!        

Immersion creates a sense of ‘ownership’ and increases the value students have for the learning and outcomes are improved and achievement increases!           

To be immersed in STEM programming allows learners to focus on the skills and concepts of scientific thinking and problem-solving while being exposed to future oriented skill-building. Discussing ideas, creating new solutions, working with and developing new technologies are exciting to young people! STEM is a widely known acronym for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. As a nation, we have become excited about STEM and the benefits of STEM learning for all students.

Even with all the attention and new programs, we continue, however, to see STEM as an area of disproportionate representation. In a blog posting earlier this year, it was noted that cultural minority youth participate in STEM less frequently than students from Asian and Anglo backgrounds. This lack of participation is the result of a lack of access and opportunities, not necessarily to a lack of interest in STEM related courses and activities.

At a gifted and talented symposium earlier this month, Doug Paulson, STEM Integration specialist with the Minnesota Department of Education, indicated that four very important “C” skills are developed through STEM involvement:

  1. Creativity
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Collaboration
  4. Cross Cultural Connection

Developing these skills in ALL learners will be crucial to their sustained success in school as they prepare for secondary and post-secondary education, training, and entry into the world of work. It’s a small world and we need to do all we can to ensure that ALL high ability children have competitive expertise, critical thinking skills, and communication skills needed to work with their peers across the nation and around the world.

Use this summer as a time to stir up interest in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics by immersing your children and youth in STEM programming helping them to take advantage of the numerous long-term benefits that come from participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics related courses.

We can combat the low number of children of color, particularly Black and Hispanic students enrolled in STEM related secondary and post secondary programs by stirring up interest early and sustaining this interest through active engagement. The idea that students are not interested in STEM is just a myth! Like so many other myths perpetuated by general society about children of color, we MUST do our part to dispel the myths.

Recently, I scanned  several websites  sharing STEM related programming and competitions and noticed an obvious equity issue. Most of the sites presented pictures of students from Anglo, Asian, Middle Eastern cultures, few if any represented African American and Hispanic American students. Again, the income gap may be at work here, because participation in STEM programs can be costly, however, it is interesting to note that major corporations we all support provide substantial funding for most of these programs. So we’re back to the issue of access and opportunities.

We must do our part to help children of color know that STEM careers are for them, too!! STEM careers are interesting, exciting and allow students to create new ideas and innovative products that contribute to the advancement of society. Exposure and Access will change the Outcomes! STEM related disciplines also provide opportunities to engage in hands on, experimental design, competitions, and to engage with the global neighbors. 

A few tips:
1)    Enroll your child in summer STEM camps that are available at many colleges and universities nationwide! Conduct a web search to find programs in your area (some of the links below may be of assistance). It’s not too late!!

2)    Visit area science museums and participate in brief (1-2 day) workshops

3)    Create a STEM club within your own community. Purchase Lego Robotics kits, engage an area engineer or college students to come and work with the students. Provide a space, access to ‘wi-fi’, computers, and also provide a meal so that your young designers, builders, creators are nutritionally able to work ALL Day!!

4)    Investigate the possibility of initiating a STEM partnership program supported by private and public funding. Solicit neighbors and family members in STEM careers to serve on your advisory board. Inquire about funding through government agencies and private foundations

5)    Create, Innovate, Engage, Design, Application, Model, Collaborate are just a few words used frequently in STEM classrooms. Increase your child’s use of the words by posting STEM words throughout the home for vocabulary development. Use the words in general conversation and discuss transferability of words to other contexts

6)    Study inventions by male & female Engineers, Scientists, Mathematicians from culturally diverse backgrounds. Post pictures, provide biographies, and other books of interest for easy student access

Use the resources listed below to get started: 

v  egifted online courses  

v  Intel International Science and Engineering Fair

v  National Society of Black Engineers
The National Society for Black Engineers strives to increase the number of minority students studying engineering at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. To accomplish this, their activities include high school and middle grades outreach programs.

v  National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) 
The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering provides leadership and support for the national effort to increase the representation of successful African American, American Indian and Latino women and men in STEM-focused careers.

v  Society of Women Engineers (SWE) 
SWE is the driving force that establishes engineering as a highly desirable career aspiration for women SWE empowers women to succeed and advance in those aspirations.

v  Uplift, Inc. Washington, D.C.
Uplift, Inc. guides preK-12 students through innovative educational experiences in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics and Computer Science (STEAM+CS), teaching them to solve everyday problems as they advance toward making real world impact.

Uplift's 4 week-long summer camps are geared towards students ages 8-17. This summer classes focus on programming concepts, game design & scoring (music), robotics, and animation.

"A focus on STEM concepts especially among underrepresented populations is increasingly important as technology has been integrated in every area of our lives. When children are engaged in hands-on programs that help them understand the theory on which STEM concepts are based it demystifies what are typically considered as "hard" subjects. It also promotes a desire to investigate and solve problems while having fun and developing team building skills" 
                                                           – Nailah Mbiti, Engineer & Educator Kansas City, MO. 

Our readers would love to hear about your STEM program experiences, please comment here to share your ideas, resources, and personal testimonies of the benefits of STEM for yourself, your students, & others !!