Saturday, February 16, 2013



I believe I can fly 
I believe I can touch the sky 
I think about it every night and day 
Spread my wings and fly away 

If I can see it, then I can do it 
If I just believe it, there's nothing to it 

I believe I can soar 
I see me running through that open door 
I believe I can fly 
I believe I can fly 
I believe I can fly.... 
(lyrics by R. Kelly)

For so many children & youth in this country, this is their song. They have great dreams of ‘flying’ out of circumstances that seem to keep them from accomplishing their dreams. Some have dreams of ‘flying’ above all the limitations and low expectations placed on them by others.. Some dream about ‘flying’ to accomplish anything! Their self-esteem is high because they believe in their own abilities, gifts, and talents. However, even with high self-esteem opportunities for these potential ‘high flyers’ are too often limited.

They are limited by school programs that only focus on rote memorization, regurgitation of facts, never allowing for creativity or thinking ‘above level/outside of the box’…they are also limited by adults in their surroundings who don’t believe in their potential to accomplish anything significant simply because they misunderstand and have disdain in their hearts for children of color, children from low-income environments. The thoughts and erroneous perceptions of teachers and others who are in a position to enable and help  young people to realize their dreams become barriers that are so often too hard to overcome.

Unfortunately, many of the dreams of these brilliant, creative and intelligent young people will go unrealized because of lack of resources, lack of access to opportunities, and the limitations placed on them by adults in their environment.

Dreams of literally ‘flying’ are not so far fetched. Over past few weeks, I’ve read three very unique stories of ‘flying’. If you have seen these stories, please share them with others. Historically, there are two African American women who dreamed of flying and AGAINST ALL ODDS, did just that. There is the more familiar name of Bessie Coleman who was the first female pilot of African American descent and the first person of African American descent to hold an international pilot license. The tenth of thirteen children born to sharecropping parents, Bessie began attending school in Waxahachie, TX. Coleman learned to fly in a Nieuport Type 82 biplane and on June 15, 1921, she became not only the first African-American woman to earn an international aviation license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, but the first African American woman in the world to earn an aviation pilot's license.*

Another female aviator, perhaps  lesser known, but no less accomplished is Willa Brown, aviator and educator was born on January 22, 1906. As a young high school teacher in Gary, Indiana, and later as a social worker in Chicago, Willa Brown felt that her talents were not being used to their greatest use; she sought greater challenges and adventures in life, especially if they could be found outside the limited career fields normally open to African Americans. She decided to learn to fly, studying with Cornelius R. Coffey, a certified flight instructor and expert aviation mechanic at one of Chicago's racially segregated airports. She earned her private pilot's license in 1938. Together with Cornelius Coffey and Enoch P. Waters, Willa Brown helped form the National Airmen's Association of America in 1939, whose main goal was to get black aviation cadets into the United States military*.

And then, there’s a contemporary dreamer who set his plan into motion even when others believed he was foolish to seek a career in aviation instead of following a path to become a professional football player. Please make note and follow the ‘Flying Dreams’ of Barrington Irving, of Miami. At 27, Barrington was the youngest person to fly solo around the world. His historical trip was featured by National Geographic** and followed by over 300,000 of school children around the world. Click on the link below to  hear Barrington's amazing story of the person who encouraged him to 'fly' and all of the challenges he overcame.  As a result, with the support of technology, Barrington has created a Classroom in the Skies program to enable school children to follow his journeys and for classroom teachers to integrate his work via specially-designed lesson plans across disciplines (science, math, technology, history, etc).

These African American aviators are just three examples young people in communities across the nation and around the world who need three sources of support to enable them to ‘fly’ and realize their dreams, they need:

  1. Access to school based opportunities in advanced programming in science, technology, engineering, math and the arts &  humanities
  1. People to believe in them: Adults, including teachers, policymakers and families to believe in their potential, and
  1. Resources (financial & material) to participate in programming already being made available via technology, after school and summer enrichment programs.

As we consider the potential of children and youth from ALL different backgrounds, we understand that being able to ‘fly’ is not so far-fetched after all. If we all do our part to open a door, believe in the potential for children to excel regardless of the color of their skin or the neighborhood they originate from AND help to provide resources (donations, time and funding) to enable more children to experience advanced programming opportunities we’ll see more & more young people realize their dreams and ‘fly’!!!

What will you do to help a young person realize their dreams?

 Joy Lawson Davis. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. 2/16/2013.


Sunday, February 3, 2013


Coast- to-coast, gifted students and their needs are beginning to get attention. Since the first of the year, I've read several national news articles about programs and new policies affecting gifted students in schools across the nation. This is an exciting time for our field!! Now, more than ever, we are noticing that our budding scientists, writers, artists, mathematician, innovative idea makers, and humanitarians have special needs that should be fairly met with appropriately challenging instruction led by teachers who are empathetic to their needs, well-trained and who are up to the challenge. 

It’s a sad commentary on America, without a doubt one of most racially diverse nations in the world, when we continue to hear reports and see ‘visible evidence’ of classrooms segregated by race in 2013. Even more disheartening is that some of these classrooms exist in public schools and are classified as ‘gifted education programs’.

Giftedness truly knows no color. We’ve all seen the studies, we’ve heard the stories of gifted people from across all cultures who have made historical contributions in the past and today - others who are doing remarkable things.  Just today, I read about a homeless African American girl who lived a very challenging life, but was able to earn her way into Columbia University, one of our nation’s premier institutions.  Last week, I learned of a first grade female tech prodigy and saw the ‘Kid President: everyone needs a pep talk’ video. Stories like these are everywhere!! I dare anyone today to give substantive evidence of the inability to identify giftedness in children of color!

To make a difference in the way that children of color are viewed and treated in schools, we must change the culture of schools. Schools must be places where expectations are high for all, and individual needs of students are met, regardless of their racial or economic background. Changing the culture of schools means that all schools make earnest efforts to seek out gifted learners in every classroom.

Many school districts have been very successful with providing intellectually rich environments for children from all cultural backgrounds and as a result, have seen excellent results. For the districts that have not been as successful, maybe it’s time for a RADICAL CHANGE in COURSE. We lose so much intellectual & creative potential when ALL children & youth given the opportunity to engage in rigorous, challenging instruction. 

Working together we can change the course~

PARENTS & FAMILIES OF CULTURALLY DIVERSE STUDENTS- The schools need to hear from you! They need your presence at school programs, board meetings, your volunteer service on Committees. The schools belong to you as well as any other group of citizens. Your child needs you to ask the critical questions- how can I find out if my child qualifies for the gifted classroom/course, the special program or other opportunity? When does the school test students for gifted services? What about my teen who was in the gifted program earlier, but says ‘he doesn’t want to be gifted anymore', what can you do to help me? Professional educators in your schools should be able to answer these questions for you.  A RADICAL CHANGE IS NEEDED!!

TEACHERS AND OTHER SCHOOL PERSONNEL – Cultural competency training along with gifted education training should be mandatory in every professional development program. The districts that have been most successful are those who take teacher training seriously and know that cultural competency is a must in increasingly diverse schools! Many school districts have been very successful in identifying Black, Hispanic and Native American students for gifted programs using multiple criteria which include a combination of traditional, culturally fair verbal &  nonverbal tests,  work samples, performance based assessments, student interviews, teacher and parent rating and other tools. No one instrument or tool should ever be the standard for eligibility! Multiple criteria is a MUST and the standard for our field today. A RADICAL CHANGE IS NEEDED!!

COMMUNITY, CIVIC, & FAITH-BASED LEADERS- Schools and families need you! Everyone should be involved in the effort to ensure that all children receive an education appropriate to meet their needs – especially civic, community and faith-based leaders. You know your community best! Your role in collaborating with schools to offer after-school, Saturday and summer programming is also critical. Citizens who believe in public education deserve to have the needs of their gifted students met as does any parent.  Your role as leaders is very important to the success of all children. A RADICAL CHANGE IS NEEDED!!

Identifying Black , Hispanic, Native American, first generation immigrant children as ‘gifted’ may be a radical change in the course of education in America- But change we must if WE BELIEVE IN EQUITY & EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION FOR ALL! Racially segregated classrooms is a vestige of the past. Too many citizens sacrificed and stood against racial injustice for education and segregation to be used in the same sentence in America today. Together we can eradicate under-representation and racial segregation in gifted education classrooms across the nation! Together we can do this!!