Sunday, September 16, 2018

When ALL our TEACHERS were BLACK, Part I

Please note: It has been over a year since I posted here. I have been very busy in the meantime, working at my job from which I retired this past June; writing for publication in books, newsletters. I have worked with a colleague to develop a new book proposal; presented at conferences including NAGC in November in Charlotte, N.C. and keynoting in Dubai at the International Research Association on Talent Development and Excellence in Dubai.

This post came about after attending the 50th class reunion of the Class of 1968 of King & Queen Central High School. I attended as a guest (I graduated from the same school in '71). For a number of years now, the school and its formula for success as a very large number of our graduates have held very successful careers positions in government, education, and many other fields, many rising to the top in their fields. Documenting the 'secret' to the success of our high schools' graduates has been on my mind for a number of years. A goal is to develop a book proposal and invite others from the school to join me in documenting the school's first 50 years of educating Black students in our small rural county east of Richmond and west of the Northern Neck region of Virginia. 

As the topic of recruiting Black teachers into the education profession grows into a national conversation, I keep thinking back to what high school at Central was like when I arrived in the fall of 1967. Our school like so many in Black communities across the nation, particularly in the south was still segregated by race and the education profession was an appealing career choice for Black college students, many of whom were first generation college graduates. Many felt a sense of obligation to reciprocate and return to their home communities to teach. Central High was no different. As a matter of fact, during my tenure at Central, at least 50% of the teachers grew up in the same county and proudly returned for their first teaching jobs in King and Queen. 

There is something very special about attending a school where everyday you can look at and interact with people who share your race and culture. Educators who understand your family situation, who understand your hopes and aspirations and feel a sense of obligation to 'set you on the right path' for the future. That was Central High School in King & Queen County, Virginia. Here's part I of my story: 

As a career educator, author, educational administrator, researcher, preeminent scholar in the field of gifted education and former college professor in teacher education I often reflect on the experiences that I had as a young student that shaped and framed me into the professional that I became many, many years later. In the past ten years or so, our nation has been broiling about the teaching profession and many related concerns that are affecting our students and their school performance. One issue of grave concern is the lack of Black and Hispanic teachers in classrooms where the majority of students are Black and Hispanic. Research studies have noted the negative impact on students of color because of this cultural mismatch or discontinuity between teachers and students. The cultural mismatch has been demonstrated to have a negative impact on student performance, disproportionately high  rates of students in special education and low number of our students in gifted and advanced learner programs. The mismatch has also impacted the disportionately unfair disciplinary practices across the nation and the growing ‘school to prison pipeline'. I am from a generation of Black students (and perhaps the last generation) who was fortunate enough to have gone through at least three plus years of my schooling in an environment where most if not all of our teachers were Black. Other students in my high school had Black teachers for their entire schooling career, K-12. 

Attending a school where all of the teachers were African American was very different from one where there was a racially mixed population of teachers. I had both experiences in my school career and I can attest to this difference. There was definitely a different 'feel', different environment, differences so real that they were palpable. My high school was one such place. Walking into a school with an entirely Black teaching staff, administration, counselor and support staff ind of felt like ‘going home’ every morning or going to church on Sundays. The attitudes were positive and supportive. The teachers were firm, but understanding. We knew that they loved us and valued us as young Black scholars. They could envision a future for us that was positive and perhaps even better than the one they experienced personally. They took the role a 'shaper of eternity' seriously. They did not see the color of our skin as a disadvantage and something to overcome, but they saw us as 'diamonds in the rough'. They easily saw our strengths and weaknesses and used what we know today as a 'strengths-based approach' to teaching us.  They were professional but approachable. They were our role models and mentors, but also like our parents and extended family. It was their presence that made a very humble facility into a first class school building.  Unlike the historical Central High School of Little Rock, Arkansas that was originally built for White students and was forced to allow Black students to attend, this school was built for Black students, exclusively. Two schools at each of the county provided education for White students. Prior to the opening of Central High, Black students were educated in small, one room schools scattered among communities throughout the county. (I will provide more about Central High's history in part II) 

Our school was not a large urban area high school with fully equipped gymnasiums, auditoriums, elaborate science labs or music practice spaces for budding musicians. It did not have many of the resources and amenities associated with award winning facilities of today or even of the past. We were seated in classrooms just large enough to fit 20-25 chairs, although in most cases, our classes were much smaller, except in music room or in the mandatory government class. We did not have a gymnasium, or auditorium, we had a cafeteria with a stage that was used for gym and for programs. We did not have equipped science labs, but did have one lab table with functional Bunsen burners and sink. The periodic table was the only visual hanging ominously in the science room. No opportunities for international travel, except by viewing the large maps in the French and History classes. No visual arts room, but we learned how to design and  to sew in the home economics class  and boys had the shop area to learn building trades (taught by a practicing brick masons from the community) and auto mechanics. But it wasn’t the equipment or class resources that made our education unique and first class. It was more than that. It was our teachers, the counselor and principal. What was lacking in resources, the teachers made up for in committment and dedication to our education. The fact that each of those persons looked just like us (or in some cases were family) in physical features was lost on our rambling minds, raging hormones, and busy bodies until we left and went out into the world to ‘become’ the people we were borne to be. All of our teachers in this space were Black. Our school was built by Black men of the community on land originally owned by a Black man and our Black parents were actively and intimately involved in our education.

It was 1967 when I entered the halls of King & Queen Central High School, a new student in the 9th grade. My family had recently re-emigrated to Virginia after spending 13 years in Newark New Jersey. In Newark, our schools were sprawling edifices, structures so large and massive they were often encompassed an entire city block. Many schools had two gyms, one for boys and one for girls. We had art classrooms, science labs, auditoriums large enough to perform elaborate dramatic plays and musicals and to seat hundreds. Our teachers were Black, Italian, Jewish, and from other European cultural groups. My siblings and I received a rich, progressive education in Newark. I will always value my beginnings in Newark Public Schools. My father’s decision to move the family back to Virginia was right on time. Our nation was in the midst the heated protests and revolutionary actions of the civil rights movement.  In the summer of 1967, Newark was about to explode.

Moving from a culturally diverse environment to a singular cultural experience in school had a profound impact on me. Actually it was a culture shock. From a large urban area in the northeast to a small isolated rural community in the South, was quite different for my sister and I. My other siblings completed high school in Newark. At the time I started at Central, I resisted and was not very comfortable. As an advanced student, I felt restricted by the curriculum offerings and believed that it would not be a good 'fit' for me. I went home after the first day and complained to my mother that everyone is the school was Black, even the principal! It took me several months to adjust to the school's lack of resources and limited educational experiences. As I look back now, I remember that it was the teachers and the school counselor, in particular, who helped make the transition so much easier. Little did I know then how important their Blackness was going to be to my development in the months and years to come....

[In Part II, I will discuss briefly the school's history in the context of public schools for African American students; the teachers and administrators (using pseudonyms); and the successful life outcomes for some many of our alumni from this small rural school that I have nicknamed: THE MIRACLE ON ROUTE 14, KING & QUEEN COUNTY, VA].

Sunday, August 27, 2017


This blog was started five years ago to draw attention to the egregious problem of underrepresentation in gifted education and advanced learner programs of children of color and those from low income communities. Over the years, thousands have read and shared the posts in many different venues. Nationally, we have seen a dramatic increase in the rise of research studies and district

programs publicized over national media outlets. There appears to be more interest and impassioned pleas from across the nation to do more for gifted students by providing equity and access to educational programs that they so rightly deserve. But, we here we are starting a new school year and it is my sense that there are still far too many teachers who don't believe in the true gifts that children of color may bring to the classroom so that when they are asked to refer students for evaluation, many will say what a primary school Title I teacher said to me many years ago during a professional development session mandated by the district "I don't know why you're here, there AIN'T no gifted kids in this school!"

That's right, a classroom teacher used 'ain't' in reference to her lack of belief in the ability of students that she was responsible for teaching and nurturing everyday. Horrendous!! 

This is a reminder as school starts again, for parents, grandparents, equity advocates, gifted education leaders who believe that giftedness truly knows no boundaries.. that in order to do our best for all students that we serve, we MUST ERADICATE UNDER-REPRESENTATION, INEQUITIES, LACK OF ACCESS, LOW EXPECTATIONS  for gifted children of color, rural, urban, low income students nationwide!! 

Each of us has a chance this year to do something that has not happened before to increase access & equity in our schools by believing in giftedness across all communities. By believing in that inquisitive little boy who asks so many critical questions, that girl who has a arts design sense that defys her age, the robotics whiz that happened to 'show up' one day after only a few weeks in the after school program. We must believe and move EVERY OBSTACLE that stands in the way of equity and access to advanced learner programs that challenge and provide a 'good fit' for gifted learners no matter what package they come in. 

I am here as a equity advocate and I know many many of you who believe what I believe. Let me know if I can assist you any way as you this new school year. 


Friday, September 16, 2016

Advocating for your child’s placement in Gifted and Talented programs

By Dr. LaShonda M. Jackson-Dean

Being the parent of two extremely talented sons, I have discovered, advocating for proper education is a never-ending journey. Many of our African-American children experience the marginalizing effect of the lack of talent recognition during their school years. We, as parents have to not only recognize our children’s gifted and talented ability but also, when it is not being recognized within the education system. Parental engagement and support of their children’s education encourages better scholastic performance. We have all heard the African proverb, “It takes a village, to raise a child.” This has never been truer than in today’s time. Our children’s potential for excellence increases with continued love and support. Teaching our children to be well-rounded individuals, involves excellence inside and outside the classroom. The responsibility of the academic excellence of our children includes the active support of the parents, school administration, and the community.

The underrepresentation of African-American children in Gifted and Talented programs has become a topic of concern. The majority of Gifted and Talented programs are highly populated with non-minority participants. Increasing the emergence of African-American children into these programs is essential to them being academically prepared for college. Identifying gifted African-American children within the public education system has been a debatable issue for several years. To date, programs of such include Advanced Placement and Honors Placement in courses of Math, English, and History. These courses can lead to receiving college credit while in High School. With all of the potential at stake, knowing the actions parents should take to ensure proper placement of their children in Gifted and Talented programs is vital.

Knowing who to contact at your child’s school is the beginning of the quest for knowledge for better education. I recommend scheduling a conference with the education and guidance counselor to discuss the available options for the district. The district should provide an environment for conferences between parents and school administration. The conference will provide the opportunity for gaining insight into your child’s educational progress. It will also lend way to becoming more knowledgeable of the district’s program availability. Both, the parents and the administration should be interactively involved. Take time to listen and be heard.

Prior to the conference, request a copy of child’s educational records to prepare for the meeting. Research the records for proven academic results. Determine the subjects where your child identifies as GT. Search outside the school system for additional information on the subjects to bring to the conference. At the conference, listen attentively to the counselor’s program description; inquire about the requirements and placement tests. It is important to take notes as the requirements are described. Ask questions concerning the placement tests and the preparation for them. While in the conference, observe the demeanor and attitude of the participants. Ensuring the support of the administration will be available to encourage your child throughout the program is of absolute necessity.  The educational atmosphere must be nurturing and comfortable in order to cultivate an environment for learning. This is an important element of your child’s education. The administration should welcome your input and interest in your child’s education. They input and interest should be at a level where you, the parent are comfortable with the process of the program.

After learning about the program services, use your child’s education records as a justification for testing and placement. This information will provide the parent with the ammunition to determine the true skill level of their child on a more personal basis. The parent will be more cognizant to whether their child is truly gifted or in need of a more challenging curriculum. Higher learning opposed to advanced placement may be key in challenging those students. If the parent determines their child is truly gifted, continue the process of getting the child tested and placed. Communicate with the administration the expectations you have for your child regarding the program and align them with goals of the program. There must be commitment to the program from your child and the administrators of the program. Your child must know the administrator is there to assist with their success. Knowing there are custodians available to ask questions will provide an even greater success rate. Your child has to know the parent is committed to them and the program, as well. Provide your contact information to the administration to demonstrate your availability and support for the growth and learning of your child. Ensure your child is prepared for the testing. Attend available functions and meetings regarding the program.

Research every opportunity to enhance your child’s knowledge, whether it is through books, online courses, or tutoring. As a parent, you have to be vigilant and vocal in ensuring your child receives the proper education to assist in releasing the greatest within.

Correspondence to Dr. Dean can be forwarded to

Visit her online at

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Black Gifted Students- APPLY Today for the 2016 Jenkins Scholar Award

Three years ago, a committed team of African American Scholars determined that it was important for our nation to recognize and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin D. Jenkins. Dr. Jenkins was the first scholar to research and publish case studies of highly intelligent Black students in several urban areas across the nation in the early 20th century. 

One of Dr. Jenkins' study, the "Case of B" described a young Black girl with a measured IQ of 200. This remarkable case study was published with the help of his mentor, Dr. Paul Witty and made history. For the first time, a Black scholar was able to document his research and have this work published and disseminated widely. For more information about Dr. Jenkins' work, see: Profile of Dr. Martin D. Jenkins

This year, at the 2016, National Association for Gifted Children Convention, we will honor a third group of remarkable scholars whose life story is similar to that of students chronicled by Dr. Jenkins early in the 1930s and 40s. These students (and their families) like others in 2014 and 2015 will be invited to attend a special session of the NAGC Convention in Orlando and share their achievements and visions for their future. 

We are currently seeking students to apply for the 2016 Jenkins Scholar Award Project. The application and all supporting materials can be located at: 2016 Jenkins Scholar Award Application

All applications will be reviewed by a selected set of Gifted Education Scholars from across the nation. 

We are also seeking donations to support the Scholars Project, please go to the following link: 

Your support and dissemination of this information is greatly appreciated!!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Why We MUST Refer: Increasing Equity in Gifted Education through Teacher Referral

By Sherley Jackson

Have you ever taught a student who has an increased speed at which he or she learns and responds to new information?  What about a student with increased creativity or imagination?  
Are you the teacher of a student with an almost obsessive need to do something or learn every detail about a specific topic? Is there a student in your class who earns high grades in a subject or multiple subjects? Maybe you have that one student in you class who has the answers to everything.

If you answered yes to any of the questions above you may have a child who is exhibiting characteristics of giftedness. Deciding to refer a student for gifted testing can be difficult, but it really does not have to be. Asking yourself a few simple questions, like the ones above, can help making a referral a little easier. At first you may second guess yourself, but the longer you teach and the more student referrals you make, the better you will be at recognizing many of the common characteristics of gifted children.

After sixteen years of identifying and treating children with speech and or language delays as a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) I am confident in my ability to recognize characteristics of gifted children.  Fourteen of those years have been spent in public school settings, in 3 different states and 4 different school districts. My experiences have made me a proficient identifier of children with delays. Conversely, knowing what a delay is, allows me to determine what average and above average abilities young children possess.

I recently read a study that reported the significantly low amount of minority students being referred for gifted services.  The disparity does not exist because of a lack of potential students, but because teachers are less likely to refer minority students.  Studies also show that minority children are referred for special education or behavior problems more than any other group. If teachers are comfortable identifying students with disabilities, we can become just as comfortable referring minority students for gifted.  As educators we must do better.

What can we do? As educators of minority students and or students from low income homes, we have to first believe and expect that every year we will have students who can be referred for gifted services. We have to work at looking past external factors that mask students' true abilities. There have been instances where I have shared my recommendation for a gifted screening, and have been given a variety of reasons as to why a referral may not be the best option.   "Yes, he's smart, but he is so unorganized.   Or she is smart, but her attention span is so poor."  An identification of an academic or medical impairment does not disqualify a child from being gifted.

A gifted child could be one of our students who always has something to say about everything and everyone. The student who is the doodler or the daydreamer may be that one child who does not know how to express all that they are creating in their minds. Think about the student who may have good grades and would rather converse with you then his or her classmates. We all know these children. We all have these children. Unfortunately, when these students are minorities there is a tendency to describe their behaviors as defiant, arrogant, or smart-mouthed. Daydreamers are often punished for not paying attention. The student who will not leave your side is perceived as being needy, when in actuality this could be a student seeking higher level conversations. 

Unfortunately, our perceptions, often keep us from discovering our children's true abilities. Many of our students live with home situations that we as adults can't handle, and they still find a way to excel in the classroom. We have to rethink what "gifted" children look like. Gifted children are not perfect. Gifted students are the students sitting in your classrooms waiting for you to acknowledge their abilities.

Yes, there will be a school year when you may truly feel that you don't have any students to refer for gifted services. If you ever feel this way, I would suggest you pick your best student and refer them for the gifted process. Even if a student does not qualify for services, the information obtained will be beneficial. Learning about a student's specific strengths and weaknesses will help you facilitate higher academic performances.

As an educator, I know the wonderful feeling we get when our intuition about a child's ability is confirmed. As the parent of three gifted little girls I am forever indebted to the teachers who saw something special in them. We are educators, and we are appointed to help our students excel beyond their own expectations. When the new school year begins, go ahead, make a referral, your students are waiting to reach their highest potential.

Guest writer: Sherley Laurin Jackson is a certified and licensed Speech-Language Pathologist with 16 years of experience.  She is. Graduate of Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.  Mrs. Jackson has provided parent trainings on early language development and is an advocate for adequate early and special education in the public school systems. She has a passion for reading, college football and creating beautiful things. She is a wife and mother to three gifted young girls. Currently residing in Baton Rouge, LA., Ms. Jackson works for the East Baton Rouge Parrish School System as a Speech Therapist and Speech Assessment Consultant. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Why Gifted Education Belongs in Public School

By Emily Villamar-Robbins, guest writer

I am a believer in public school.  Growing up, I attended public school from K – 12.  During law school, I explored the history of educational inequality in the United States, including segregation, desegregation, the risks of tracking, and inadequate school funding.  I believe that each of us has a civic and moral responsibility to
support and fund public schools, and that we must actively defend the right of every child to access a free public education.  I believe in diversity in education, and in the critical importance of equal educational opportunity for all populations.  

As you can imagine, when I had children, I planned for them to attend public school.  When my older son entered first grade, however, we faced a situation not uncommon for children identified by psychologists as gifted: without significant adjustments, the curriculum did not fit his development.  For him to learn in school, we needed help from our district’s gifted specialists. 

When a few family friends learned of his learning levels, some made well-intended comments:

“Public school won’t meet his needs.”
“Public schools have limited resources.  They can’t help kids like him.”  

While this may be the temporary reality in some cases, and especially in states without gifted education laws, I would argue that these statements are offensive:  many parents of children “like him” cannot afford alternatives. 

As parents and educators, we must work to shift perspectives. 
The decision to pull advanced children from public school is common, particularly in areas with inadequately funded schools.  Resigning ourselves to this practice, however, would reveal a terrible bias:  if we fail to hold public schools responsible for meeting advanced learning needs, we assume that (a) children from low-income backgrounds cannot be advanced learners, or (b) advanced learners from low-income backgrounds somehow have less right to learn than students with average academic development.  Experts know that intellectually advanced children are present in culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse populations.  We need increased research to improve methods of identifying giftedness in underrepresented populations, but in the meantime, we can already identify children in families unable to afford alternatives to public school.

If we permit public education to remain underfunded, and if we excuse schools from serving high-ability students, where does this leave gifted children from diverse backgrounds?

For students with any learning difference, flexible strategies and continued monitoring are often needed.  Luckily for my children, our state has gifted education laws, an advocacy organization for educators and parents, and state recommendations for serving gifted children in diverse populations.  We are lucky to live in a district with dedicated gifted specialists and administrators who work hard to identify and meet gifted needs in all populations.  Not all families are so fortunate.

Unfortunately, some education advocates have criticized gifted programs as elitist, unfairly blaming the concept of gifted education for disparities in school quality.  While any strategy can be misapplied or misused, research supports the need for gifted education:  just as children with learning challenges require different interventions, depending on their difference from the norm, children with extreme, advanced differences need curriculum modifications.  As much as we wish it were simpler, schoolwide approaches, in isolation, may not succeed with some learning differences.  Students with extreme differences – including the ‘gifted’ – exist at all income levels. 

To succeed in our commitment to equity and the needs of all students, education advocates must find common ground.  As educators, parents, researchers and lawmakers, we must advocate for improvement in public education as a whole, and we must increase efforts to better identify students with learning differences in diverse populations.  At the same time, we have a duty to advocate for programs, professional development training, and interventions needed for students with all types of special needs and differences – including gifted needs. 

About the Author
Emily Villamar-Robbins is a graduate of Harvard Law School, and she is a parent to two gifted sons from a diverse cultural heritage.  Part of her legal work has involved serving as a staff attorney at Legal Aid and representing clients living below the poverty line.  She currently volunteers in support of local education in Texas, and she is a candidate for graduate certification in gifted education.  She is a contributing author for, an innovative resource on education and the evolution of learning.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Strength of Parent Advocacy: Tips for Getting School Districts to Recognize Gifted Children of Color

Today's post is written by: Adeyela Albury Bennett, parent & guest writer

It hurts that my brilliant eight-year-old twin daughters were denied access to Gifted Education services in our public school district. It also hurts that my daughters’ teachers view their loquaciousness as a behavior problem, rather than as a sign of giftedness. I am taken aback when my children’s knowledge of Arabic language and culture is dismissed. I am crushed that a teacher rated my twins low on a creativity checklist, yet recommended one of them to display her artwork at a prominent jazz and arts festival. I have sleepless nights when my twins’ unorthodox responses to essay prompts meet with a large, scarlet “F.”

My daughters are clearly gifted, but yet to be recognized as such by the school system. So, yes, I used to cry.

But, like Fannie Lou Hamer, I grew weary of crying. I grew sick and tired of my girls being left out of special school programs that, ultimately, would provide them with a more positive educational experience and put them on the fast track for scholarships to prep schools and Ivy League universities. Armed with divinely inspired wisdom, knowledge, understanding -- and courage -- I am now fighting back against inequities at my daughters’ school. Instead of crying, I now pray … and advocate on behalf of my children, and all children of color, who are brilliant and creative, yet unrecognized as gifted.

Nationally, six to ten percent of the population is intellectually gifted, according to the National Association of Gifted Children ( Sadly, children of color are dreadfully underrepresented in Gifted Education programs. In fact, white children with identical standardized test scores in math and reading as Black children are twice as likely to be placed into gifted programs, according to a recent study by researchers from Vanderbilt University (Grissom & Redding study)
At our daughters’ school, a significant number of students in kindergarten through Grade 5 at our school have been identified as gifted. The overwhelming majority of the gifted students are white, either Caucasian or Hispanic white. Most of them attend gifted classes all day, but some are enrolled in the full-time Extended Foreign Language program, and study in Spanish and English

Here are six tips for parents who want their children considered for their school district’s gifted program services:

1. Cultivate a positive relationship with teachers and administrators. Get to know your School Board representative and become active in the Parents Teachers Association. Be visible at the school. Teachers can be your greatest ally or worst enemy in your quest to have your child recognized as gifted.
2.       As early as Kindergarten, request for your child to be tested for gifted. Keep a record of all communication. If you have the economic means, also consult with a private psychologist, preferably of the same racial and/or cultural background. Prep your child for the IQ or Ability Test evaluation. Find out the minimum Ability Score OR full scale Intelligent Quotient score your state requires for gifted placement. However, they may have to meet additional criteria, such as high academic scores on the report card and standardized tests, and high scores on the teacher-rated gifted characteristics and creativity checklists.
3.       Prior to meetings with school officials, request advanced copies of student records to be discussed. This gives you a chance to review the data for accuracy, and prepares you to intelligently discuss your child’s education. Take a knowledgeable family member, friend or advocate with you to take notes and lend support at meetings.
4.       If your child doesn’t qualify, find out why. Know your rights to appeal. Find out if the IQ instrument used by the psychologist is culturally appropriate. Also, check for inconsistent or disparate scores in the psychological report that could indicate a disability that may qualify for federal Section 504 Accommodation. Closely review the teacher-rated checklists, because they are subjective. Be aware that districts generally fail to provide teachers with adequate training on identifying gifted characteristics.
5.       Network and form alliances to stay abreast of scholarly research and news articles about gifted education. Seek advice and support from school educators, academics, parents of gifted children, religious organizations, social media bloggers and civic groups that focus on education equity issues.
6.       Speak up! Attend advisory council meetings. write elected officials and the school superintendent to report any discrepancies in the process. Write newspaper editors, and radio and television stations to tell your story

We must ALL do our part to ensure EQUITY and ACCESS in Gifted Education!

Adeyela Bennett is a parent, an international educator and social justice advocate. You may contact her at