February 28, 2005
Scottsdale fifth-grader Conner Wareing, 10, is articulate, insightful and precocious — traits that many parents would consider a blessing.
But being gifted can also be a curse if not directed appropriately, experts say.
"There’s a real lack of knowledge that gifted young people have some dramatic special needs," said Marie Capurro, director of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development in Reno, Nev. The institute is dedicated to educating parents, teachers and the public on the needs of gifted students.
The No. 1 need of the gifted is to be challenged, Capurro said.
Conner and other students in Rebecca Baker’s gifted class of fifth-graders at Scottsdale’s Pima Elementary School agreed. They spoke of the frustrations of finishing schoolwork ahead of their peers and falling asleep in class.
Fifth-grader Kim Artounian had an even worse experience. She said she faced allegations of cheating in fourth-grade because she made assignments look too easy.
"I got all the answers right and I would finish so fast, and everybody knew I didn’t do any homework," she said.
Her experiences are different now that she’s in the inaugural self-contained gifted class at Pima Elementary School.
At Pima she spends her days studying astronomy, completing puzzles that exercise her spatial thinking and interacting with other gifted students.
Challenges still exist.
"We’re pretty competitive in this class," Conner said.
The students also run the risk of being ostracized and looked upon as different because the class draws gifted students from across the Scottsdale district.
"I was a little nervous to come here at first," Conner said. "But I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of different people, and that’s always a really positive thing."
All things considered, the students in Baker’s class are the lucky ones. They’ve been identified as gifted. Many students aren’t so lucky — especially those who aren’t verbal or don’t speak English as their first language.
Those students run the risk of boredom, underachievement, frustration and depression, experts said.
Just how are gifted students identified?
"That’s the big question," said Bev Potter, who runs the gifted program for the Mesa Unified School District. She said a variety of factors are considered in determining which students are intellectually talented.
Potter said the students who are the most verbal tend to be the easiest to notice. But, there are students who are spatially-gifted, or able to see underlying patterns, who are not as verbal, but just as talented.
"Some of it is academics," Potter said. "But we really look for a wide variety of things, including how they think outside the box."
Potter cautioned against using grades as the sole criterion because sometimes the students who underperform are gifted but bored.
Potter encouraged parents who believe their child might be gifted to have them tested and evaluated. "There’s no harm in asking," she said. Arizona state law mandates school districts must provide special education opportunities for students who are in the top 97th percentile, or the top three percent.
Intellectual giftedness is just that — a gift. But, experts said, parents can play a factor in whether that gift is ever realized.
"Some of it is just nature, but nurture plays a big role," Potter said. "They can be born that way, but if they haven’t been exposed to different types of learning experiences they can’t be identified."
Experts said parents should encourage their preschoolers to read and do puzzles to encourage intellectual development. "Don’t put them in front of the television," Potter said.
Parents of younger students have to be especially aware of their children’s academic and intellectual development. Once gifted children reach high school, they have the option to enroll in Advanced Placement classes and can take a more active role in the types of learning experiences available to them.
"We are seeing more and more students at the junior high school level asking for advanced classes and succeeding in them," Potter said. "They probably were never identified as gifted in the younger grades."