I recently read Ingfei Chen’s article “By Not Challenging Gifted Kids, What Do We Risk Losing?” on a great website called MindShift.
The article spoke to me because it describes my son and the unique challenges of bright children in public schools. But I’ll take it a step further and tell you it is extra challenging to have a bright child in public school AND be a military family changing schools every few years. Gifted services vary by school and state burying military families under mounds of paperwork required to prove their child should receive special education services and understanding the difference between “enrichment” and special education. Moving and changing schools is a game of roulette.
Did you know that Gifted and Talented programs fall under special education in school districts throughout the country? I didn’t realize that an identified gifted child qualifies for special education services until my son was identified a few years ago.
I knew he was different when he was toddler, but I couldn’t put my finger exactly on why he was different. He learned things faster, differently than his peers. He was socially different, too, but not enough for me to make much of a fuss. It was just “fun” to be around him and discover new things with him.
As a military family, we have moved every 1-3 years and my son is in his third school in three years. Today’s Gifted and Talented programs are far different from what I remembered – previous programs could be more accurately characterized as enrichment programs rather than unique curriculum.
While most teachers are justifiably concerned with those who struggle to learn in the classroom, I discovered that most teachers had little material fit for the top 2% of students – the accelerated learners. As one teacher put it, “I’d have to buy all new books and teach a different curriculum to teach your son.”
His wonderful and supportive teacher at our second public school told me he was extremely bored and disinterested in the classroom. He eventually became disruptive, which was very unlike his gentle manner. She suggested a different path for him.
A Different Path
We decided to accelerate him to the next grade – mid-year – with encouragement from teachers, the school psychologist and the principal. Educators assured me that they would watch him carefully for the next two years to ensure he adjusted well. They would handpick his teachers for the next grade and offered to implement Gifted and Talented services that would be fully funded at the next grade. We were very excited for him to finally be challenged. Our son adjusted perfectly to his new surroundings, teachers, peers and curriculum.
Then we got PCS orders. Yes, we’d only been at this assignment for nine months and we were moving again. I was frozen in fear, asking myself, “What have we done?” Would his new school understand why we accelerated him? Could we reverse it? He’d only been advanced to the next grade mid-year; maybe we could “undo” the acceleration.
As a family, we decided to accelerate him based on where we were and the extremely nurturing and supportive school climate we enjoyed. Now we were moving, again. As I’ve discovered in the past, not all schools are created equal in education and I was scared he would be lost in a new school, new requirements, new system.
Easing the Transition
We were lucky we didn’t move to a public school within the States. We ended up at a DoDEA school overseas, and their business is educating military kids and military kids only. DoDEA understands military students’ challenges and has designed unique ways to meet their needs. My son’s transition was amazing thanks to the school counselors and a little trick a fellow military spouse (and school psychologist) taught me. The trick? Compile a comprehensive education binder for your child every time you move. Give it to teachers and counselors when you register. Give the new school a glimpse of who your child is as a student. File reports cards, letters from teachers, IQ tests, evaluations, work samples and more in the binder. I left nothing to chance.
My son now has an amazing teacher, he was instantly enrolled in Gifted and Talented services and his teacher knew all about him on the first day of school. He is thriving because he is being challenged for the first time and it’s wonderful. The lesson I learned was that advocating for my military child is MY RESPONSIBILITY. I have to be proactive at every turn and with every PCS. I don’t want my child to lose six weeks or six months waiting for someone to notice his needs after transitioning to a new school. It’s my job to be proactive and ensuring he is not lost in transition.
The game of school services roulette worked out in our favor this time. Despite living a military life which forces me to gamble on where and when my children will move, I won’t gamble on how they transition to a new school.
Click here to download your very own Operation Dandelion Kids Education Binder.