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Become a Talent Scout

By Tammie Stewart

 

I did not learn about “gifted” programs, acceleration, or other opportunities related to gifted education until I came to work at CTD. I don’t recall hearing the term gifted in elementary or middle school, even as a high-achieving student myself. Students who excelled academically were simply referred to as “good students” and there was no discussion about what that meant or what to do next.

In high school I did well academically, taking Honors and, eventually, AP classes. Some of the classes were easy, but others took a little more effort. Never was the term “gifted” used to describe me or any of my classmates, but as I think back, it could have and should have led to more talent development opportunities for many of them.

Coming from a predominantly African-American high school on Chicago’s South Side, I realized once I was in college and among a more diverse group of students that there were a lot of things I never learned about in high school. Gifted education or the idea of “giftedness” was one of those things. Creating a talent development pathway was another. In high school, we knew students who were talented—but we didn’t always know about many of the great academic or professional opportunities that some students got to be involved in, like internships, career exploration opportunities, or taking above grade-level classes. These were opportunities that most of us were not aware of, let alone invited to participate.

After being at CTD and having the opportunity to communicate with many families and educators, I know that this information and opportunity gap still exists. Some families are getting information about opportunities and resources and others are not. Families most often missing out are those from lower income households and those from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, specifically BIPOC students.

Being offered rigorous curriculum, taking above-grade-level classes, and engaging in outside-of-school enrichment programs are not awards or things to be reserved for only a few students in select schools. All students need learning opportunities tailored to their needs, and that may mean access to accelerated, advanced coursework at an early age. This is what I share with families whenever possible. It is true that you don’t know what you don’t know, but there is so much that we, collectively in our communities, do know about educational resources and opportunities, and in order to learn some of it we have to ask questions, find information, and share it widely.

There is a lot of advocacy work to do with local schools, states, and nationally when it comes to education, and gifted education in particular, and I acknowledge the importance of examining giftedness and gifted education programs and addressing discrimination and inequity. Even as we do that broader work, every day our children still need their talents identified and developed. So, here is my advice to parents (and educators) about steps to take, whether students have been formally identified as gifted or not.

  1. Ask Questions, more than once if necessary. Advocate for yourself and your children by asking about opportunities to support their development and interests. Use your connections with educators, community leaders, small businesses, friends, and relatives who have been where you or your child want to go academically or professionally. How did they get there? What were their first steps? Do your local businesses have internships? Can a student do a “day in the life” of the career in which they have shown some interest? Are there weekend or summer enrichment classes at school, at local colleges or universities, museums, libraries, or online? What are the partnerships, if any, that the school participates in? Many schools have partnerships with high schools, community organizations, companies, colleges and universities that offer specialty programs such as summer camps, high school or college classes, or even career advice. Find out about them.
     
  2. Talk to educators about developing an academic plan for your child—the best courses to take to make sure they are challenged, clubs or competitions in their areas of interest, and, as they get older, mentors and experts who can support their academic and professional aspirations. Talk to educators about gifted education services available in the school. If no formal program exists, ask about the possibility of subject or grade acceleration for students in need of advanced instruction. In some states, like Illinois, school districts are required to have a policy on accelerated instruction. Find out what services your child qualifies for. If they don’t currently qualify, ask why not and how to guide their development. Find out if there are scholarships or financial aid available for programs of interest outside of school. If you ask questions like these, then you have a starting point. The worst that can happen is someone says no. If that happens, then ask them for other ideas or suggestions. Then ask the questions of someone else.
     
  3. Knowledge is power, and obtaining knowledge starts with getting answers to your questions. However, there is also power in sharing information with other families and with educators. When you learn about a program, new resource, or policy, share that information—widely—with other parents, educators, etc. Be a facilitator and a contact for others. If you have questions about opportunities for your child, it is likely others have had similar questions, so do not hesitate to discuss what you are learning and trying to find out. Parent networking is one of the reasons CTD has established Backpack for Parents and the Resource Connection Facebook group. Sharing information makes a difference—each year almost 20% of families report they first heard about CTD from a friend, acquaintance, family member, or community group. Share what you know—not just with your close friends and family, or other school contacts, but through networks or organizations that can reach students and help eliminate barriers to access or success.
     
  4. View yourself as a “talent scout”—nurturing interests and strengths, not just attending to skills that need improvement. Young people need to be challenged, engaged, and motivated to think about the future. Parents and educators have an important role in advocating for them, teaching them to advocate for themselves, and sharing resources and opportunities with others who could also benefit. Students will develop at different rates and demonstrate their abilities in different ways. You may need to help others realize and recognize that the assets your child brings—different doesn’t mean wrong, it just means different. Recognizing differences as assets opens the door to options and opportunities from which others can learn.

I recognize that following this advice is not easy. It takes time, practice, and developing your own skills as an advocate. But there is help as you get started. My role as Manager, Community Outreach is to support parents and students as they create their personalized academic journey from emergent talent to expertise and lifelong learning. One of opportunities I share with families, educators, and organizations is a scholarship program offered to high-achieving 7th graders from mid to low-income households. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Young Scholars Program will support students through their high school year. It is an amazing scholarship that benefits students as they grow in their individual talents.

In addition, I want to share the information below to get you started—be sure to pass it along! Share academic opportunities and information to help and support not just your children, but also those you don’t know.

Also, feel free to hold on to my contact information as another resource to use and share with others. I can be reached via e-mail at tammie-stewart@northwestern.edu. I hope to hear from you (or from someone you refer to me) soon!

Advocacy Organizations

National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC)

Illinois Association for Gifted Children and other State Affiliates of NAGC

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation

Resources from CTD

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