California Educator

May 2011

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ers and plaster gauze. On other days, topics might include architecture, pale- ontology, Greek mythology, Italian or higher-level math. “These kids love learning and are hungry for the kinds of challenges we offer in GATE,” says Scrivner, a member of the Panama Buena Vista Teachers As- sociation and one of three district GATE teachers. “Our district really values this pro- aBove: Teacher Kathy Scrivner talks with gifted students about art before beginning a project at Stockdale Elementary School. “We can learn about things much faster here, and it’s fun,” he says. “We don’t have to wait for the slow kids like we do in other classes.” On this particu- lar day, students are studying modern art and creating abstract sculptures in the style of Spanish surrealist Joan Miró fashioned from wood blocks, coat hang- gram, and they want to keep it,” adds Scrivner. “It’s expensive, but it’s impor- tant. In some ways, it evens the playing field for some of our low-income kids who don’t get extras at their schools. I think gifted kids deserve equity, and we give them a place where their needs can be met.” pended or reduced GATE programs — or are considering putting GATE on the chop- ping block — include Los Banos Unified, Fairfax and Fruitvale school districts in Ba- kersfield, Merced City School District, Dela- no Unified, San Francisco Unified, and Los Angeles Unified (LAUSD). Mentally dropping out The impact of cutting GATE is potentially catastrophic, says Martha Flourney, a former special education teacher who serves on the legislation committee of the California Association for the Gift- ed (CAG). “You can have kids drop out of school mentally in third grade if they are not being chal- lenged. They may attend school, but they may become depressed and have behavior problems. Don’t gifted children also deserve to learn something new at school every day?” Beth Littrell, a resource specialist for the Beth Littrell a lot of social and emotional issues that come with being gifted,” says Littrell, a member of the San Mateo Elementary Teachers Association. “Gifted students are a highly intense group of people who expe- rience the world with stronger emotions and with heightened senses. When their cognitive and emotional needs aren’t being met, they tend to go underground. It’s a shame, because they might be the ones to find the cure for cancer and be our future leaders.” Without proper training, it can be a big challenge for gen- eral education teachers to have gifted students in their class, adds Littrell. “Most districts don’t think about the fact that gifted students have incredibly differ- ent needs, and most districts don’t offer training to meet those needs,” she says. Littrell knows that firsthand, since teach- San Mateo-Foster City School District’s GATE program, believes there is a common misconception that gifted students will be fine regardless of what happens. “There are ers from other districts often visit her school district — which has a strong com- mitment to GATE education — seeking ways to meet the needs of gifted students at their own sites. (For tips, see page 20.) Brain development at risk Research on gifted students shows that ignoring their needs goes beyond bore- dom or a risk of having them drop out; it can also jeopardize brain development. Dr. Barbara Clark, author of the leading text- book on the subject, Growing Up Gifted, which has been translated into numerous languages, bases her beliefs on a new field called “neuroplasticity.” “New brain cells are born every day and must be challenged and exercised by learning something new, or they disap- pear,” says Clark. “This finding is hugely im- portant for learners, especially gifted learners. They are too often not chal- lenged in regular classrooms, where they may already know the ideas and content being presented at their grade level. Just repeating old activities and information will not support these new brain cells.” “For these reasons, it is critical that we ad- vocate for appropriate education for gifted learners,” concludes Clark. “Without such edu- cational provisions, we take the chance that much of their neural development will be slowed or even lost. The idiom ‘Use it or lose it’ can become all too real.” MAY 2011 | 21

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