Diversifying gifted and talented programs represents only the first step in expanding access, educators say. Districts also must retain those students—and that means ensuring their experiences are positive.
“I look at recruitment as desegregation, and I look at retention as integration,” says Donna Y. Ford, professor of education and human development at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Once enrolled in gifted programs, students need not just advanced instruction, Ford says, but also “the quality, the supports, the resources, the understanding, the compassion, the equity.”
Maryland’s Montgomery County Schools (162,000 students) has spent three years diversifying its countywide gifted magnet programs. Teachers also took a summer refresher course on how to scaffold instruction for students who are less prepared academically.
Gifted and talented SEL
In the 8,700-student Mankato Area Public Schools in Minnesota, counselors work on social-emotional issues, such as executive functioning and goal setting, targeting students (many from traditionally underserved groups) who are on the cusp of qualifying for the district’s advanced academic programming. That support continues once they qualify, says Superintendent Sheri Allen.
In Illinois District U-46, which enrolls 39,000 students, gifted teachers receive special training on cultural awareness and avoidance of racial bias. A special social-emotional curriculum aims to combat the self-doubt that can plague gifted students from underserved groups.
As the district identifies recruits for its nine gifted programs, gifted coordinator April Wells insists on sending “a critical mass” of students from each group. “I don’t believe in sending only one,” Wells says. “The weight of one is unbearable.”