By Rosina Gallagher
This was certainly the spirit at the 24th SENG Annual Conference held in Kansas City/Overland Park, Kansas, July 13-15. Over 400 parents, educators, professionals, children and teens participated in this unique family affair! If you were there, you experienced it, and this newsletter will remind you of fresh ideas, confirmed beliefs, and the joys and sorrows shared with new and old friends and colleagues. If you could not be with us, I hope my reflections will rekindle a spark to join us at SENG’s Silver Anniversary next summer.
Outstanding keynote presenters touched our hearts, enlightened our brains, and bolstered our courage to carry on until next year. On Friday, Barbara Kerr shared a new approach to identifying creative youth by comparing their achievement, personality, and interest profiles to those of eminent individuals when they were young men and women. The counseling strategies developed at the University of Kansas affirm student “flow” by identifying strengths and challenges, providing mentors, and enhancing hopes and courage to form creative communities.
Barbara Clark, through heart-warming vignettes, impressed upon us that, as parents and professionals, we should be guiding–not directing–gifted children to find their own solutions and turn each experience into a learning opportunity. Barbara recounted engaging examples of actual challenges faced by gifted children and showed that with appropriate placement, these kids were once again able to feel “normal.”
On Saturday, Jim Webb, in his inimitable caring fashion, discussed five traits characteristic of fully functioning gifted individuals: above average ability, high task commitment, creativity, courage, and caring. Accepting the first two as essential, he feels gifted children need to cultivate the last three in balance. What are the dangers of imbalance? Developing high courage and creativity but low or misguided caring, for example, may produce trivial pursuers, indifferent investigators, self-absorbed narcissists or gifted terrorists. Developing high creativity and caring but low courage may yield conformers, people pleasers who lack the courage to take a stand and go against tradition. High courage and caring but low creativity may produce consolidators of knowledge who rarely experience pain or disturbance as they fail to think outside the box. To help children cultivate creativity, courage and caring, we must let them be, guide them gently to trust in themselves, and nurture their inner-directness and resilience.
On Sunday, Dennis Higgins and Elizabeth Nielsen inspired us with gentle music and song to quest for “moral courage.” They reminded us of Robert Kennedy’s words, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope … that builds a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Moral courage, rarer than great intelligence, is the essential quality that each of us must find if we wish to make a difference in the world.
The three days also provided an opportunity to acquire or hone skills and earn continuing education credits. Workshops included training to facilitate SENG-Model Parent Support Groups and to increase understanding of the relationship between emotional intelligence and intellectual giftedness for success in life. Another session addressed the formal training of professionals to hopefully reduce misdiagnoses or dual diagnoses of children and youth.
The 42 breakout sessions explored issues such as parenting and grandparenting gifted children, tips to reduce stress, gender differences among the gifted, understanding the culturally and linguistically diverse, the Twice Exceptional, GLBT, psychiatric and counseling approaches to underachievement, homeschooling, acceleration and enrichment, and the college application pathway.
On a personal note, I was particularly edified by the Latino individuals and families who, sponsored by NAGC’s Special Populations Division to attend SENG for a day, were able to share their experiences, ideas and hopes. Gilberto, born and raised in Missouri, is head of a successful charter high school; yet, his own children were not accepted into a gifted program because “they did not know enough English.” Cielo, a native of Mexico and program director for a long-established agency that serves the Latino communities of greater Kansas City, admits, “My colleague therapists should be here! We need to continue nurturing talent among our high-ability minority children.” Maricruz, a single working mom from Guadalajara, Mexico, beamed as she revealed in Spanish that her seventh-grader, one of three sons, recently received a four-year Kaufman Foundation scholarship to a college of his choice! She whispers, being quite apprehensive as to what this will entail for the family. Josie, a retired principal and influential community leader, comments, “I worked with many bright children in my career, and having the support of this group (SENG) would have been inspiring.”
We also heard Anibal and Kiralee, two Puerto Rican engineers who recently relocated to Arizona, planning to homeschool their bright, bilingual, six-year-old because the public school in their community finds him “overactive, oppositional and unable to relate to kindergarten peers.” The couple hopes their son will become bien educado, meaning respectful, literate in both English and Spanish, and orgulloso or proud of his Hispanic-American heritage. Finally, we had two representatives from the corporate world. Salvador, at his wife’s urging, brought their three young sons and uncle Miguel to satisfy their curiosity about giftedness; in passing, they shared their hopes to build a family printing shop. Susana, a business consultant, native of Argentina and single mother of six young adults, broadcasts a weekly radio show to guide Latino entrepreneurs. Neither Salvador nor Susana was aware of opportunities or networks to support bright young men and women.
Did I miss anything? The children’s program! Comments from the kids and parents I spoke to suggest they had a great time at the Kansas City Zoo, the walking sculpture tour, the visits to Hallmark and Science City, and the Rail Experience. Most of all, the children enjoyed interacting with others like themselves. Their exhilarating musical performance of “The Wizard of Oz” eased us down the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City where we found the heart, brains and courage to come back home!
Rosina M. Gallagher is a psychologist and educational consultant. Currently, she is Secretary/Treasurer of the SENG Board of Directors, a member of the Illinois Gifted Advisory Council and NAGC’s Diversity and Equity Committee, and co-chair of the Underserved Populations Committee of the Illinois Association for Gifted Children.