Seeing the Difference: Making a Difference

by Dina Brulles

Dina BrullesGifted children have different social and emotional needs both at home and at school. Culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) gifted students face even additional concerns. The distinction between these two groups—gifted students and CLD gifted students—deserves our consideration. We need to examine how our schools provide support, access, and understanding of all gifted students’ affective and academic needs. Summer presents an ideal time for parents to learn more about how they can prepare for and advocate for their gifted children’s needs both at home and at school.

Parents of gifted students should know that most teachers have less personal experience with gifted children than do the parents of gifted children. Very few states require pre-service training for teachers in the field of gifted education. Therefore, parents should try to work with teachers to help build an understanding of gifted children’s learning needs, especially in the case of CLD gifted students. Children take more academic risks, are more likely to seek challenging work, and ultimately achieve more when they feel accepted by their teachers. Parents can work with teachers to find ways to overcome culturally-based obstacles that may interfere with students’ optimal progress, program placement, and other educational needs.

We need also to consider that the challenges faced by CLD gifted students differ from those of many other gifted students. In addition to learning about needs of gifted students, educators need to consider those needs in relation to the students’ specific cultural differences. This could include, for example, Hmong in Minneapolis, Puerto Ricans in New York, Mexican Americans in El Paso, Chinese in San Francisco, Tlingit in Anchorage, Sikhs in Phoenix, and African Americans in all the above.

When discussing the learning needs of CLD gifted students, it is important to think about who these students are and what their differing educational needs might be. People tend to classify CLD populations into a single category, but dramatic differences exist amongst culturally diverse groups. Each CLD group has issues or challenges that are specific to their own culture. For example, some Indian students feel the need to be very competitive; some may feel pressures to achieve and excel due to cultural expectations. Native Americans, particularly those living on reservations, may have limited educational opportunities due to inadequate access to trained professionals and lack of understanding about giftedness. These same students who are not living on the reservation may have very rich cultural experiences that are not understood or appreciated by the school system.  African Americans may have fewer opportunities due to limited school and community understanding of the importance of gifted services, few resources and gifted programming options available, or obstacles that prevent them from accessing available resources. Hispanic gifted students are often at a disadvantage because of communication barriers between their parents and teachers. Furthermore, some parents’ undocumented status impedes their willingness to advocate for appropriate services for their children, to challenge the status quo, or to question school authorities and their practices.

Despite the vast variations among CLD gifted students’ learning needs and the diverse differences educators face when working with these students, there are clear and distinctive commonalities and school-based challenges shared among the groups.

To list a few:

  • Many gifted students have unmet educational needs.
  • All students with high ability, as measured on an IQ or ability test, have exceptional potential.
  • Many educators have limited understanding of the difference between potential and achievement.
  • All students with documented high potential deserve the same level of gifted services.
  • Parents want the most appropriate educational opportunities for their children.
  • All groups need teachers who know how to identify and nurture gifted students’ strengths, especially those of culturally and linguistically diverse populations.
  • Gifted children who receive equitable services can have equal opportunity to succeed in school and in life.

* Most of these points do not solely pertain to gifted students. However, they are especially relevant to the affective and academic learning needs of CLD students.

What parents can do:

  • Learn about what the gifted identification tells us about children’s’ learning needs. (Visit: www.hoagiesgifted.org)
  • Investigate gifted programs in the area and those in neighboring school districts. (Search your local school districts’ websites to compare their gifted education programs. Start by visiting your state gifted association’s website.)
  • Become familiar with state laws and mandates. Check to see if your local school/school district is adhering to those mandates. Are the mandates being applied equitably? (Visit: http://www.nagc.org/GiftedByState.aspx)
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Dina Brulles, PhD, is the Director of Gifted Education Services in the Paradise Valley Unified School District in Arizona where she has developed a continuum of gifted education programs.  She is also Coordinator of Gifted Programs at Arizona State University.  Dina serves on SENG’s Editorial Board and on their Diversity Committee.  She also serves on the NAGC’s Equity and Diversity Committee. Dr. Brulles’ publications include, The Cluster Grouping Handbook:  How To Challenge Gifted Students and Improve Achievement For All, Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s Classrooms, and Helping All Gifted Children Learn:  A Teacher’s Guide to Using the NNAT.

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