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Teacher Magaret De Jesus shows Grade 12 biology students Chris Chung, Leila Meema-Coleman and Clinton D'Silva, how to use some equipment for an experiment at the Ontario Science Centre Science School in Toronto. The small school, takes on 30 dedicated students to learn about science. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Teacher Magaret De Jesus shows Grade 12 biology students Chris Chung, Leila Meema-Coleman and Clinton D'Silva, how to use some equipment for an experiment at the Ontario Science Centre Science School in Toronto. The small school, takes on 30 dedicated students to learn about science. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

'Gifted' - what is it good for? Add to ...

For all these reasons, Mr. Curties, the Westmount vice-principal, notes that when cutbacks strike in many regions, the gifted co-ordinator is among the first to go.

Dissatisfied parents are looking elsewhere

Parents, in turn, have had to become professional advocates for their children. Vancouver mother Faye Parlow's two sons are now in their teens and spent their elementary years in gifted programs with tutorial support at the Vancouver Learning Centre.

But when her first son was having problems in kindergarten, Ms. Parlow says "the school system could give us no insight at all."

"We took abuse like you wouldn't believe. We were called pushy West Side parents. We were asked if the psychologist who did the testing was a friend of ours. The implication was, 'Had these been skewed?'"

Things worked out for the Parlows, but there are other refugees who aren't waiting for answers.

One Toronto mother, who asked that her name not be used, says well-meaning educators failed her when she was trying to find the right program for her son, now 15 - the kind of kid who, at at age 4, spends a summer making a violin and cello section of an orchestra out of strings and cardboard.

At school, though, he wasn't great at sitting still. "I kept hearing 'The problem is, he's bright.' … He was just scraping through."

They considered private schools and gifted programs, but the family found them too segregated. "I looked at every program in town and, frankly, they were all little white boys," the mother says. "We live in Toronto. I don't see the point of that."

Finally, after a period of home schooling, they found an alternative school that started in Grade 7. "Now he's right in the middle of everything."

Melinda Meszaros, also disappointed with the school system, has been home schooling her 13-year-old son - a big fan of particles and astrophysics - since he was assessed as gifted when he was 6.

She turned to an online academy many in the gifted community favour, Ebus Academy. "It made life possible for us," she says.

Erin Dyer says that home-schooling, using the Vancouver School Board's distance-education system with some tutorial support, also has worked for her son, now 10. His health is flourishing and he's become engaged, excited and confident.

"You seem very happy," she recently said to him as she picked him up after a tutoring session.

"He said, 'Well, people are happiest when they are allowed to really think, aren't they?' "

Other options, depending on a child's needs and a family's means, include private schools, International Baccalaureate programs and French immersion. There are also specialty programs such as the elite Grade 12 program run by the Ontario Science Centre in conjunction with the Toronto public-school system.

Some parents are also using pre-school programs to help iron out the challenges gifted kids face in advance. The owners of the Thronhill, Ont., branch of the tutoring chain FasTracKids - although as success-oriented as many others - say their own experiences in such programs led them to embrace a model that focuses on developing the kinds of "soft" skills that brainy kids need to avoid being singled out as oddballs.

'We believe all children have talents'

One school in Canada has already fully adopted Dr. Dweck's theories: At the Fern Hill elementary schools in Oakville and Burlington, Ont., there are no gifted designations.

Teachers specialize in single topics, so they can encourage children to proceed at their own pace. And every child undergoes Dr. Dweck's "Brainology" computer training, which helps them understand how their own brains work and the merits of effort over innate talent.

"We believe all children have talents," says Debbie Bell, head of the Oakville campus.

And then there are the parents whose greatest hopes for their children are that they remain brilliantly ordinary.

Vancouver mother Sonia Macnair, for one, is clear about the perils of the "gifted" world. After running the gauntlet with her son, she's not keen to do it again.

"We have a daughter, now, too, and she is almost 3. And when people ask me if I think she is gifted too I say that we hope not!"

Likewise, though Daria Hasselmann's six-year-old son Noah has had an impressive vocabulary for years - and a sideline in foreign accents he ascribes to characters in books - the Vancouver mom has resisted all advice to have him tested.

"Do I think he's gifted? Sure, in one area. But I think all children are gifted in one area," she says.

"Did I want to put him in a specifically gifted program? No."

Tralee Pearce is a reporter for the Life section of The Globe and Mail.

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