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Teacher Nicole Abdool, left, works with students from left, Michael Fialho, 3, Alexis Gimnidis, 3, and Connor Cacoutis, 4, during a FasTracKids early learning program class in Thornhill, Ont.

Kevin Van Paassen

Quirks forgiven

I was in gifted from Grade 4 to 12 and would never have survived without it. Before Grade 4, I was bullied, had pathetic social skills, and was generally miserable. I was "that" kid - the one that fidgeted, was a know-it-all, and had dorky uncontrollable habits like talking out loud to myself. I can laugh at it now, but at the time it was terrible. Once I was pulled out of my home school, everything changed. I could interact, learn and, most of all, had peers who were a lot more forgiving of my quirks because they had them as well. I was introduced to concepts that were withheld in my first school - and I understand why. A teacher with 30 kids can't teach Mr. Mugs and Shakespeare at the same time. - nutmega

It's a tough decision

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I was in exactly the same situation 2 years ago. My husband was all for trying the gifted programme while I was more inclined to leave my son in FI where he was happy and doing well. We eventually decided to try gifted for a year and then let our son decide whether to stay or go back to FI. He chose to stay in gifted and is still enjoying it and has a good circle of friends there as well as staying in touch with his old ones from FI. It's a tough decision and I wish you all the best - we gifted parents are not the pushy narcissists some of these posts are making us out to be. We're just trying to do the best thing for our children.

- Wessexgirl

A better fit

Entering the program has been great for us. Not perfect, of course, but a much better fit.

I know how I feel in a slow-moving meeting at work. I can't imagine spending so many hours bored in a classroom, day-in, day-out.

I've really enjoyed watching my daughter pursue her interests and share them with other kids who "get it."


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Challenge is good

A lot of these comments are pretty extreme. Speaking from experience, I think that gifted, or enhanced classes - whatever they're being called nowadays - are a good thing for students, but that too much should not be read into them.

I was first identified as being "gifted" in grade 2. For the rest of elementary and junior high school, that meant being taken out of regular classes a couple times a week for a period or two and having a chance to do some different types of activities. It's true that some kids for whom regular school comes easy can become disruptive or distracting, mostly out of boredom. If the teacher gives you 20 minutes to finish a math assignment, and it only takes you 5, then of course you're going to turn to speak to your friend, who may not be done yet and might require more time than you do. For that reason, it was good to get away for a little bit to do work that pushed us a bit more.

In high school, I took my core subjects with other "enhanced" kids, and my electives with everyone else. That worked out really well. While we did occasionally cover slightly different topics, or the same topics in a different way, our teachers never went on about how special we were. At lunch and after school, we hung out with our friends in the regular stream and acted like normal kids for the most part. There were the odd stereotypical "nerd" types who despite being very smart had a hard time interacting with other kids, but they were a definite minority, and I can't recall my parents ever bragging about it to anyone.

The advantage of these classes for kids who might need them is that they're challenged a bit more. My teachers at least tried to discourage those of us who thought it might be possible to skate by on natural ability alone to do that little bit extra. Being grouped with high achievers also provided a healthy level of competition which at least for myself personally, pushed me do as well as I could.

Not every kid in those classes goes on to an incredible career. Some of my peers did go on to medical or law school. Some are academics who have taught and studied at some of the best schools in the world. Some work in education, finance and IT. But you know what? So do my other friends who weren't identified as "gifted." Some of the other "gifted" kids from my classes now work in what most of us would consider pretty average jobs. Although I don't have any data to back it up, I would imagine that the career, and indeed life trajectories of kids in a regular stream at a good high school in a middle-class neighbourhood would be nearly identical to the gifted/enhanced ones.

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So I feel that they are worthwhile programs in terms of what they provide for children, but they certainly shouldn't be something that parents or identified kids use to make themselves feel superior, and they definitely provide no guarantee of future success in life. Just like not being identified as gifted


Don't judge by labels

Our second son was tested in Grade 3, like all others, and was classified "gifted". We made a decision with him to stay in his current class with his great friends and as it stands now (Grade 5) he is flourishing academically and socially. We give our son enrichment from the home (if he wants or needs it), the school is very supportive in his enrichment "hours." He is well rounded, involved in sports and loves life.

Bottom line is that you can have academically gifted children in either the program or mainstream environment. You have to make sure that the decision you make is for your child and not for your own personal agenda (makes you "look good"). I know of one parent now whose world would crash around her if her child was removed from the program because this is her (parent) identity. It's disturbing in many ways - her child is no doing well in class and wants out but the parent refuses.

A person should not be identified through a program but identified and lauded from being their own person with their own strengths and weaknesses.

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As an opera singer who grew up on stage and gained character and strength through life's experiences and many different, wonderful people … no one should be labelled, we are all human who are striving for the same thing - love, happiness and health. At the end of the day, at the end of the school year, at the end of anything you should be able to look into the mirror and identify yourself with who you are on the inside and not a label you've been given by another. My message to my children.


Smartest drug dealer

Wow, rarely do I read an article in the newspaper that actually gets me emotional - angry more than anything.

I, like a lot of posters here, went through the "gifted" (and my fair share of behaviour quirks) track starting in Grade 5. My parents made quite a big deal about me scoring quite high (third in Ontario, I believe) on some damned bubble test or another. Telling someone you are smarter than almost everyone else your age is the LAST thing you want to tell a 10-year-old child if you want any future for them in the real world.

I suppose it's unfair to judge current gifted-track programs based on the 1980s, but I can tell you that without a doubt, the program was deeply destructive to my life. I'm in my 30s now, and have started to make my peace and find my way in life, but I'm rather convinced that my challenges might have been shortened had I just been treated normally rather than as a math whiz.

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I was unquestionably, however, the smartest street-level heroin addict/dealer for a couple years out of high school! And I got a PhD in "bikers don't care whether you are gifted, just whether you pay or not."


No insult intended

As others have pointed out, being called gifted isn't all it's cracked up to be. Have you ever told your friends your child is gifted? Too often they look at you as if you are bragging or insulting their child. Why is it okay to praise little Johnny for hitting a home run in Little League or little Sally for scoring the winning goal in soccer, but talk about your gifted child to non-gifted parents and suddenly you're saying their child isn't smart. I've learned to keep my mouth shut around some people who think that having a gifted child means life must be perfect and everything comes easier.


Above and beyond

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Very anecdotal, but a good proportion (if not the majority) of my medical school classmates graduated from gifted programs, including myself.

If nothing else, what I got out of the gifted program was loving to go above and beyond. When your peers are mostly higher-achieving students, the effects rub off on you as well. I took some courses in high school that were not gifted due to scheduling conflicts, and I remember that I was in absolute disbelief at the apathy and lack of motivation (relative to what I was used to) of my non-gifted classmates. While the gifted program may not be ideal for some children such labelled, I believe (based on many, many years of personal experience) that it worked for the vast majority of its students. Just my two cents.


Far-flung ideas

In Grade 4 I went to a new school to give the gifted class a go (this was the early eighties) and it was a disaster. We had school psychologists "testing" us, and teachers with far-flung ideas of how gifted kids should be taught trying out their various social and educational theories in the classroom. The other kids in the school hated us. And six months later, when I missed my old school and friends so much that my parents finally pulled me out of the gifted class and put me back there, I was actually BEHIND them in every subject! What a joke.

I later met up with those same gifted kids in high school and some of us became good friends. But I wouldn't say they had any advantage over me academically. Smart kids will find challenges, and I was lucky to have teachers who recognized that and gave them to me. I didn't need a gifted class to make me excel in school.


The kids get her jokes

My daughter has been in a gifted program since Grade 4. She is now in Grade 9.

When she was "tested" in Grade 3, we discovered that ALL of the kids she liked to play with were also "gifted." When asked why she liked those kids more than others, she said something to the effect: "They laugh when I tell jokes. The other kids don't get it. They don't know what it means so I always have to explain."

Her "giftee" friends are fun, have a great sense of humour and are proud of their individuality. They accept each other for who and what they are ... whether it is being brilliant at math or art or music or nothing in particular. This has been the most important aspect of the "gifted" program.

It allows gifted kids to find each other more easily and develop friendships with others of similar abilities.

-jw at home

Child cut her own path

As a father of a gifted child, as well as a school teacher, my take was a lot different than most expressed here. She was identified in Grade 6 and put in the special class in grade 7. When they told me, I said "yeah right." Don't you dare do this for (to) me. I want a normal kid thanks. They assured me she was qualified and she has gone on well since currently doing and MSc. Differently from others who need the ego boost to say they have a gifted kid, our girl knows how to chop wood, drive a tractor and do trades type work around the house - useful skills that she may need some day? Nonetheless, we never pushed her. She has cut her own path. She seeks her own goals and drives herself to achieve them, at times risking her health to do so. IF you never talk to her about chemistry, she is just another girl in the crowd. Like the rest of us, she has her strengths and weaknesses, but they are hers alone, and her gift is developing her own potential in her own way.


Addicted to straight As

Dear Life,

As a "gifted" student at a "gifted" school, I grew addicted to the highs of straight As, achievement awards and scholarships. In the world of paid employment, nobody looked at my marks or my labels; being gifted was no help in playing office politics, uniting business silos or juggling billable hours with caring for my kids.

The label hasn't found me any extra hours in my day, but it has left me feeling like an underachiever since high school.

-Kate, N.S.

Most don't understand

In my experience, most people don't understand giftedness. They either perceive it as a sign of exceptional intelligence, which marks their children out as "special," or they are fearful and jealous of it. As an adult, my giftedness reveals itself in the ways in which I am capable of carrying out tasks and activities in diverse areas, and in the ways in which I am fortunate to be respected for my ideas and my thinking. Yet I very rarely reveal to other adults that I was once labelled gifted.

I have a child who may be gifted. She has not been tested, nor will she be. I know that testing her may run the risk of negatively affecting her self-esteem. She is a happy child, with many friends and a supportive family. I don't need the world or her teachers to know that she is gifted. I need only for her to grow, and explore her world, and negotiate the asynchronicity between her intelligence and emotional levels.

-Renee, Whitby

Words of experience

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to raise 6 gifted children? My husband and I did just that. In fact we still are doing it. Our 6 children range in age from 14 to 30. Four boys followed by two girls. Our youngest is in grade 9. On paper they sound amazing; but it's what's inside that counts.

Things I learned along the way:

Never cancel gym. It is the most important subject of the day next to recess.

Gifted doesn't mean enjoys doing homework.

Dinner table conversations are more likely about poop than the origins of the universe.

An invitation to a party is more important than an A.

If gifted is the top 2 percentile, then those at the 98th percentile are gifttards.

Every parent wants their child identified gifted, but definitely not smart weird. It's all in the name.

If you want your child to succeed here's what you need to know:

Eat dinner as a family and talk, even if it's about poop.

Get the kids involved in sports; that way they come home too tired to fight.

All children must play piano and they can't quit until they get to grade 5. By then the pieces are so nice that they keep playing.

Put report cards on the fridge. They must be proud of them - even the poor ones.

Access the gifted program in your neighbourhood. If they were hard of hearing you'd never consider not accessing that program.

Remind them that being gifted is not the only thing that matters in life. Put them in hockey and let them appreciate the kid who is fantastic at hockey and not the brightest child in the room.

Tell them what I told my kids: "Being gifted is like having a kitchen full of every ingredient in a store. You can make an amazing dinner every night of the year or you can have 365 days of Kraft Dinner. It's your choice, and by the way I'll still love you no matter what."

-Joanne Mills

From a gifted child

We're not oddities

I have to disagree with some of the opinions in the article. We do not all become "freaks" when encouraged, as Mr. Desmond Morris, zoologist seems to think. I was offended with his use of the word "it" when referring to gifted children, as we are not animals in a zoo.

The article was slightly untrue, as I am in a class of gifted children (Grade 6) and we are just as normal as our peers who are not in the enriched program. We are perhaps more sensitive, but not oddities to be written about in the newspaper.

This is just my opinion, and I know that there are children who do vary in their level of giftedness. But still, I want people to know that not all gifted children are prodigies with perfect marks, or abnormal people.

Yes, we are different than other children, and we have different educational needs, like to be challenged with creative curriculum. But - we are not something new to be emblazoned across a newspaper page.

I like the gifted program, and going to school, but it's another thing to be tagged as a "giftie."

-Isabel Teramura, Ottawa

These posts have been edited and condensed.

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