Schools struggle to fund programs for gifted children

Melinda Taylor and Milda Willoughby, IVCC Honors Program

During difficult economic times with ever decreasing budgets, school administrators and school boards are frequently faced with the problem of prioritizing nonessential programs.

Although most people are aware of the cuts in music and art departments, as well as, more recently, the trade program in Ottawa, the programs for gifted children get little or no press.

Currently, in the Illinois Valley region, there is only one fulltime gifted program and one part-time program.

According to The National Association for Gifted Children, 6 percent of the student population qualifies as gifted, which means that they “exhibit high performance capabilities” and are in need of “services and activities that are not ordinarily provided by the school.”

Although 6 percent does not sound like a large number, it translates into about three million students nationwide.

While a lot of educational opportunities depend on the availability of adequate financing, there are alternative measures that could be implemented in the classroom with little or no cost to schools.

Working more in depth on the materials that are presented to the classroom, providing assignments with several possible solutions, and assigning independent projects can enhance and enrich the learning experience of gifted students.

According to Mary Covert, a teacher in her fifth year of teaching gifted students in Seneca, such measures are essential. “They could be fantastic, but we’re just letting them be okay,” said Covert, when talking about gifted students who get overlooked in the regular classroom.

Experts say parents can also make a tremendous difference regarding the treatment of gifted children in schools. The first step for any parent is to talk to the class teacher and express any concerns. This must always be done with respect and understanding of the difficult tasks teachers and administrators face.

There are often simple solutions that will not excessively burden the class teacher and that can be done with no additional funds. One example is pre-testing, which is particularly useful for math and spelling tests.

The next step parents should consider is setting up a parent group. The main goal of this
group would be to attend all school board meetings to get to know the board members and to educate themselves on the budget and priorities of the district.

The parent group could also invite guest speakers to talk about the children’s needs.