By Jessica White, Co-Founder and Head of School
Soon after I was hired to work as a teacher of gifted children at a local elementary school, an administrator pulled me aside and explained the school’s wonderful history of high achievement and yet the constant challenge of growing the highest ability learners. Her question to me was, “What are you going to do about it?” Little did I know at the time that her question would be an essential question in the biggest passion project of my life. From that point on, I made it my mission to learn all that I could about how to best address the educational needs of my students. My co-teacher and I researched for long hours, and we put into practice the things we learned. We saw what worked and what didn’t work, and together we dreamed about what our students could achieve in a school designed entirely around their needs and abilities.
We learned that gifted children often require as many accommodations in the classroom as students with learning challenges, but for several reasons that I will share in a future blog post, they are seldom provided. Because of this, gifted children learn early on to equate “being smart” with things coming easily. Since they rarely encounter academic struggles, when faced with a challenge of any kind, it’s common for gifted children to back down, believing that it must be too hard for them. On top of that, many start to dread school, and some beg their parents to homeschool them.
I met with several families who knew their child’s potential and sought out personalized learning opportunities in an effort to advocate for their child. They hoped their child would be challenged every day and be given time to explore areas of interest.
As hard as we tried, the reality is that we were working within a system that is designed to get hundreds of children though it in the most efficient way.
The belief is that a change to one student’s program has a ripple effect, and school and district leaders must always balance what is good for one with what is good for all. If you’ve ever studied systems thinking, you can see why we weren’t successful in our efforts for advocacy. Standardization is the goal, and what we were seeking rejected that goal.
One meeting with parents and administrators in October of 2016 inspired me to begin the process of researching what it would take to create a full-time school for gifted learners. By August of 2018, this dream became a reality. Months of research, networking, and passion turned into a beautiful plan and vision for Tennessee’s first school for gifted learners, Mid-South Gifted Academy.
Our vision was and is to create a dynamic, joyful, and challenging school experience for gifted learners that honors individual strengths and abilities, prioritizes strong relationships, and grants children the freedom to learn in order to fully develop their potential.
We are now in the midst of Year Two and beginning to enroll students for the 2020-2021 school year. It has been incredible to be part of a team of families and educators that successfully turned a vision into reality. As we grow, we will always look to our founding families to ensure that we are staying true to the vision.
I am starting this blog as a resource for parents of gifted learners in our community. Not everyone has the need, desire, or ability to send their child to private school, but one thing is true for all parents of gifted children – There are few people who truly understand your concerns, and it’s not comfortable to voice them for fear of judgment and of being misunderstood. Sadly, even the label “gifted” makes us all a bit uneasy. Let’s work together to change that. No parent should ever be afraid to advocate for their children’s educational needs.