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White Knuckle Parenting: Going Gifted

We all want our kids to have the best education, but does that mean sending them into the pressure cooker?

Way back when my kids were still very small, I went to an MCPS presentation about gifted and talented programs in the county. I don't remember why I did that; it certainly wasn't relevant to me at the time, but regardless, I was there and I learned all about the various county programs available.

I was highly amused at the time to hear about the fourth and fifth grade "highly gifted program," and I laughed really hard when the presenter joked, "In Montgomery County, it's not enough to be gifted, you have to be highly gifted."

Now, my oldest son is in fifth grade in one of those same highly gifted centers and even though I feel like a jerk every time I say that to someone, it is definitely the best place for him. The truth is that there are all kinds of different learning styles and this program fits him. It's just too bad that there isn't a specialized program for every student.

Regardless, now that he is fifth grade, it is time to look forward to middle school. There are a number of different programs for middle school, including a couple that have an application process that I didn't endure until I was looking at colleges.

My fifth grader has spent the past couple of months putting together an application that required him to write two essays, get letters of recommendation from two teachers, and take a multiple-hour test. If he had applied to the humanities program in addition to the math and science program, he would have been required to write a timed essay, which, rumor has it, was about JFK's presidential inaugural address.

Hearing all this gave me fever chills and flashbacks to scantron forms and blue books. I could barely handle that in college, let alone elementary school.

This maybe explains why I wasn't in a gifted program when I was a kid.

Obviously I not only let my son apply to this program, but I encouraged him, even though my initial impulse when I heard about the whole process was to move to Small Town, North Dakota, where his middle school path would be predetermined and he wouldn't have to worry about all these things.

See, I'm conflicted. I think these are wonderful programs and ultimately it would do him good to be a part of them, but then again, he's just 11 years old. The application process was almost too much pressure. What happens if he gets accepted? I wonder how much of a pressure cooker the program itself will be.

That said, if he is the lucky one-in-eight selected for the program, he will have a built-in peer group to head into middle school with. He will get to hang out with kids who think it is cool to be smart. He will hopefully end up finding joy in learning with others who feel the same.

I'm not overly invested in his acceptance into the program, but I'm proud of him for wanting to apply and to go through the rigorous process. I just hope that whether he gets in or not that he ends up feeling good about himself.

Did your kid take the middle school magnet test this weekend? How do you feel about it?

Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, is a freelance writer who writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and runs an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Stimeyland.

Elaine December 05, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Yikes! That's way more rigorous than any process I remember. Good for him for trying. I support these programs because of the peer relationships you identify. It's nice to be around someone who "gets you".
Melanie December 07, 2012 at 02:37 AM
My daughters are in gifted programs too. So far I haven't seen them experience too much pressure. I always tell people I'm glad for them to be with people like them, more than I care about the academics. I felt like a weirdo for so much of my school career. I love that my kids have friends who are so similar to them in how they think and act.
Jean Winegardner December 07, 2012 at 02:46 AM
I definitely think that the social aspect you talk about here is maybe the best part of my son's gifted program.

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