Growing up Gifted

I originally “joined” social media looking to connect with other parents of gifted kids. I acted as a gifted advocate for many years. While my time with public school is coming to a close with my gifted child, my ideals are not. The following is my closing letter to my school district regarding gifted kids:

Braden taught himself to read at 2.5. I didn’t even know he could read to be honest. He was taking a bath and grabbed those foam letters to spell words on the tub ledge. That struck me as odd. How was he spelling words? By Sesame Street memory?

Later that evening I grabbed a Level One reader book and he just read it. He stumbled on one word.

He was my first child and even though at the time, it did seem pretty early, it didn’t seem especially remarkable for him. It was like he was destined to read that early so when he did, it was almost like, oh, right. 

Braden entered the D203 preschool program at Elmwood elementary school at 3.5. By this point he had been reading books for over a year. I didn’t really connect at the time how him being an early reader would affect his education as a whole. 

At a preschool parent teacher conference something was mentioned to which I replied “Oh, well he reads.” and the teacher replied “That makes sense because he’s always reading out the title of the book before I do and I was thinking that this kid must have every book under the sun.”

Part of that was actually correct. He consumed reading day and night. 

By the time Braden was in his 2nd year at Elmwood preschool, the teacher suggested he attend the Kindergarden enrichment class. Sounded great and that’s where Braden wrote his first book.

All my Little Ducklings. 

I was actually impressed that the system attempted to meet his needs and had no prophecy that his education wouldn’t always be as flexible and as supportive as this was. 

I’m certainly not going to go into great detail regarding the rest of his elementary years but I will say that it was much like a rollercoaster swinging between ok-ness and this is not good. 

In 2nd grade things were especially bad and we had a meeting with the school ast principal, the learning support coach and the teacher. You see, the first grade teacher had come up with a plan to support Braden in 2nd grade but for whatever reason, no one in 2nd grade decided to follow it. We were told at this time that he would “Even Out.”

I’ve never been blown off as a parent as much as I was by the principal at the time. I’m a pretty reasonable parent and all I wanted was the plan to be followed. My child had frequent twisted stress knots in his stomach from reading 8-10 hours a week while in school because there was simply nothing for him to do and part of the solution was already written out for them. 

There were definitely highlights: Ms. White, Mrs. Kainrath, Mrs. McLean, Ms. Mason. 

Struggles peaked in 6th grade when one teacher told us at a PTC that he raised his hand too much and maybe we could manage that. Another suggested that he wrote at a 3rd grade level and needed remedial help. This was 2 different teachers and by the end of the year, I had written to the school that we were holding our right to part time homeschool him for 7th grade. 

I gave Braden one month into 7th grade to decide if it was going to work for him. Turns out, Braden’s 7th grade academic team saved him and I will forever be grateful to them. Mrs. McGroarty and Mr. Schmidt were especially incredible as they saw Braden for who he was and supported him and his writing. Just having that support meant the world to us.

Then came the highschool whiplash. I had heard for years and years from the gifted community that “it gets better in high school” and they were right. 

Braden has won so many awards in highschool, they didn’t even fit on his college applications. (Most) of his teachers have ADORED HIM even if they don’t understand him or agree with him. He has had support, praise, and has been challenged in specific ways that just hadn’t been present before. 

Have there been a few hiccups? Sure, but we aren’t expecting perfection here and overall, his experience in high school is now where you have me as a D203 cheerleader, a completely awkward situation for me, if we are being honest. 

So why am I writing this? Well, this very very gifted student is now graduating from your school district. He’s onto a new path with new challenges and growth opportunities. We could not have hand picked a better college for him. 

I guess I’d like to challenge D203 with their perception of what they think are the gifted kids and how to support them. Not because you have PI/HM and PI+ programs to sort them into. Because these kids are in all levels of your system. They can be quiet or bold. They can blend in and stick out. They can be excelling and they can be failing. They are there when maybe you don’t see them and they shouldn’t have to wait until high school for things to “get better.”

I believe you can do this. We need you to do this. 

Thank you for your time,

Jennifer Hajer

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