Young, Gifted & Accelerated
College @13: Young, gifted, and purposeful
By Razel Solow and Celeste Rhodes
(Great Potential Press, 2012 – Learn more)
Grade skipping – otherwise known as acceleration – has always been a controversial issue. People ask is it best practice to allow gifted students to skip grades? If you are a teacher, an administrator or a parent, I am sure you have your personal opinions on this topic.
The book College @13 explores the lives of 14 girls who skipped two to four years of high school to attend an early college entrance program at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia. The purpose of this program, known as PEG or “Program for Exceptionally Gifted,” was to help these students find “purpose” locally, regionally, nationally and globally.
The title of this book is misleading, however, because only three of the 14 students were actually age 13 when they entered the program. Six of the young women were 14, two were 15 and three were 16. I found this book interesting but at 249 pages, it became long-winded and sometimes repetitive. I think the authors’ messages are important, but they probably could have gotten their points across in 150 pages.
I did like this book because it not only showed the strengths of these girls, it also showed that they had to deal with struggles just like any other adolescents. One girl experienced ADHD, another dealt with a chronic illness, and another dealt with racism. As a teacher of gifted students, my question was: “How did this program meet the social, academic and emotional needs of these teenagers.” I could not imagine throwing 13-year old girls in a setting with 18 and 19 year olds.
The authors explain that the key to the program’s success was the social and emotional guidance that the students received from counselors and mentors who were trained to work with gifted females. The students also lived together in a special residence hall. This was an emotionally safe environment where the students were able to learn to their hearts’ content. The authors added that, yes, this situation was different than the typical American high school experience, but that the students reported feeling “normal” for the first time.
The usual thoughts on acceleration…
Pros – Some people think that a student who shows that they are capable and eager for a challenge should be allowed to move ahead.
Cons – Others feel that socially these students will miss normal “peer friendships” and social growth.
The book’s focus is on how many schools fail to meet the needs of exceptionally gifted children and because of this, these children are bored and frustrated and often rejected by their peers.
I would recommend this book to parents who are trying to understand their gifted child, to teachers who have gifted students in their classrooms, and to administrators and board members who are responsible for making “best practice” decisions.
In my opinion, the section titled “Four Misconceptions of Gifted Students” should be printed out and handed to every college student who plans to be a teacher. Also, every teacher who teaches gifted students should include in their curriculum the section of this book that covers the “Social Responsibilities of the Gifted.”
I also would recommend every gifted child have access to the book’s epilogue. It sums up several of the girls’ thoughts on being gifted and how to approach life. For example, one girl stated:
Before PEG, I wanted to walk a mile in everyone else’s shoes. I knew that amazing experiences were out there, but they seemed like things that happened to other people. This program gave me the strength to do the unexpected. I learned not just to weather change, but to love it. Change is another word for opportunity. I realized that life is not something that is happening to me; I’m the one living it.”
After reading this book and working with gifted students, I can definitely see the need of acceleration, and I can see the importance of having students attend a special program or special school. I also realize that acceleration will not work without the students feeling like they have a peer group and without the support of trained teachers and counselors.
Linda Rummell currently works as a gifted education specialist at a middle school in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. She writes: “I am lucky because I have experienced two different careers. First I worked as a media writer in a marketing department. Later I took time off to raise my three sons. My sons’ preschool and elementary years were spent at a Montessori School. As they attended there, I worked as a teacher’s aide. This wonderful experience led me to return to college and graduate with an MAE in gifted education.”