School Options for Gifted Kids—Where to Begin

I experienced an interesting conversation recently while traveling to the airport in a shared van. The woman sitting next to me was flying to another state to watch two of her children compete in the Global Finals for Destination Imagination (DI). DI is an exciting, creative enrichment program that engages kids in critical thinking, teamwork, time management, and problem solving. The woman told me about the wonderful enrichment teacher who works at their neighborhood school. Each year, the teacher recruits parents who are willing to make the necessary time commitment to work with teams of youngsters to compete in Destination Imagination. What a wonderful experience for the students at this neighborhood school.

We then went on to have a general conversation about education, gifted education, parenting, etc. She told me that next year two of her children will attend a magnet/charter school that focuses on international studies. There, they will have a choice of languages to study. Her children have decided to concentrate on Chinese. This woman had really done her research and was a very positive advocate for her kids, finding educational options that fit their needs.

My question to this fellow traveler was, “How do parents find out about the various choices in their school district?” It was then I realized that the shuttle driver had been listening intently to our conversation. When I asked my question, he laughed. He indicated that he had several children at home, was not pleased with their school situation, and did not realize that he had choices. He, too, had wondered how one finds out about opportunities.

Often, parents feel that their children are trapped in whatever educational program is closest to their home. They cannot afford to move to a “better” neighborhood and don’t realize that there are alternatives.

Here is some information that will be helpful in this process. Right now, I will just talk about actual physical (as opposed to virtual) schools that might be available to you in your area. In my book, Raising a Gifted Child: A Parenting Success Handbook I discuss many more educational options.

Situations vary from state to state and from district to district. You often won’t know if these possibilities exist unless you ask.

In many cases, students are not locked in to attending their neighborhood or even their district schools. The Education Commission of the States (ECS) provides an online database for open enrollment. To one degree or another, open-enrollment policies allow a student to transfer to the public school of his or her choice. There are two basic types of open-enrollment policies: intradistrict and interdistrict. The website cited here is an excellent resource.

The U.S. Department of Education provides information on charter and magnet schools across the country. Charter schools are public schools that operate with freedom from many of the local and state regulations that apply to traditional public schools. Some of them have very innovative philosophies. Magnet schools are designed to attract students from diverse social, economic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. They focus on a specific subject, such as science or the arts; follow specific themes, such as business/technology or communications/humanities/law; or operate according to certain models, such as career academies or a school-within-a-school. Once you understand the general concepts of charter and magnet schools, you can search the websites of your local school district and surrounding districts to see what is available.

It is important to know how the students in your school and in schools you are considering perform on state tests. Do an Internet search on “school test scores” + the name of your state. It will be much easier for your child to perform at a high level if he attends a school where the norm is to perform well.

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