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Failing to be Identified as Gifted: My Story

I am cognitively gifted. I am also an African-American woman. Being that I grew up in White suburbia where less than ten (10) students attending my elementary school were of color, I often forgot what I looked like when I peered into the mirror. Looking at myself when I came home from my white school with my white friends, I would sometimes gasp as I had forgotten I had brown skin. Yet, it seems, my teachers did not. Children of color are significantly less likely to be identified as gifted, even when services are available at their schools. Even when identified and performing, gifted children of color grow into adults who are not given proper credit for their work. This is a painful experience. Can you imagine sitting in Kindergarten wondering why others read so slow? Or sitting during math, having the answers before the teacher taught the lesson? Or memorizing the chalkboard by looking at it, confused why the other students hadn't? It is an eerie experience that causes some gifted students to either pretend they are not gifted, feel like they do not belong, or feel simply -- confused. Confused every day, day in and day out. Some become troublemakers. Some go silent. Regardless of the child's reaction, the result is the same: the child loses precious years to develop his or her abilities. I was identified as gifted in fifth grade after years of confusion about my school experience. I was lucky. And unlucky. I was not identified because the teacher was so impressed with my abilities or because school staff recommended me for an evaluation. No, I was identified because my teacher was FURIOUS with me. My crime? Finishing my work before the class. Worse, I was a double offender. Not only did I continue to dare to finish my work early but once again read all of the books she sent me home with the day before. The conversation is forever burned in my mind. She had spat at the librarian, "Give her something harder!" The poor librarian replied that she had given me everything that was developmentally appropriate. The teacher, her face red and screwed up in disdain said, "It doesn't matter. She keeps reading everything you give her." I felt so small. Never did I know that my speed reading ability would get me into so much trouble. The librarian replied that she could give me War and Peace. She walked to the stacks and pulled out the heavy book. I did not want to read War and Peace. This is one of the difficulties with educating intellectually advanced children. They may be able to speed read, enjoy science, physics, music, but are still children. I wanted to read Peanuts. Sadly, I had read all of the Peanuts books. My teacher went back to her classroom, leaving me with the librarian who gave me a bag of age-appropriate books. I read them that night. This is the horrific act I committed to earn my teacher's FURY the following day. My teacher pulled me aside and in a harsh whisper with a red face close to mine, angrily spewed, "Did you read all of those books?" "Yes ma'am."

"You did NOT!"

"I'm sorry." "Tell me what they were about if you read them!"

I began reciting to her the stories from the books. "Go to the library!" She was so very angry. And that is how I was admitted into gifted education. Due to the daily fury of the teacher whose sentiment towards me made me shrink for every day I was too smart for my own good. I know what you are saying: surely you were not identified simply because of the color of your skin? There were two other White gifted students who she treated well. Yes, well. I still remember their names. She referred them to gifted education it seemed with delight. And never did she yell at them in disdain for engaging in the high level math in fifth grade that she gave them for them enrichment. I looked at those students in envy. I wish I too could get the opportunity to engage and learn high school math. It wasn't until she could no longer contain her fury at me that I finally got my chance. Amongst my other services, Hope in Schools seeks to identify gifted minority students. We will do what others will not: provide culturally sensitive gifted evaluations for children of color. No child should be ashamed of being smart. Sadly, in some affluent schools that lack gifted education, White students also are left behind, forced to endure general education that is below their academic prowess; sometimes this even leads to socioemotional difficulties. Let me help you.

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