One Day School a welcome challenge for gifted pupils
A happy, healthy childhood where five-year-olds can learn at their local school is what every parent wants for their children.
But for parents like those of gifted and talented pupils Emily Jerrom and Lilly MacDonnell, that’s simply asking too much.
“Gifted doesn’t mean intelligent,” says Emily’s father Paul Jerrom.
“It’s a mindset, the way you think. If you don’t fit in at school and are left to your own devices, it can be frustrating.”
Out of every 100 children, about five can be classified as gifted, yet only a small proportion may be identified as such in school.
Mr Jerrom says he didn’t think Emily was gifted but decided to get her cognitive abilities tested because of her 11-year-old brother Tyler, who is gifted.
Mr Jerrom says Tyler’s lack of classroom participation was the first warning bell.
A friend suggested he be tested for One Day School, a programme run by the Gifted Education Centre, and the results startled them.
“Gifted kids either withdraw or become naughty. Tyler was bored to tears at school but rather than set fire to the curtains, he would vegetate,” he says.
“Gifted boys are identified at least twice as often as gifted girls because girls are better at hiding it. No one wants to stick out. That opens you to bullying and ridicule.”
Mr Jerrom is now chairman of the Gifted Education Trust Board and says although he loves the conversations around the dinner table, raising a gifted child is hard work.
“There’s basically never a dull moment, but research shows these kids really are over-represented in prison as well as in depression and suicide statistics.”
Lilly’s mother Louise Grieg agrees.
“Parents think gifted means bright and that you’d skite, but it’s hard work.”
Ms Grieg says Lilly’s younger sister Sophie was in year 3 when she was identified as being gifted. Unimpressed with her daughters’ struggles with school, Ms Grieg decided to homeschool them.
“Kids at the end and the top of the learning spectrum are not dissimilar. You have to learn about their uniqueness and then feed the fire,” she says.
“Going to One Day School is magical but feels totally normal to them.
“There’s an incredibly diverse bunch of kids there and they feel validated by it. If the outside world thinks you’re okay it really means a lot.”
One Day School, which began in 1995, is run by the Gifted Education Centre based at Owairaka Primary School.
There are six centres in Auckland including Small Poppies preschools. Up to 300 schools support their work nationally.
“Parents can generally recognise giftedness in their children, but a lot don’t see you can have a gifted child with a learning disability,” say Gifted Education’s assistant director Sheryl Burns.
A mother of two gifted children herself, Ms Burns says the Gifted Education Centre uses the Woodcock Johnson test to determine whether children’s cognitive abilities identify them as gifted.
Parents refer their children for testing, which can take up to two hours and costs $225.
But expense is often a barrier to many families accessing the centre because classes cost up to $60 a week.
say schools must identify and cater for gifted kids, but no extra funding is provided to do this. It’s an ongoing process lobbying the government,” says Ms Burns.
The Gifted Kids programme, like the Gifted Education Centre, is a charitable trust, but rather than take referrals from parents it works with schools directly.
Executive principal Clive Sharpe says low decile schools are most disadvantaged when it comes to teaching gifted children.
“The first class was set up to open the door to disadvantaged children. Now we have eight sites in the North Island and four satellite classes in Panmure, Otara, Mt Roskill and Mangere.”
The curriculum has been developed over the past nine years.
Mt Roskill classes are based at Waikowhai Intermediate.
Teacher Catherine Pittam teaches up to 16 students four days a week.
Ms Pittam has also taught children with special needs and says the teaching techniques are the same, with the curriculum focusing on a child’s strengths.
“The kids take responsibility for their learning and set their own talent-based goals,” she says.
Ms Pittam says teachers need to be educated on how to identify gifted children.
“The ideal would be schools doing their own programme so we’d be without jobs.”
Gifted guise: For children like Emily Jerrom, 8, left, and Lilly MacDonnell, 12, being gifted in conventional society can be more of a hindrance than a help.