A place to belong for the highly gifted? Does such a place really exist? Where? Do they really belong? What will they learn? Will they be accepted? These are a few of the questions I am asked on a regular basis. The answers have taken years to develop but are now part of the structure of a summer program at the University of Northern Colorado.
The Summer Enrichment Program For the Gifted and Talented
As a result of interest from parents of gifted and talented children and youth throughout Colorado, professors in the Division of Special Education at the University of Northern Colorado decided that something must be done to meet the cognitive, emotional and social needs of gifted. In 1978 a committee was formed, a basic approach was developed and Dr. George Betts, a teacher/counselor at Arvada West High School in the Jefferson County Public Schools was selected as the Director of the Summer Enrichment Program (SEP).
Given total freedom and responsibility, Dr. Betts, seven teachers and ten counselors defined the philosophy and approach for the first SEP for the summer of 1978. Eighty learners arrived for three two-week sessions, which were held on the campus of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado. Since the summer of 1978, over 10,000 gifted and talented students have attended SEP. The teachers were the first in Colorado to begin course work which would eventually lead to a Master of Arts Degree in Special Education: Teaching the Gifted and Talented. Today, every teacher who completes this degree in Special Education: Teaching the Gifted and Talent is required to complete a summer practicum in the Summer Enrichment Program.
The Summer Enrichment Program for the Gifted and Talented is a two-week residential program for children and youth from grades 5-10. Students live in a dormitory for the two weeks and attend courses which are designed specifically for them. Approximately 300 students attend one of two sessions. The students are supervised in the dorm by trained counselors, while the more than 100 courses are taught by certified teachers who are completing a degree in gifted education, teachers who already have a degree in gifted education, or those who are selected because of their advanced content knowledge in a specific area. More than half of the SEP staff returns each year, which provides continuity to the program.
Identification of the Gifted and Talented
The Summer Enrichment Program was designed specifically for identified gifted and talented students. The U.S. Office of Education Definition of the Gifted and Talented (Marland, 1972) was the definition which was (and still is) selected as the basic definition for this program. Not having to follow strict requirements which are usually developed for states and districts, SEP has had the freedom to identify children and youth in all six areas as defined by Marland, including children capable of high performance in general intellectual ability and specific academic aptitude. This has proven to be a successful approach because it gives the program a diversified group of gifted and talented learners.
The Highly Gifted
The first move toward understanding children who are extremely gifted started with Leta Hollingworth, from Teachers College, Columbia University (1942). Hollingworth discovered that there were those children who enjoyed original things and were able to learn beyond the teacher and the classroom. She also understood that these children were highly vulnerable and that social and emotional problems may develop because of a lack of understanding and a lack of appropriate educational opportunities.
Building on the work of Hollingworth, an emphasis toward understanding the highly gifted was developed by Silverman (1989, 1993) and Webb, Meckstroth and Tolan (1982). From their point of view, highly gifted children may have a difficult time of fitting into different environment. After a review of literature in the field of the highly gifted, the staff of the Summer Enrichment Program became more aware of this group of gifted children and youth. Dr. Linda Silverman, a psychologist from the Gifted Development Center in Colorado, began sending students she counseled and identified as highly gifted to the Summer Enrichment Program. It became obvious, after having these learners in the program, that there were more and more children and youth who were not being served in the public schools and, probably, not in special programs. After discussions with the children and their parents, modifications were made in the summer program to meet their diversified cognitive, emotional and social needs. A main concern was to have appropriate courses for them, to select the appropriate teachers and counselors and to facilitate their growth, as they were involved with other children in SEP.
For the most part, minor modifications were made, but in a few cases, classes were changed, and more choices were included for the diversification that is necessary to meet the needs of highly gifted children. Sometimes, special attention is given to the highly gifted, without them being aware of our approach. The staff discusses the needs of all the children, and during these discussions, many highly gifted children are mentioned. Appropriate adjustments are made without bringing undue attention to the children and their peers.
After several years of involvement with the highly gifted at SEP, we are convinced that it is a place for them to belong, a place where their individual needs can be met. They become part of a group, find others like themselves, are exposed to new approaches to teaching and learning, and experience a sense of belonging, in some cases for the first time. The many diversified academic and non-academic opportunities are truly beneficial for them.
Academic Modifications At the Summer Enrichment Program
The teaching staff at SEP has the knowledge and the experience of developing differentiated curriculum for the program. Emphasis is placed on differentiating the content, process and product of the curriculum. Classes are based on interests of gifted children in a wide area of possibilities. Classes range from chemistry to computers, from art to band and music composition, from creative writing to cultures, from mathematics to rocketry, and from drama to jazz dance.
Course development starts in the spring and requires knowledge of the content areas, of gifted students and of providing classes in an intense two-week process. Students enroll in four classes per day which meet for the two-week period. After the first day, if a class does not meet their needs, the students are involved in a drop/add process so that they find the appropriate content and teaching approaches for their learning styles.
Social and Emotional Modifications At the Summer Enrichment Program
A major goal of SEP is to facilitate the emotional and social development of the gifted as well as cognitive development. Time, energy, planning and training provides counselors and teachers with the appropriate tools and activities to facilitate the emotional and social growth of the individuals. The students are accepted and find that they do belong in a group where everyone has been identified as gifted. It is okay to be gifted at SEP.
The students are placed in "counselor groups" in the dorms and are involved with learning how to live effectively with a counselor and fifteen other students. In the classes, the teachers facilitate the development of the group as part of the content.
Afternoon and evening options are well-received, because students are with their peers in a non-educational setting. In other words, the students are involved in brain bowls, talent shows, sports, arts and crafts, and other recreational activities. This is the time to have fun and to be with their peers.
Something special happens during the two weeks of SEP. They experience, change, grow, learn, and make new friends. SEP becomes special and is not just a two week summer camp. It becomes an integral part of them. At SEP this feeling is called the "glow." It happens when things are right and they have wonderful experiences. Because of the glow, many people return year after year. They have discovered their true intellectual peer group and want to continue their involvement. Many times, the relationships formed at SEP are visible several years later.
In Their Own Words
In preparation for this article, the author conducted informal interviews with many highly gifted children to discover their perceptions of SEP. The learners were asked to describe SEP in a word or a phrase. Here is a sample of what they had to say:
And the statement most of the learners agreed with: "Open arms take you in and send you off with love."
SEP is a safe place for the gifted and for the highly gifted. It is not a program, but a process where students become learners, where people discover their peers and where people learn the most important lessons-to understand and accept themselves and others. SEP's website is https://www.unco.edu/summer-enrichment-program/.
Hollingworth, L. S. (1942). Children above 180 IQ Stanford-Binet: Origin and development. New York: World Book.
Silverman, L. K. (1989). Invisible gifts, invisible handicaps. Roeper Review, 12,37-42.
Silverman, L. K. (1993). Counseling the gifted and talented. Denver, CO: Love Publishing.
Webb, J. T., Meckstroth, E. A., & Tolan, S. S. (1982). Guiding the gifted child. Dayton, OH: Ohio Psychology Press.
Reprinted with permission of the author. First published in Highly Gifted Children.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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