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Choosing the Right School for Your Gifted Child

Gifted Resources

Everything You Need to Know about Schools for Gifted Children

Assessing if your child is gifted is no easy task. Once you determine your child is gifted, it is vital to evaluate your gifted student’s learning environment and determine its appropriateness. The most appropriate learning environment could include anything from a gifted program in the school the child is already attending, to a public school with a self-contained gifted program, to a school specifically for profoundly gifted students, and many more.

The Best Schools for Gifted Children

For parents of gifted students, finding the best schooling option can be overwhelming. Parents today have numerous options: traditional public schools, magnet and charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling. The best option for one gifted student will often not be the best for another. The needs of individual students can vary depending on a variety of factors, including a student’s level of giftedness (i.e. are they profoundly gifted? are they twice-exceptional?).

When considering the best schooling option for gifted students, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It is far more important to consider and research the specific school, rather than a specific “type” of school. Teachers, administration, and policies can affect the whole school. When researching, it is crucial to ask questions, voice concerns, and know what you are getting yourself into. See the Hoagies Gifted site for a listing of styles of schools for gifted students.

A good school for gifted children will take a holistic approach and be well-versed in not only the academic needs but also the social-emotional and creative needs of its students. At the Davidson Academy, for example, students experience friendships with intellectual peers, extra-curricular activities, community involvement and more. The Davidson Academy is unique in that it is geared specifically toward profoundly gifted middle and high school students. Teaching methods and curriculum focus on critical thinking skills and have sincere regard for the unique needs of individual learners. Teachers and staff are well versed in the needs of profoundly gifted students and every aspect of the Academy experience is molded to fit those needs. Each student’s abilities, strengths, and interests are encouraged and supported.

See Hoagies’ list of Schools for the Gifted Child and’s Best Schools for Gifted Students in the U.S. for a comprehensive list of schools for gifted children.

Differences Between Public and Private Schools for Gifted Students

While public schools and charter schools come with some costs (i.e. activity fees, supply fees), they will generally be the least expensive option for parents of gifted students. While many independent and private schools for gifted students offer scholarships, they will typically be the most expensive option.

Parents often instinctively think that private schools will automatically be the best academic environment for their gifted child, and for many that often is the case. However, some public and charter schools can offer an education very well suited for the highly and profoundly gifted. Sometimes, parents have found independent and private schools to be less flexible than public schools. For example, they may be less open to acceleration, or they may offer no separate programming for gifted students. In some cases, public schools may be larger and able to offer more options for the interests of gifted children.

Gifted students across the U.S. encounter a wide range of services varying from state to state and even district to district. Gifted education is often left up to local control, and what districts send to the state board may not be enforced or currently in effect. Since the programming offered to gifted students can vary so greatly, it is very important to research programming policies at local districts. Are self-contained classes offered? What types of acceleration are accepted? These questions can help determine good public schools for gifted students.

Extensive research is also necessary when considering a private school. Some private schools may not support giftedness, even if they may have better facilities and more value placed on academics. Some private schools offer academic programs for gifted students, at varying levels of intensity and rigor. Since they often have their own admissions requirements, private schools for gifted children can accept students based on intellectual giftedness.

Some private schools for gifted children offer decentralized lessons in which students work at their own pace without teacher direction, enabling students to move ahead at their own pace. Others may be tailored to twice-exceptional students.

Many of these academic environments tailored specifically to the gifted can be a boon for certain families. It is important to weed out the ones that look good on paper but don’t offer much in terms of differentiation for gifted students.

Online Gifted Learning Options

Many families in the gifted and twice-exceptional community have long utilized online learning options. Gifted online schools like the Davidson Academy’s online campus may deliver material at a faster pace, provide information on niche topics not always offered in a traditional school setting, and offer access to like-minded peers. Twice-exceptional students may find online learning ideal for individualized instruction that lets them explore the topics they excel at with the support of assistive technology.

If you are considering online gifted learning, here are a few questions parents of gifted and twice-exceptional students find helpful:

  •    Is my family available to give my child the support he or she needs to be successful in an online learning environment?
  •    Does my child possess basic computer and internet navigation skills?
  •    Does my child have the patience, flexibility, and adaptability necessary to deal with unforeseeable frustrations?
  •    Does my student have the ability to communicate frequently and effectively with both the instructor and classmates?
  •    Does my child have the ability to work independently?

If your family is ready for virtual instruction, the next step will be to investigate a few options that you may want to apply to. This article from the Davidson Institute provides a comprehensive overview of online gifted learning options.

Residential High Schools for Gifted Students

Residential public high schools are another option for gifted students. They can offer a challenging curriculum at little cost and provide students the opportunity to learn side-by-side intellectual peers. These programs are often paired with a university and students have the opportunity to earn college credits.

As with other types of schooling, not all residential public high schools are created equal. Students should consider what residential high schools offer in terms of coursework and if diploma or degree-granting. Most residential public high schools have high standards equivalent to college entrance requirements. Admission is based on test scores, grades, extracurricular activities, and teacher recommendations. Generally, students are required to live in the state where the school is located.

Check out this article from Duke TIP on residential schools for gifted and talented high school students.

What Should You Look for in a School?

Here are some important factors to consider (gathered from the NAGC article, Key Questions to Consider When Choosing a School for Your Gifted Student):

  • Does the state require the school in question to identify and provide services for gifted and talented students at various grade levels?
  • For secondary students, ask about advanced graduation programs, the number of national merit scholars, and the GPA of top students.
  • What gifted and talented identification process is followed by the school?
  • How many students at the school are identified as gifted, and how are they serviced?
  • How does the school identify and serve twice-exceptional gifted students?
  • How does the school monitor the academic progress (growth) of students4, and how often is growth measured?
  • What opportunities are provided for students to excel in his or her area of interest/strength?
  • How are teachers and counselors educated or trained to specifically work with gifted students?
  • What opportunities do students have to participate in academic competitions?

When researching a particular school for your gifted child, it is crucial that schools monitor individual students’ progress during the year with frequent assessments. The school must be willing to alter difficulty of curriculum to adjust to individual students’ academic needs. Avoid schools that do year-end assessments only or that do not make changes based on monitoring. You cannot assume that any one type of school will always be better than another type.

The Davidson Academy – A Public School for Gifted Students

In 2006, the Davidson Academy’s Reno campus opened as the first free public school of its kind for profoundly gifted middle and high school students. Unlike traditional school settings, the Academy’s classes group students by ability rather than age. In 2016, a fully accredited online campus was added to the Davidson Academy’s offerings for the 2017-2018 academic year. At the Davidson Academy, both options are centered on a rigorous academic environment where students thrive among their intellectual peers.

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