These 10 tips will help military families with gifted children navigate school


These 10 tips will help military families with gifted children navigate school more easily
(Photo: U.S. Air Force, Airman 1st Class Alexis Siekert)

By Meg Flanagan

Holy macaroni! Little Miss (or Mister) is joining the ranks of the Gifted and Talented! It’s totally time to kick up your feet: GT kids are smart, so school is easy and there will be no bumps in the road! . . . Right?

Think again! Just because a child is gifted, talented, or both doesn’t mean that parents get a free pass.

Your child still needs your help, perhaps now more than ever. With the gifted and talented (GT) label, more will be asked of them and the expectations for soaring success will be higher than ever.

Use these 10 easy tips to advocate for your GT kiddo, especially as you deal with PCS season.

1. Ask the teacher to write a formal education plan

As soon as your child is accepted or labeled GT, they will start to receive special education. In this case, it means classes targeted at higher levels of thinking and learning than generally available in the regular classrooms. Think: AP History vs. college prep history. It’s the same stuff, just presented in more challenging or rigorous ways.

The first thing you need to do is to ask the GT teacher to write up an education plan. It should tell you your child’s strengths and weaknesses; current academic placement (full-time GT, half GT/half regular classroom, etc.); amount of GT time per week; subjects that your child will be receiving GT support; goals in each subject and expected time the goal will be reached; and progress toward goals.

As you move around, having a plan that shows what was happening, how often, and in which subjects will help future teachers to place and plan for your child in the best way possible. It also seems super-official, which is never a bad thing when you need something to happen!

2. Request all academic records or keep copies as they come home

This means scores of the tests used to qualify your child as GT, any progress reports from teachers in all subjects, and any additional academic assessments you had done that speak to your child’s talents.

It is also important to keep records of the projects your child has completed. This could be digital copies (pictures, documents, etc.) or actual physical things. Having examples (“exemplars” in education speak) to showcase what your child can do is important. The more documents and data that you arrive with, the better your case for continued GT placement.

3. Keep a close eye on what your child is–or isn’t–being asked to do

It can be tempting to create GT programs that just push forward the academics. . . like doing sixth grade work in fourth grade. But that is not the intent of true GT education. GT programs should help students evolve in their areas of strength through activities, critical thinking, close reading and challenges.

Your child should be working on grade-level topics, just at a deeper level. If you notice a ton of worksheets coming home from the gifted classroom, it might be time to ask some questions. Those worksheets could just be the warm-up or quick checks of knowledge. They could also be the entire program, and that’s not okay.

In the general education classroom, your child should also be given opportunities to show their skills and understanding. Many teachers have leveled lessons and work available. Some give students the ability to challenge themselves in a variety of ways. Others let students pick how they spend time after finishing work. Lots of teachers use a combination of these ideas. Check in with your classroom teacher and see what can be offered to help further enrich your kiddo’s time in school.

4. Speak up if you notice anything off

Let’s say you notice or suspect that worksheets are being used as the core of your child’s gifted instruction. It could be either in the general education setting (“busy work”) or in the gifted program (working through a workbook/worksheet-based “program”).

Another time to request a meeting or phone call is if you think your child isn’t being seen as much as they need to be or is required. Gifted programs work best with continuity. If your child isn’t being seen regularly, it should be addressed ASAP.

Sometimes, a gifted program isn’t the best placement for a highly intelligent child. It could be a case of personality, motivation, or lack of interest. It’s okay to have a super-smart kiddo who isn’t in the school’s GT classes. If it’s not working, for whatever reason, it’s within your rights as a parent to pull your child or cut back on the hours.

These are just a few examples of reasons why you might want to ask for a meeting with the teacher, but there are many others. Use your best judgement!

5. Ask your child questions about their GT and regular classroom

If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. Ask that they share work that comes home with you, as well as tests and any announcements.

Ask questions:

  • What was your favorite part of today? Why?
  • Tell me one thing you learned about (pick a current topic of study).
  • I remember reading (book your child is reading if you’ve read it). My favorite character was…
  • I notice that (Odyssey of the Mind, National Spelling Bee, NatGeo Geography Bee, school science fair, etc.) is coming up. Have you given any thought to doing it this year?

Try to stay away from, “So, what did you do today in school?” This kind of question usually gets you a short answer that doesn’t tell you anything. Once you have your child telling you about what is going on at school, you can start to make deeper connections to those topics at home! For example, tour a Civil War battlefield during that cycle of US History or visit an aquarium to get a better understanding of marine life. You could plant a garden to learn more about the life-cycle of plants.

6. Volunteer with the general and GT teachers

One of the best ways to get information about your child, the school and their specific teachers or classes is to simply be present. (But don’t haunt the front office or create more work for the faculty and staff.)

Endear yourself to the teachers by volunteering. Teachers almost never have time to do all of that copying, cutting, or laminating. If you offered to do it for them on a regular basis, you would be forever loved. Or ask about ways you could use your expertise in the classroom as a guest teacher or mystery reader. Offer to run a small enrichment group in the classroom once a week or so. You would take some of the heat off of the teacher! Contact your school and teachers to talk about specific opportunities.

Volunteering builds positive relationships with teachers. If the teacher loves you, they will be more likely to walk over water for your child.

Can’t volunteer? No problem! Teachers always need supplies, games, and extra teaching resources. Ask your teacher(s) what they need and then follow through. Even something as simple as a gift card can make a huge difference!

7. Use MIC3 when you transfer schools after PCSing.

The Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3) is a guiding document for how military children are supposed to transition from school to school, state to state. Every state has adopted this resolution. Some states have added special qualifiers or additional protections.

Essentially, this agreement means that military children can transition between schools and keep their placements, at least at first. If your child is in the GT program in Quantico, Va. then she’ll stay in the GT program in Oceanside, Ca. The new school will probably do additional testing because each district or region has their own gifted qualifications. Your kiddo should be able to start the gifted program immediately!

To make this happen, be sure to hand-carry all education records (cumulative file, report card, education plans, letters of reference, some important work samples), your child’s medical files (vaccinations are important), and your PCS orders. Take everything, plus something showing that you live in the district, to the central office and ask how to enroll your child.

8. Research new schools and districts but use caution

This time of year, everyone is all over Facebook asking about the “best” school districts near XYZ Base. This is a great way to get info, but it can be overwhelming.

A great tool to use at first is Great Schools. This site can give you a decent snapshot of potential schools or districts. Proceed with caution: Many personal reviews are heavily biased or very old; test results are often several years old or don’t tell the full picture; and the ratings sometimes don’t match the test scores or reviews.

Another good way to get a sense of the school is to reach out to the administrators. You can usually find contact info on district or school websites. Email and ask for specifics about the GT program or if they can share that teacher’s email. If you get the green light, email them, too. Ask whatever questions you have.

Use social media. Beyond asking just in military spouse groups, check out the PTO/PTA pages of potential schools. What is the sense that you get from casual viewing? Look at school climate, activities, parent involvement, and level of parent-on-parent drama. Message the page admins and ask if they could help connect you to other families currently at the school, especially parents with kids in the gifted programs.

Once you have data from a few of these sources, make a pro/con list and use it to help guide you.

9. Take a tour before you choose.

So, you have the data and feedback from a few different sources and you’ve picked a great district to live in or found the ideal private school. Before you put down your deposits, take a tour around campus. Sometimes a school that seems great online or on-paper can give a very different vibe in person, or a school that was your last choice could be fabulous in real life.

On your tour, try to stop into classrooms during teaching time. Visit the school library, check out the cafeteria and pop into the nurse’s office. Ask the principal — or whoever is giving the tour — if you and your child could speak to a few kids who might be in their classes. All of this will help you to see how the school really works, and what real kids are like there. Just remember, the school will be trying to put their best foot forward, too

10. Know when to let your child try things on their own.

At some point, all little birds must leave the nest. . . and gifted children might be ready to go earlier than many others. They have lots of reasoning and logic skills and can be highly motivated to do things for themselves.

When you think your child is ready, around third grade, run things by him for feedback. Start with more minor education concerns and progress. Ask for them to be included at parent teacher conferences when possible, too. Instead of stepping in over grades, overdue or missing work, and low classroom supplies, let your child start to handle these things gradually. Thinking about education is an important life skill. After all, you won’t be calling their college professors or bosses, right?

Definitely let your child know you are there as backup when needed. Be ready to step in if things seem to be over their head or  if they are going about a situation the wrong way. Steer them back on course and then release again.

Advocating for your child helps to ensure that they will have a challenging K-12 education that fosters growth and personal development throughout life.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for providing information from an educator’s perspective. Our first child is going into kindergarten this year and we have lots of questions regarding how to navigate the future.

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