Friday, August 24, 2012

Religious schools and gifted ed

Close to 5.5 million American children attend private schools. The majority of these schools are religious in nature. Over 40% are Catholic, another 15% are "conservative Christian," and a smaller proportion are Lutheran, Baptist or Jewish.

While 5.5 million sounds like a lot of kids, the number of children attending Catholic schools in particular has declined precipitously over the past few decades. Many have closed, and some are trying to reinvent themselves.

One possibility? Take a page from the playbook of a Queens, NY Lutheran school, which just reinvented itself as a school for gifted kids.

Lutheran School of Flushing & Bayside was struggling to attract students. But the folks in charge noticed something. NYC tests and identifies kindergartners for its gifted programs, but then doesn't actually have enough seats in the programs for all the kids identified. So now the school is enrolling children who meet the NYC standard but don't have a seat in the public schools in a program designed to meet their needs.

I think it's a neat idea. In large metropolitan areas, a school for gifted kids offers the best of all worlds: ideally, the academics are tough enough to cause kids to stretch, and they can learn in an environment with their intellectual peers. Because the high population means there's likely a concentration of gifted kids, you can actually fill a school.

NYC has some gifted schools (think Stuyvesant) but not nearly enough. A private Lutheran school is obviously not the perfect solution: plenty of gifted kids aren't Lutheran (and their families won't want them taught as such) and there's the matter of tuition. If public schools exist for kids, and especially when they identify kids as gifted, it's crazy that they then don't actually have to do anything about that fact. But, given that we don't live in a world where that's happening, having other schools around that do try to meet gifted kids' needs is a major plus.

Obviously not all religious schools could or should reinvent themselves this way. But if there were 10 Catholic schools in a city, why not designate one to have gifted & talented education as its niche? If there are 6 Protestant schools in a town, maybe they could have a gifted program at one of them and share some teachers and courses for 2 days a week. This would give parents of gifted kids more options. Because the sad truth is that it's usually assumed that if you can afford private school, that will solve all educational problems. But parents of gifted kids soon learn that even being able to pay tuition is no guarantee that an appropriate education is there in your town for the taking.


nicoleandmaggie said...

Our (protestant parochial) school is pushing hard on advertising its differentiated learning and academic rigor this year. They're hoping to attract parents of gifted kids dissatisfied with the lack of differentiation in the top public school in town.

There are 3 private schools for gifted kids in the city closest to us. Only one of them is also religious.

Calee said...

Our daughter is headed to Catholic school in 3 days. There are 4 parochial schools in reasonable distance but this particular one stressed academics and the arts (visual and choral). It was also right around the corner, but when I visited the other schools, it still seemed a better fit academically. We'll see how it all plays out.

I don't know if there are any "gifted" private schools any more in our area, but it seems that many of them have a niche-- Waldorf, Montessori, protestant, Catholic, bilingual, or what I like to call "hippy."

Anonymous said...

We sent our son to a Catholic school for preschool and K but had to find someplace else because they just didn't know what to do with him. His preschool teacher was phenominal at finding experiences at his level. She would bring books from the library for him so he could read during free time and totally let him explore his ideas. K was not so fun since he was supposed to sit with his hands in his lap and learn the "letter of the week." He was part of a reading program where he would read and then answer questions on a computer in the classroom to test his comprehension but the books were beginner readers. When he asked to read some from the cart meant for older kids he was told "no" because the K classroom computer didn't have the tests for that level on it. I was shocked because the Catholic grade school I attended (many years ago) was much better at differentiating, and I thought his experience would be similar. This Catholic school does have an enrichment program that thwy promote heavily, but it starts in 3rd grade and is a 1-2 hour pullout once a week. He tested into a public gifted school, which is better, but honestly it doesn't challenge him at all either. At least he is happier because he has peers who have similar interests. His K teacher thought I was overestimating his ability because he showed no interest in her lessons. I think she thought I was at home with the flash cards every night. I tried to explain that a kid who likes to discuss negative integers at 3 and was reading Harry Potter (self taught) at 4 was not a "hothouse" kid. It was his preschool teacher who told me about the gifted program that he is in now. She was honest enough to tell me that they did not have the capabilities to serve him well. For that I will always be greatful.

Anonymous said...

I meant "grateful." Wow, can you tell I skipped my coffee this morning?!

Anonymous said...

We had to change from a school that claimed to be "academically rigorous" to a "normal" parish school in part because the so-called-academically rigorous school was not working well for our son. They actually wanted to hold him back because he was "immature" in pre-k (many of the boys in the program were 5 by the first week of son turned 5 in the spring, and he is physically small).


He would refuse to stop doing an interesting project, or else refused to do one that didn't interest him. (He was also having hearing problems due to excess fluid that was causing him to fail hearing tests, so some of his problem might have been not hearing the teacher, rather than not listening to her). At home, he was following along with his 2nd grade sister as she practiced addition and subtraction, and doing much more complicated problem solving (he's not an early reader, but then his daddy and I are engineers, and he has a natural aptitude for creative thinking followed by testing and incremental improvement on his ideas--the kind of thinking that they *taught* to college kids...very fun to watch).

I have only found one school in the area that is specifically for gifted kids, but it is close to an hour away, which is not acceptable (school is only one facet of his life, and we have to balance the sanity of the rest of the family at the same time!). The local public schools have gifted education, but we wanted to stick with some level of the religious education too. Happily, the parish school we picked is big enough that they have some gifted education. School just started, though, so we will undoubtedly re-evaluate after a year or two to make sure that it is still a fit for our son (and for his big sister, who is also gifted, but tends to work better in classroom settings).

Anonymous said...

The mission of most of our religious schools is religious education. They may place other educational goals high, but religious education is the highest priority. That's why it seems weird to me to market yourself for anything in particular.

Our Catholic schools are reinventing themselves as Montessori, IB, and language immersion, but they decided not to go the GT route.

Our schools specialize in middle of the road, pushing those kids to high levels, developing work ethic, and good citizens. They are also good for kids with minor disabilities or kids who need extra help. They give these kids who tend to get lost in the system, a nice push.

But, GT. Not so much. When we were shopping for schools, some told us it's harmful to accelerate because kids need to learn to work at the level they are given- it's character building for them to repeat things they know. Others told us they did not want kids to come to kindergarten reading. Put them in public school and then try again in 3rd grade.

Anonymous said...

The system in religious school actually is good, but the limitation still cannot be handled nicely, the system cannot really change the negative feelings from regular students to the gifted students, especially, because the gifted students are the minority, especially in my country.....

Anonymous said...

I wish we could stop the negative feelings. People seem to accept if someone is made to be a basketball star or a supermodel, but, if it comes to mental talents, people deny it.

Anonymous said...

CAn you please share the sch0ol name and the town you are in?
I am searching for paroquial schools that gear toward advance curriculum for a profundly acadmically gifted child in Bergen county , new jersey