The Impact of Javits-Frasier Scholarship Program: Part 1

My View

The Javits-Frasier Scholarship experience was eye opening for me. Although I am Hispanic, born and raised in Miami-Dade County, and identified as gifted myself, I didn’t realize diversity was an issue in gifted education because I always had caring teachers and administrators who looked out for me, and parents who were actively involved in my schooling.

Now as a parent of a first grade son who was recently identified as twice exceptional (gifted and Autism Spectrum Disorder) and a teacher for gifted children, the invaluable knowledge I gained from people like Ken Dickson, Joy Lawson Davis, and especially my mentor Jaime Castellano, on the important issue of diversity in identifying and working with gifted children will influence my classroom teaching as well as my personal decisions for my son.

I recently had the opportunity to work with eleven year old and twice-exceptional Haden who was tested for giftedness at five and diagnosed with ADHD and mild Asperger’s also around that time. I was Haden’s gifted teacher in 2014 and 2015, and I really enjoyed getting to know him. I immediately noticed that Haden was very reserved, thoughtful, and measured in his speech. His mild Asperger’s seemed to contribute to his social awkwardness and shyness at times. However, when I linked Haden up with two other gifted children in his class, he blossomed. They were very accepting of him, and I watched Haden become more vocal and animated, and much more engaged in his schoolwork. I asked the three of them to identify a gifted goal they were going to work towards for the year, and Haden’s was “creative thinking and personal expression.”

The Florida Stock Market Challenge—a state-wide competition—seemed to have a particular resonance with Haden. The Stock Market Challenge reaches more than 25,000 students a year. Student teams compete against each other for the best portfolio performance over a 10-week period. In the fall of 2014, I provided Haden and his teammates with the general guidelines for the competition, but they chose the companies they wanted to work with, and they had to develop convincing arguments for their teammates as to why their investments were worthwhile. Haden chose video game companies, and I was amazed at how conversant he became in stock market lingo, even distinguishing between parent companies and subsidiaries. During the project, I encouraged Haden to think of his strengths, and he learned that he had a lot to contribute. I think this not only gave him autonomy, but also a sense of personal advocacy. Haden and his two gifted classmates were thrilled when their investments actually earned money. Their team would go on to place first in the elementary division for the region, which includes five counties.

After the Stock Market Challenge, I asked Haden what else he wanted to learn, and he quickly identified coding, computers, and Excel spreadsheets. Haden and his teammates were eager to participate in the spring Stock Market Challenge as well. They researched different companies than those they had selected in the fall and placed third in their division in the spring Stock Market Challenge. Haden seemed to be on fire to learn more. I think this is a key to working with gifted students. You must often let them drive their own learning. In fact, my gifted students guide my lesson plans and not the other way around. It’s hard work, but it really pays off for them in the end.

Since my experience as a Javits-Frasier scholar, I’ve been instrumental in helping to identify more gifted children at my school. I work in a rural Title I school with 380 students Pre-K through grade 5. In August 2014, there were only 12 gifted students identified. Now there are 32. There are many misconceptions about where gifted children can be found and how children can be gifted. I am fortunate to have had a supportive administration and resource team. They trusted me to look at students through different lenses and see beyond just math abilities. My students have gifted goals in a variety of areas depending on their strengths. It is a great feeling when the parents tell me that I “see” their child.

I feel that the journey in the past year alone in advocating for my own children has helped me grow in awareness of the needs of the gifted, the challenges that need to be addressed, and the importance of communication between home and school. My children motivate me to provide the students at my school with educational opportunities to which they may not have been exposed. I constantly look for opportunities to enrich my students by providing learning experiences that are not out of a textbook.

Currently, I am serving as a liaison to our county extension office to create a school garden so our students school-wide can get hands-on science, math, and nutrition lessons. In a couple of weeks, I will be attending the 21st Century Teacher Academy, a two-week problem-based learning training program in California, so I can have more resources for my students next year.

Receiving the Javits-Frasier Scholarship helped confirm for me the importance of looking at a child’s strengths while taking his or her experience and environment into consideration. Attending the 2014 NAGC conference in Baltimore opened my eyes to the great need for gifted advocates, and I met incredible leaders in the field. I learned that diversity in abilities and cultures can be rewarding and should be celebrated as my students demonstrated this year. Students like Haden inspire me to keep learning about the needs of the gifted so I in turn can provide them with opportunities to shine.