The Parents' Journey
As parents of gifted children, many of us have traveled a similar path—often a difficult one—as we tried to figure out what our kids needed and looked for a school that works for them. We hope our own stories might be helpful to other parents on this path.
Giftedness is a special need.
People generally think of it as a gift and in many ways it is. However, being "gifted" requires something different and this school knows what that difference is. GATE Academy is not about being hoity-toity, elitist or highly competitive. It is there for people who have children who just simply aren't given the resources to succeed in mainstream, grade-based public or private school structures. It is ironic that more classic special needs like learning disabilities are often better understood, accepted and funded than kids who are profoundly gifted. There's a strong sense of why would gifted kids need anything special? After all, they're gifted, right? Deep down, though, my husband and I both knew our daughter needed more than what she'd been getting.
I wouldn't trade GATE for anything. What I've come to know is that it's nothing like a mainstream school. Sometimes it is difficult to think outside of our own conditioning about what school "should" be shaped like. I've come to realize that I can't look at my daughter's educational experience "inside the box", for lack of a better cliché.
I understand it is a bit of a leap of faith to make a commitment to something so different. It was for us. But it has been a wonderful experience and I'm so glad that we trusted our guts on this one. I feel so fortunate to be a part of it the parent community—it's fabulous, and we really are a family.
–Mother of 9-year-old
It has been a life changer.
When I started down the road of parenting, my sage landscape architect - the father of four - made an observation that fascinated me: "it's hard to tell who learns more in child rearing: the parents or the kids." He was right. If you do it right, you -- the parent-- have to learn a lot, every day, day by day. Parenting is a journey, not a destination, and sometimes you must give up your assumptions and see what's right in front of you. That's not so easy!
GATE has changed my life, as a parent, by giving a whole new meaning to the word "education." Shortly after our younger child started at GATE, his older sister thanked the school for "changing our family's life." She was 100% spot on - for the first time her brother was able to explore deeply, share with others who loved to learn like he did, and experience the joy of using his mind creatively, unfettered by teacher comments like "you are too young for that" or "we don't teach that until you are much older" or "you have to solve the problem this way." His consequent happiness has spilled over into our entire family. He has soared academically and socially.
Our daughter also asked me why we had not discovered the school before, so that she could have attended. The truth was that I had known about the school much earlier, but had decided not to enroll my daughter because it seemed "different." I wanted the comfort of what I had known and grown up with, not understanding that education has changed greatly since I was a kid, and not noticing that the world has changed greatly, too. My mistake. Fortunately, my son's misery at commonplace schools forced me to take the risk of something different, and what a marvelous result! I wish I had taken the leap earlier, for my daughter's sake, too. Inquiry based learning, which is GATE's hallmark, ignites the everyday and restores fascinating and fun to learning. With eyse opened wide, it's a whole new world for both my kids, and for me and my husband, and I thank GATE everyday for giving a whole new meaning to the word "education."
-Mother of a 13 year-old
He was losing his love of learning
Our son started at GATE Academy in 2011. He was finishing 4th grade at the local elementary school in a dual-immersion Spanish program. The dual-immersion curriculum had kept him challenged and the school had allowed him to skip a grade. Towards the end of the 4th grade, however, we started to see the signs of him getting bored and losing his love of learning. This forced us to re-evaluate and start looking for alternatives.
The (then) Dunham Academy piqued our interest and after visiting the school and attending a try out, we decided to give it a go. The decision was difficult for us largely because of the social aspect. At the larger conventional schools, the children have a wide selection of friends. Our son had a large group of social peers with which to interact, and had for the most part made the correct decisions about whose company he should avoid. These are valuable life lessons.
By choosing a small school like Dunham (GATE), we realized we were removing some of these life choices and possibly isolating him a little from reality. However we decided that our son, who had shown that he could absorb information at a far greater rate than a conventional school curriculum could offer, needed more of an intellectual challenge.
The GATE Academy’s curriculum has met this goal well. The small class size combined with the inquiry-based style of instruction has reignited his enthusiasm for learning. The teachers are able to use a very tailored style of teaching, meeting each kid's needs individually and so far we are very happy with the results. Having attended most of the inquiry presentations, we have been incredibly impressed at how well the kids are able to take on complex inquiry subjects and present them to a diverse audience with such poise.
Socially we have also been pleasantly surprised. The wide age range in the class has been great for him. He seems to enjoy the interaction with the older kids and has also come a long way in behaving more like a big brother to many of the kids in the younger classes.
–Father of 11-year-old
I still get goosebumps
I've come to understand that there are different ways gifted kids cope when school doesn't work for them. Some start acting out, others lose interest in learning or dumb themselves down. My son dealt with the boredom and lack of challenge at his old school by spacing out and retreating to his own internal world. He got straight As, but his teachers said that he wasn't paying attention or participating in class discussions. Because he never complained, I didn't get that he was bored out of his mind. I knew he was smart, but only after I had him tested did I start to understand what the implications were. When his public school principal confided "I can supplement his education—but I can honestly never give him what he really needs," I finally realized cobbling together supplements wasn't going to cut it.
I tell people his school serves up high-octane academics, but there's so much more than that. He's completely comfortable here because, as he said, "the kids don't judge each other by how old they are or what they know. They just care about who they are on the inside." The thoughtfulness and creativity of these children is mind-blowing—I remember overhearing a 7- and 10-year-old discussing fluid aerodynamics and prime numbers. Sometimes the gratitude I have for this little school is overwhelming—to say my son is thriving is a complete understatement. He came into this world with an extraordinary mind, and now he has the tools to deepen and sharpen every aspect of his thinking as well as relate to other people, whoever they are.
I'll never forget what my son told me in the car at age nine, about a month after we came: "Mom, I'm beginning to understand the extent to which my old school wasn't meeting my academic needs." We've been at GATE over three years now and I still get goosebumps when I hear what he's learning.
–Mother of 12-year-old