About three years ago, my incredibly bright daughter was dealt an unexpected blow to her academic ego when she narrowly missed getting accepted into a gifted program that our school district offers to a small number of students entering the fourth grade. As parents, we didn't want to pressure her when it came to preparing for the exam. I mean, she was only in third grade - why should we stress out a kid when they had been doing so well in school without our help? I vowed to be the anti-helicopter parent. The one who watches their child soar without hiring tutors, enrolling them in an after school learning center or spending extra hours teaching them the finer points of division, essay writing and grammar.
The day the letter didn't arrive in our mailbox announcing she had made the program, was devastating for my daughter. We later learned that she had missed getting admitted by one point. As our daughter informed us that she had found out that nearly every single one of her friends made the program, we were so upset for her. We were convinced see was gypped and so, we did what any non-helicopter parent would do. We called the deputy superintendent's office and made an appointment to argue our case. Okay, that’s a bit helicopter-ish, but we’re only human.
I'll never forget that day. My husband and I were armed with all the important points of why our daughter should have made that program and no matter what argument we threw at the deputy superintendent, he shot us down every time. I'm sure it was because he had already heard from thousands of parents over the years who felt their own child was "gifted" and didn't have the patience anymore to let their child down easy. At one point, I even broke down in tears - I know - I'm not proud of that moment, but I was so sad for my daughter - she was going to be separated from the friends she had made over the past four years and would not be receiving the same sort of education we thought she deserved because a standardized exam had decided she wasn't good enough to make the cut.
During that first year when her friends were in different classes, my daughter, who was once an incredibly popular child and was always on the invite list to every birthday party in our neighborhood, suddenly began receiving the cold shoulder from her former best friends. The invites began drying up one by one. And then she was hit by the lowest blow - a good friend of hers reasoned that she wasn't smart enough to make it into the gifted program. And when she came home that day in tears, I was determined to show her that no matter what those stupid test scores revealed, she was still an amazingly bright child who had the world ahead of her.
As my daughter made new friends, took up softball and continued working hard at school, we discovered that not making that gifted program was the best thing that could have happened to her. In fact, when we met with her teachers, one of them confided that she couldn't stand that program - she admitted it caused a rift between kids and even shared that she had a few students in her class who had never made the program who went on to become the valedictorian of their high school class. On the day our daughter graduated elementary school, we were thrilled to learn she was one of four children who had won the President's Certificate for Academic Excellence (she was the one kid not in the gifted program to earn that distinction). And now that she's in middle school, she's a straight A student and continuing to work hard at her studies - all without our help.
Fast forward to today and my son is about to start fourth grade and as fate would have it, he too didn't make the gifted program either. While I was pretty aggravated at first - mostly because I was concerned he'd be the only kid who didn't make the program again and face the same social issues my daughter did - I held it together as best I could. Luckily, this time around I learned that a few of his close friends didn't get into the program either. Which means socially, he'll be just fine. Academically, I know that my child is incredibly bright too - I found out after speaking with one of his teachers that he is a bit careless during the test taking process but what do you expect from an eight year old? While I do feel that history seems to be repeating itself, I have to say that this time around, I'm not as worried. My son is a really smart kid - yes, I know that I'm his parent and every parent thinks their kid is smart, but honestly, he really is. He can build an entire Lego city in a few hours, meticulously reading the directions from cover to cover so he can figure out where every piece belongs. He shares random facts about sharks, dinousaurs and monkeys. He can quote nearly every line from all the Austin Powers movies (okay, maybe that's not appropriate but at least it shows his memorization skills are pretty sharp). And most of all, he's an incredlbly funny, sweet natured child who my husband and I are so incredibly proud of.
So for those parents whose kids have made the gifted program in their area - I offer you a heartfelt congratulations - may your child continue to achieve great things in their lifetime. And for those who didn't, please don't put any added pressure on your child. Let them discover who they are, who they want to be and make sure you tell them they are special every single day of their lives.