By Deborah Nichols Poulos
Whether you call them “HAPS,” “Special Abilities,” “GATE,” “AIM” or something else, the purpose of these programs is the same: to address the identified special needs of students who score 130 or above on “intelligence” tests.
The Davis Joint Unified School District has a record of serving these students going back to the 1960s. Once a program serving only three classrooms of students at one school, it has expanded to be available at several schools throughout the district. This expansion has made the program accessible to more students by providing services in their neighborhood schools. Now, more identified students can take advantage of these programs. This is a good thing.
Some in the district have criticized these programs as having a negative effect on students not eligible for the program. If this is the case, the way to address the issue is not to alter the program that has demonstrated its success and its need. The school district asserts that it provides services to meet the individual needs of all its students. This would not be true if it backed away from the needs of “gifted” students and the programs that have proved to be successful in meeting their needs.
I taught fourth grade in the “Special Abilities Program” at Valley Oak from 1982 to 1990. It was the entry year for the program. I saw first-hand the relief and the blossoming of students whose needs had been ignored prior to entering fourth grade. Many students would not have been recognized as “gifted” in their previous classrooms, as they were underachievers, learning-disabled or in other ways “hiding in plain sight.” It would not be easy to meet the needs of these students without a self-contained classroom program dedicated to them.
Though well-intended teachers may believe they could or would address these needs, history has shown that they could not or would not. Having taught fourth grade in both programs for “gifted” and not, I know the challenges. Having had experience with “gifted,” I significantly altered both my curriculum and my teaching strategies to try to address gifted students when I returned to the regular classroom. Even with my training and experience, this was a daunting challenge. It is not something the district should attempt to do without first investing in significant staff development training for all teachers. And even then it should be carefully considered against the alternatives.
Contrary to the “popular” opinions of some, “gifted” students are in many ways as needy as any students in the district. The diversity and range of needs are at least as wide if not wider than in a regular classroom. I have the experience in both programs to be able to credibly make this statement. Their social, emotional, physical, and intellectual needs are as valid as are the needs of any other of the district’s students.
It would neither be wise nor fair for services to “gifted” students to be compromised because of a perceived belief that services to these students somehow damage any other student in the district.
I understand that the AIM Advisory Committee has discussed some of these issues. There are probably “opinions” regarding these issues. I hope the Board of Education will base its decisions on expertise regarding the quality of “gifted” education programs, rather than on the opinions of those who oppose them.
DJUSD’s “gifted” program is exemplary in the entire state. Don’t be swayed by short-term models purporting to do a better job than our programs of over 40 years of proven success.
— Deborah Nichols Poulos is a retired Davis teacher.