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Gifted Learners: Advocating for Screening and Referrals for Children of Color

Posted By Tiffany A. Bargeman, Friday, April 20, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, March 27, 2018

By Kara Higgins

Kara Higgins     My son, Ezekiel, is never without a book in hand and a backpack full of reading on-the-go. As the youngest of five, he probably got read aloud to a little longer and a little more often than his siblings, with me not quite ready to let go of that sweet stage of snuggles and bedtime stories. So, it was no surprise when he was reading early and often. His descriptive storytelling, broad interests, and vast vocabulary are encouraging and impressive.

     Yet my avid reader is not in the talented and gifted program at his school, and he has never been screened. English is his second language, and he despises numbers (like his mama!). However, as a 4th grader, he reads at a 9th grade level, and his standardized test scores are well above average. Although I should know, I did not realize until recently that children across all state lines undergo IQ tests and gifted screenings at the teacher or parent request.  Shame on me! 

     Our student population nationwide has become increasingly diverse. However, African-American students are ⅓ less likely to be enrolled in any talented or gifted program in public or private sectors. There is an overrepresentation of White and Asian students in gifted and talented programs, while Black and Hispanic students are typically underrepresented. However, research does not support the notion that any one group is more intelligent than another (Renzulli, 2004). So how does this make sense?

     Students from underserved populations, of all races, may not exhibit characteristics that are stereotypically “gifted”. Some gifted individuals with exceptional aptitude may not demonstrate outstanding levels of achievement due to environmental circumstances, such as limited opportunities to learn as a result of poverty, discrimination, or cultural barriers. Other obstacles include physical barriers, emotional challenges or behaviors resulting directly from outside stressors. Hence, school faculty and administrators may overlook the child's aptitude and high ability learning because of these other factors.  Moreover, with ample evidence that our Black sons are often over-targeted as disciplinary problems from a very young age, it’s easy to assume that their gifts are therefore being overlooked.

     Brown vs the Board of Education was a step in formally attempting, as a nation, to achieve educational equality. The reality is still quite different; and we all know equality does not always equate with quality. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a Congressional Act of 2001 that attempted to keep lower level learners from falling through the cracks, is a good example of equality, but not quality, impacting the children who are exceptional learners. Since NCLB, many teachers are forced to more or less ignore gifted children, instead teaching to a one-size-fits-all curriculum that caters to the lowest common denominator—the average classroom student—with the thought being that our gifted students don't need the extra work or attention. We as moms all know very well that the ignored or forgotten child often resorts to behavior and actions that will draw attention, whether good or bad.

     What can be done? Like anything else, knowing is half the battle. Be an advocate for our Black sons and for all kids who are more likely to get missed. Know that you can request for your son to be screened. Show up to all the parent-teacher conferences, no matter how much your son may be excelling. Bring this up in conversations with other parents and ask your child's teacher if she knows the statistics.

     Following are a few resources for further empowerment:

  • Supporting Emotional Needs for the Gifted: Provides resources and support for families and students.
  • Acceleration Institute: Dedicated to research and curriculum that supports gifted students.
  • Parenting Gifted Kids: This blog is written by a fellow mom and covers information for several ages and stages of childhood.
  • Unfortunately, a literature review revealed very little specific support or information for families or children of color. The National Association of Gifted Learners does have a web series written by a black student, regarding advocacy and experiences in academics. Check out this great blog post.

     For more resources, contact our Education and Engagement Committee Lead, Kumari Ghafoor-Davis, at education@mobbunited.org.

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Tags:  Advocating  African-American  Black  Children  Color  education  Gifted  Higgins  Kara  Learners  Referral  school  Screening 

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Moms Reaching across the Race Aisle: True Sisterhood

Posted By Tiffany A. Bargeman, Sunday, December 24, 2017
Updated: Thursday, October 26, 2017

By Kara L. Higgins

 

True Sisterhood

 

     My first Cabbage Patch doll was a little boy with dark, chocolate skin, and the first boy I kissed was a sweet, nerdy Black kid. My folks were both in education, voted Democrat, and believed that their actions spoke louder than words. I was the blue-eyed, blonde-haired, middle class teachers’ kid living in the suburban midwest; I think I must have fallen into that category of white people who think they aren’t racist because they have Black baby dolls and boyfriends. Writing that makes it cringeworthy, but I know that there are countless white people in the world who fall into that same category, believing themselves to be woke, yet practicing systemic racism or arguing for “color-blindness”.

     In college, I always preferred to sit with the girls in my nursing class who were African-American. I loved their transparency, and I could relate to their general skepticism toward most of our classmates. We were in a private, Jesuit University where many of the kids attending were there because their parents were alums. I was on a full scholarship, and I couldn’t relate to the other white girls who got excited about the newest J. Crew catalog and the next frat party. The African-American nursing students’ expressions glazed over, just like mine, when the conversation turned to cotillions or couture.

     Although my classmates always included me, although they saw me through some milestones, there always was this unspoken barrier. No matter how much listening I did, and I did a lot more listening than talking, I still couldn’t quite fit in. I know now, 20 plus years later, that of course, I could never fully connect on a heart level. They were inner city girls from St. Louis, and I was the white girl. Maybe their first token white friend? It always made me sad that none of them came to my wedding, even my dear friend whom I had asked to read a scripture. I understand now that it must have been uncomfortable for them, and that our friendship wasn't as equally special as I believed that it was at the time. Yet even as a bright-eyed 22-year-old, I think I was aware then that there was still an invisible line keeping us from being true blue friends.

     Fast forward 20 years, and I am mothering five kids. Two of my amazing children happen to be differing shades of Black. And as my sweet boys are turning into young men, America is killing its Black boys. Trayvon Martin’s case was the first to scare me. Initially, I didn’t recognize my own emotions; I believed I was relating to Trayvon’s mom as one mom to another. Then Eric Garner died, and as my husband and I watched in horror, I started to notice that a lot of people around us weren’t watching. The protests in Ferguson had both of us up late at night, talking about it together because the people, the white people, around us just sort of tuned us out when we wanted to talk about the horror of these deaths. I know that we both felt like the world was upturned. I know we felt betrayed that so many people didn’t seem to care about these senseless deaths. We began to realize that what was changing was us, not the world. My hubby began following Black artists, politicians, and media on Twitter. I began unfriending a lot of middle aged “Evangelicals.” Things were shifting.

     Then, Philando Castile died. That was it. I was almost unable to function because of my grief and anger. I typed #blm and that unleashed the hate. Men in our church reprimanded me; one even using intimidation and threats. We were increasingly convinced that this racism was our problem too, not just because we were raising Black boys but because we are all in this together. But it sure seemed like we were alone as white people feeling this way.

     In our community, a church hosted a prayer event, inviting multiple churches, faith-based organizations, and even law enforcement. Our whole family attended that night, and as we held hands and prayed for justice, one pastor challenged us to exchange phone numbers and share a meal with someone we had met that night. My little prayer group within the event was an ideal melting pot: our mixed transracial family, a Latino family, and a Black family. The Black woman, Candi, and I immediately took charge of the challenge and planned for a picnic the next month. Amazingly, everyone in our prayer circle showed up for that first dinner. We spoke honestly about what was going on in America, and our common thread was that we all were desiring to approach the issue of race as a sin problem. Our common thread was that we saw each other as family. And that changed everything.

     Shortly after our first picnic, my family decided to host a dinner for our prayer group. However, the momentum had seemed to fizzle out, and our group dwindled down to the Black family and us. Again, we broke bread together, and our conversation was real. I won’t ever forget when Candi told me that her whole married life, she never let her husband go run out for milk after dark because she feared he could be pulled over and killed. That was pivotal. Her whole life, she had a fear that I was now experiencing. It was new and overwhelming to me, and here my friend was sharing with me that that same fear was the norm for her. We grieved over that. I needed to tell her I was sorry that I never knew the depths of racism in America. It was important for all of us that we could apologize, even though my husband and I were never directly racist, we were a part of a system of oppression, and our ignorance to it was permission for it to flourish. Candi and her husband were gracious toward us and continue to be. Their honesty and willingness to be real and vulnerable paved the way toward a genuine friendship. My heart and my convictions grew that night in my dining room.

     After that dinner, Candi and I started talking mom stuff more. I deliver babies and take care of mamas for a living, and she needed some insight on both. Candi gave me a chance to be her real friend. I know that in her life, she has had experiences that have made her cautious to tell her relatives when she has white friends. I respect that, and I know I can’t ever understand it. It matters even more to me than it could have when I was in college, trying to fit in with my classmates. We continued to talk and text and share meals. After her son was born, I was able to care for and love her when other women didn’t “get it.” Now, we have a standing pedicure date every 6 weeks. The first time we went together, the ladies awkwardly asked us how we became friends, and I laughed at their attempt to be politically correct. “Do you mean because she’s Black and I am White? Or because she is younger and I am older? We actually prayed together once...” In the end, I think we both agreed it was a God thing that connected us.

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Tags:  African-American  black  castille  eric  friend  friendship  garner  Higgins  Kara  martin  moms  oppression  philando  race  racism  reaching  sons  support  systematic  trayvon  white 

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