Making the transition from a public school to a private academy middle school can be a positive process for gifted children; smaller class sizes and more flexibility in the pace of instruction can allow gifted children the chance to excel.
Although many gifted children — typically defined as intellectually advanced in relation to their peers, or as having an IQ higher than 130 — are self-motivated learners, their grades may not reflect their potential. The process by which a gifted student becomes an “underachiever” is reversible, but parents and schools must understand the pressures that can come along with intellectual giftedness.
One of the most common problems that an under-performing gifted student must face is internal pressure. Although parents may indicate nothing but pride at their students’ accomplishments, sometimes gifted children internalize a deep need for perfection. Problems with writing or the reluctance to complete projects may signal that the student’s inner editor is overactive.
In the face of the most supportive private academy middle school environment, this habit of self-censorship can usually be overcome. The student reads at a much higher level, typically, than they can reproduce, and the frustration involved in refining and perfecting writing skills typically fades away at the end of high school.
Gifted students may also need more stimulation than even an honors program can provide; parents of gifted students are encouraged to help their young learners find outside interests and hobbies that are fun to pursue. What differentiates gifted children from their peers is often the fact that they prefer hobbies with an intellectual aspect: memorizing the properties of rocks and minerals, collecting trading cards and memorizing their values, or learning about the history of comic books are all considered healthy and normal hobbies for gifted children.
If gifted children prefer to collect facts and to amass vocabulary in their spare time, parents can be comforted with the fact that their children are happy rather than stressed by the additional information. Intellectually gifted children often lack a need to spend hours studying: the process by which they “pick up” and retain new information is a more organic one, and children may report that information just sticks with them naturally. Forcing gifted children to study can be a no-win scenario for parents; as long as test scores are acceptable, studying may not be as necessary for gifted students in general.
Gifted children are the student athletes of intellect: where some students naturally excel at sports or at community leadership, intellectually gifted students shine when they are given the opportunity to become experts in a topic. During their time in a private or an academy middle school, gifted students may refine their hobbies into two or three main subjects of interest. Studies show that often, gifted students’ interests do persist through high school and into college, and that having outside hobbies and interests can alleviate internalized stress.
Reversing habitual under-achievement patterns in previously motivated gifted youth may also involve finding more challenging school curricula. Behavioral outbursts and lack of motivation may be due to the scholastic bar being set too low for gifted children to feel the push to excel.
Private academy middle school teachers should also understand that sometimes, children may come into their classrooms who have not been challenged academically for many years. Private schools are often better able to provide individualized instruction and may also have more time to help discover what motivates their gifted students to excel. The psychology of gifted students may be complex, but finding ways to help students do their best should remain the goal of every public and private school.