Austen Jeffries was very busy last year. She devoured 150 books: The Chronicles of Narnia was her favorite. She plunged into a study of the phases of the moon in between updating her blog and completing her school project on the building of London's Big Ben. Long fascinated by rocks, she decided she wanted to be a geologist, even though her friends in Orlando have no idea what that is. Austen was 7.
The Jeffries family is lucky: They have a gifted child who's passionate about learning and they found a public school where teachers are trained to work with advanced students. But it wasn't easy. "When we discovered that our school district had no programs for her, a friend recommended a school that did," says her mom, Miranda. "So we sold our house and moved."
In fact, there's a shortage of programs for gifted and talented kids nationwide -- and those that do exist often fail to meet children's varied needs. Although there are no precise statistics, the National Association of Gifted Children estimates that 6 percent of kids in kindergarten through 12th grade are gifted -- a term that is debated but used to describe children who are intellectually precocious. Yet overall, American students rank far below their peers in other countries on achievement tests, especially in math and science. In order to compete in the global marketplace, we must nurture our future scientists, artists, and leaders -- the children who will someday come up with a cure for cancer or broker peace in the Mideast. "Educating our best and brightest is simply not the priority that it should be," says Joseph S. Renzulli, Ph.D., director of The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and author of Light Up Your Child's Mind.
While most people assume that having a gifted child is a gift in every way, parents with exceptional kids often find it confusing and frustrating to navigate the maze of rules and red tape surrounding their school district's programs. "Parents may be considered pushy simply for trying to get their child the same opportunities to learn in school with her peers," says Carolyn Kottmeyer, a mother of two in Philadelphia, who founded Hoagies' Gifted Education Page, a clearinghouse for information. If you suspect that your child is gifted, it's important to do your own homework to find the best educational environment for her -- and then to advocate effectively on her behalf.