High Potential

07/25/2006

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Image based on Nachosan’s Flickr site. When I was in first grade, I took the CAT test and did really well on it, and continued to test well throughout my academic career. This was apparently a big deal, and I was then listed as “High Potential” (today it’s known as Gifted and Talented Education, or GATE). My school district was a big supporter of the High Potential programs and had specialists in each school to make sure that these students were educated properly and were given proper challenges. This included a book club in 1st grade. When I was in 2nd grade, I helped lead the 1st grade book club. I also had to do extra reports in school and give presentations on my findings. By 4th grade I had qualified for a program called “Great Brain” and had to research different subjects, write about them, give presentations on them (with visual aides, usually edited video), and spend so many hours meeting with people in the real world who related to those reports. I spent time with a zookeeper, a veterinarian, a spinal surgeon, and a weather reporter (yes, Dave Dahl… sweet).
I switched to a different school for 5th grade and was assigned to work with two GATE teachers. There was another student, Brian, who tested similarly to me. We were pulled out of class regularly and built projects around our areas of interest. During this time, my GATE teachers gave me extra tests at school. I think they thought I was some kind of genius or something because they made a big deal out of it. I don’t even know the names of the tests, but I remember being given certain materials to see how I could build things under certain circumstances (like – here is a roll of masking tape and four paperclips, how high of a structure can you build?). For one test, I made a 3″ tall structure out of three pieces of paper and four pieces of scotch tape that was able to withstand 300 pounds of weight. I’m not sure if it could have carried more because that’s all the weight they had with them.
Through it all, I felt pleased that all of these adults thought I was so smart. I did feel different because I was able to solve all kinds of problems and stuff that seemed like a big deal to the High Potential instructors. What I didn’t recognize at the time was why I was getting this extra attention. Was I really smarter than others? And, if I was, what was the purpose behind this extra attention?
I continued to test high on standardized tests for the rest of my academic career and altogether did very well. I floundered a bit in college, mostly because I think I was overwhelmed with the task of doing exceptional work academically while working 40+ hour weeks to pay the bill. That made me tired pretty much all the time and I don’t think I did my best work. (Sidenote – many wonder why I didn’t have school paid for me because of my great test scores. Well, I did get scholarships from those that I used to pay part of my public university tuition. I was offered full ride scholarships in Chemistry at some state schools, which I turned down because I wanted to be an actress and I wanted to go to a private school).
I realize now how weird of a kid I was. When I speak about things I did in my youth, others look at me like I am completely insane. Things like wanting an unabridged dictionary for Christmas in 4th grade because I had already finished reading the last one (…in case you never finished a dictionary, the Zebra did it…). I longed for it for many months and am sure I got beat up by my brothers a few times for wanting a dictionary. I read an insane amount of books and would always carry at least 4-5 leisure books with me to read during down time depending on my mood. These books were fiction and non-fiction on many different subjects; mostly novels, history, biography, topical, and how-to books. Another strange behavior occurred in 5th grade when I saw that my teacher wasn’t giving us art lessons. I was mad and jealous of the other class, so I did some research and found out what the state standards were for teaching art. I presented them to my teacher with an insistance that my class deserved an education in art that, at the very least, met the state standards. I could tell more stories about how I was weird, but I think I’ve proven my point.
Anyway, the reason I bring this up on my blog is because I wonder about High Potential or GATE education. Was the extra effort worth it? If I’m high potential, does that mean I somehow owe more to society? Am I reaching that potential? How do I know? My only guess is that an investment was made in GATE students only to up the test scores for my school district because I’ve had no further contact with anyone about it since I graduated high school. No one checks in on me to see if I’m actually reaching my potential. But, the label “High Potential” is interesting to me. Knowing that I was once labeled as that, I don’t know, it’s kind of weird.
I’d love to hear from others who were labeled similarly to see how you “turned out” and maybe some thoughts on the subject of giving the “smart kids” a different kind of education.