Catching up with friends

Amber and I visited our New Orleans/Mandeville friends for four days a couple weeks ago and I’ve been meaning to write an entry about it.

First, we want to thank our friends, Rocky and Julie, for providing us with a great place to stay. We’ve known them since their youngest boy and my oldest, Adam were in school together in kindergarten and first grade at Lieder Elementary in Houston, moving to Louisiana as 2nd graders. (Both boys are out of college and happily employed and were educated in the gifted program in St. Tammany).

Amber (who is leaving tomorrow for a Masters program in International Relations in Paris, France) made arrangements to meet up with Justin, who completed college in three years and is employed as an auditor in the banking industry. He graduated a year after our boys from the same program. I’m always impressed with his knowledge of fine food and wine after working as a waiter in some of the best restaurants in the New Orleans area.

Our second lunch date found us at Coffee Rani’s in Mandeville talking about what it was like to grow up gifted. Kristen and her mom just returned from a SENG convention. Her mom manages a preschool and now looks out for giftedness with the little ones in her charge. Kristen completed her college early, started a masters in PA but found it to be not what she expected and is back in town while she calculates her next goal in life. The cafe was completely emptied of its lunch crowd by the time we disengaged.

Being labeled gifted, as most educators and parents know, can good and bad, based on the individual’s experience and life circumstances. Our mother/daughter lunch came to the conclusion that our girls were better off in the gifted program because they were challenged intellectually but their social/emotional issues weren’t really addressed. We also discussed how going to a large public college was like being thrown back into regular classes, even if you were enrolled in the Honors College. Amber made the comment that it seemed like the smaller college was more gifted-friendly. That was her experience anyway.

But the shocker for these girls was how the real world treated them now. They had realized that the grown-up, real world could care less if you are gifted or not. (Quite a wake up call for the young adults and one stated by my son in an earlier conversation.) After discussing the status of many of their classmates (one doing drugs and playing in a rock band, one working at a daycare in a fitness center, one working in Alaska in the oil fields, etc.), we came to the conclusion that what mattered the most was what one does with their giftedness. We noted that all these classmates are still driven to digest knowledge yet choosing jobs that seem to be unrelated to their giftedness. If you are ever around any of the individuals, you will notice that their intensity is still present.

I can look at all this from the viewpoint of a mom and an educator. Most well-meaning educators and specialized programs miss the mark when it comes to knowing just what the gifted child needs for their intellectual and social stimulation. Although St. Tammany has a well-developed full day gifted program, it fell short in the social/emotional area. We came to the conclusion that any gifted program must pay attention to the social and emotional needs of the student in order to best prepare them for future obstacles. Parents needed to be fully informed and supported in learning about the difficulties and joys of raising a gifted child. We also realized that children must be provided opportunities to develop tenacity or ‘stick-to-it-ness’ when faced with difficult situations. The bulldog mascot of their high school came to my mind as we talked.

We had lunch with another mother/daughter friend. This time, our discussion took a turn to the future and opportunities. This class mate had just returned from a trip to Morocco within her nursing program. We discussed how the US has so much compared to other parts of the world. I couldn’t help but thinking how we take our opportunities for granted rather than work for the greater good of our world as we talked.

Lunch with our daughter’s best friend’s family, Brennan, was also a joy. It was so cool to learn that he was selected to introduce Hillary Clinton at a recent speaking engagement at his college back east. This was the guy in high school who challenged the rules at every turn but did it with the expertise of a fine surgeon. He knew just how far to go to make the administration of the school look silly while staying out of serious trouble. He’s going on to law school soon. If I ever meet him in court, I want to be on his side!

Our last lunch was with Bobby. Bobby was the only one that we met during our stay that was not educated in the gifted program in St. Tammany, rather he was in the gifted program in New Orleans. He started at Tulane but because of Katrina, his degree plan was discontinued. He finished his Computer Science degree in Missouri and is back now seriously considering a career with the NOPD. Another guy I would want on my side.

I’m so proud of all my son and daughter’s classmates in all their adventures after their ‘gifted’ education because I know that each one is making a contribution to their world in their own way. I also realize that it’s not enough to be gifted in our world. It’s not enough to provide accelerated or enriched programs one day, two days or even five days a week for our children. We must also provide them with opportunities to struggle, to fail under controlled situations, to overcoming obstacles and to understand what it truly means to be just a little different.