NH school districts are not mandated to provide gifted and talented programs to students, and the majority don’t By Michael Brindley
If you believe your child is gifted, chances are you’ve called your local school district to inquire about what enrichment or gifted and talented programs are available. And odds are you weren’t happy with the response.
In New Hampshire, there is no law mandating public school districts to offer gifted and talented education programs. That clashes with the policies of many other states, which not only require the programs, but also provide funding for them. Not the case in the Granite State. The Davidson Institute for Talent Development ranks New Hampshire at its lowest possible category: no mandate or funding for gifted and talented education.
Because it is not a requirement, only a small number of school districts offer gifted and talented services. Those that do may choose to only offer the program in certain grades and schools. For example, Milford’s program is only offered in kindergarten through Grade 8. Nashua used to offer its program at all three levels – elementary, middle and high school – but had to limit it to Grades 3 to 5 this year due to budget cuts.
Ken Relihan is the New Hampshire Department of Education’s head for gifted and talented programs. Relihan said he fields a handful of calls a month from parents who either have a child who is identified or who they suspect is gifted. “They are basically asking for help because, as one would expect, 90 percent of them are likely not to be in a community that has a gifted program,” Relihan said. “But surprisingly, a high percentage of calls come from parents in districts that do have a program and they aren’t happy with it.”
The shock is even greater for parents who move into New Hampshire expecting there to be programs available because they were required in the state they came from, Relihan said.
“It’s a troublesome transition for people who come from those states,” he said. The National Society for the Gifted and Talented provides the following definition for what constitutes giftedness: "Children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment.” But it also points out that each school district will typically come up with its own way of identifying children for their programs.
In Merrimack’s Gateway program, which is available in elementary, middle and high school, students are identified for giftedness at the end of second grade. Students who are believed to be advanced will be given the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, which measures abstract thinking and reasoning ability. Statewide assessment scores and overall academic performance can also be used as a measuring stick. Dennis Pymm, a teacher in the Gateway Program at James Mastricola Upper Elementary School, said in the elementary school, students in the program are pulled out of their classrooms for 90 minutes a week and given enrichment activities. For example, students in the sixth grade are learning how to invest in the stock market and fifth-grade students are given crime scene investigation activities, Pymm said. There is no set curriculum. Teachers working in the program are given the chance to pick activities they feel will most benefit the students. Much of it is driven by the students, Pymm said. Of the school’s 650 students, Pymm said he works with about 100.
“Without having this kind of program, I believe the students would become less interested in their regular education,” Pymm said. “They could become a problem for the teacher because they are just sitting there idly. That spark has been put out.” Relihan said tries to provide options for parents who don’t have gifted and talented programs in their districts. He recommends advocating at the local and state level for funding gifted and talented education. He often suggests private programs that parents could choose from, including Scholars’ Academy in Hooksett, which touts itself as “a place where gifts are nurtured and individual pace is respected.” The academy is open to children ages 3 through 12. Full-time annual tuition for the academy is $7,500, but there is also an enrichment program offered over the summer.
Dartmouth College in Hanover offers Summer Enrichment at Dartmouth, a program “that expands the educational opportunities for promising high school students from selected under-resourced urban and rural schools while offering the Dartmouth community a unique opportunity for service learning,” according to its website. Relihan said he also directs parents to the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School. Based in Exeter, the school provides online courses to high school students across New Hampshire free of charge. Students can take single classes or enroll on a full-time basis.
There is also a state organization that advocates for gifted and talented education, the New Hampshire Association for Education. The group’s website, www.nhage.org, contains resources and gifted education information for parents, educators and children.
Michael Brindley is an award-winning journalist, and writes for The Nashua Telegraph.