Letters to the Editor

Gifted education important for students

The Bellevue School District has many hard choices to make in the next few weeks. There is only one item on the district survey that has to do with basic education—the enrichment program.

As mentioned in last week’s front-page article in the Bellevue Reporter, swimming and other athletics groups could be removed from the budget. Cutting any athletic program would be tragic. Music and art are also being considered. Neither of these should be taken out of our curriculum, either.

Music is well known to help students with mathematics, and art cultivates the creative side of students, which helps them in their writing ability. However, to cut a program that is part of a child’s basic education, harms that child.

Bellevue has been a leader in the area of special education as well as “highly capable” learning programs. One of two stated BSD goals is to “Extend learning for those that currently meet or exceed standard,” of which enrichment falls into. 

Students in enrichment are designated as special needs children.  They learn differently and think differently from other children, just like children at the other end of the spectrum learn and think differently.  As a special needs group, enrichment becomes part of these children’s basic education curriculum.  The enrichment program is vital to these children’s basic education.  Without it, they will suffer. 

According to the Morland Report on gifted children in 1972, “because the majority of gifted children’s school adjustment problems occur between kindergarten and fourth grade, about half of gifted children became ‘mental dropouts’ at around 10 years of age.” (The Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Kids, by Sally Yahnke Walker, Free Spirit Publishing, 1991, 2002). 

The result of this report was the creation of the Office of the Gifted and Talented in the US Office of Education. 

In this sense, gifted and talented refers directly to academics.  All children are gifted in different ways.  We don’t hold back a star football player and take away his programs because he is gifted athletically and is exceeding athletic norms.  Instead we try to develop his football talent and hire top notch football coaches.  It should be the same for academically gifted children.  We do not want any of our children to mentally drop out of school and we need to meet all children’s needs. 

Because the needs of highly capable children are different from the needs of other children, we need the enrichment program in our schools. Thomas Jefferson said, “Nothing is more unequal than equal treatment of unequal people.”  

The state of Washington passed ESHB 2261 in 2009 and HB 2776 two weeks ago, which make programs for “highly capable” children part of basic education, beginning in September 2011.  This means that enrichment programs will then be required for highly capable students.  It does not make sense to remove the enrichment program from our curriculum, only to have to start it up again one year later.

Parents are concerned about increasing class size.  Because enrichment students are pulled from the regular classroom for five hours a week, this is five hours a week that the rest of the student population experiences a lower class size.  This benefits all students, not just the enrichment students.

Enrichment is the only program listed in the proposed budget cuts that is considered basic education.  It would be foolish to remove it.  The primary goal for a school district should be education.  Cuts should first be made in non-academic areas (administration, classroom heating, bus transit, building equipment) before actual educational cuts are made. 

Please keep enrichment funding in the budget. 

Stephanie Justus, Bellevue

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