Even smart kids need some help, group says

Published April 19, 2007

Cindy Gustafson is concerned that gifted students don't get what they need in school.

After speaking with the district's Exceptional Student Education Department over the past couple of years, she said her solution came together last year.

The mother of two gifted daughters identified dedicated advocates to help her form a support group for parents of gifted kids called Partners Allied for Gifted Education and Support of Hernando County.

"Sometimes legislators and even educators miss the need, thinking these kids have no problems - they're just really smart," said Gustafson, PAGES president.

But, she said, being really smart can be devastating to a child who wants, like everyone else, to just fit in.

Gifted programs are critical, Gustafson believes, to the well-being and success of children whose brain processes are different. She's afraid that state legislators, considering bills to limit the support of such programs, are sliding in a bad direction.

Like most parents in her shoes, she feels challenged. Gustafson and other PAGES members go through typical issues of trying to parent successfully, but they find their kids feeling miserable coping with school.

"Mine cried a lot, too bored to get through another day," she said. "We sought counselors and a psychologist trained in working with gifted kids. Everyone suggested acceleration - known as skipping grades.

"For one of my kids, that was easy. The other was harder because she began kindergarten at 4, and moving her up seemed dramatic. In the end, it was a big help, though."

Gustafson said the School Board has demonstrated some interest in establishing a gifted education center as a long-term solution.

Said board member Jim Malcolm: "I want to move forward with that. These youngsters need more challenge. I'm willing to say they are underserved."

But Malcolm said discussion of the issue has been postponed until the district's new superintendent is on the job.

"I'll let my views be known at the first opportunity to the new superintendent," he said.

Meanwhile, a support group can direct interested people to resources, answers and recommendations, and Gustafson thinks it's working well.

"Parents of gifted children are afraid to talk about their kids' successes, let alone their problems. We feel like braggarts. It's comfortable to speak openly in our group," she explained.

The PAGES board, including vice president Rick McGee, meets monthly. The group plans speakers, events and activities. Membership is growing, and the group welcomes anyone linked to the well-being of gifted kids.