Show your work

Once, I met a ten-year-old boy with an IQ of 145. A score that high means that 99.83% of all other humans have lower IQ’s than he does. His number one complaint about school was having to show his work on his math homework. He said he was really good at mental math and could figure out the answers faster in his head than when writing it out on paper, but his teacher insisted that he write out the entire process. Keep in mind, the boy was in 4th grade at the time.

I asked him what his teacher’s reason was, and he had no clue. Being a teacher myself, I understand how frustrating it can be to have one kid finish the assignments given in class significantly faster than the others, especially if that kid is prone to talk and fidget around in their seat. Maybe his teacher was giving him a reason to take his time so she could manage the entire class more effectively. Or, perhaps she thought it was unfair to allow him to not show his work while the rest of the class was obligated to do so.

Whatever her reasoning was, the only thing that remains clear in this situation is that this highly intelligent boy was being forced to work below his capacity simply because everyone else was doing it. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I have a serious problem with this logic. Could you imagine an Olympic athlete being obligated to play on a middle school baseball team? Maybe the coach would take him aside and say, “Now, don’t hit the ball too hard. You don’t want to make the other kids feel inferior.” How about a NASCAR race with an enforced speed limit of 55 mph?

If school is not the place where this particular 4th grader can develop his academic potential, then what is?

Homeless to Harvard revisited

Most people are familiar with the inspirational story of Liz Murray, a Harvard graduate who overcame extreme adversity. During her high school years she was homeless, but still managed to stay on top of her school work. After graduation, she was awarded a prestigious scholarship and was accepted to Harvard University. The Lifetime network made a TV movie depicting her story in 2003. It is a powerful film that really tugs at your heartstrings. While her story is something that doesn’t happen every day, it’s unfortunate to know this scenario isn’t unique to Liz Murray alone.

In 2012, the world turned its attention to yet another young lady who found herself in the same heartbreaking situation. Dawn Loggins was a student at Burns High School in Lawndale, NC. She was quiet and kept to herself, but in every class there are two or three students who keep to themselves as well. Most teachers had no idea that Dawn was living in such horrible conditions.

For most of her life she lived without electricity or running water. She and her brother would walk 20 minutes to a park and fill jugs with water from a spigot. Homework was difficult for her as well because she couldn’t afford candles. Thankfully, by the time she was in high school, several staff members came to her aid.

Today, Dawn has taken a break from interviews and media attention to focus on her studies at Harvard University. She was accepted in the spring of 2012 and, like Liz, was awarded a scholarship.

Had these two young ladies never received any type of help from their schools, what would have become of them? Are there any other kids going through the same circumstances? What can schools do to ensure students like Liz and Dawn don’t fall through the cracks?

In these two cases, students with exponential ability were at great risk of succumbing to the environment in which they lived. Though it is difficult to measure the average IQ score of Harvard students, it has been estimated to be around 127 to 134. An IQ score in this range would qualify a student for admission into an AIG or gifted education program in grades K-12.

To put things into perspective, let’s assume there is a 3rd young lady who doesn’t struggle with the same types of issues Liz Murray and Dawn Loggins had. For purposes of discussion we will call her Kayla. Maybe Kayla has a race horse IQ of 145, but due to her boredom in school, she does the bare minimum just to get by. In the cases of Liz and Dawn, their struggles were extreme. It was very obvious that they needed help. Moreover, due to their dire circumstances, I can’t imagine any decent human being not helping them.

However, in the case of Kayla, it appears she is perfectly capable of doing well in school if she wants to. Her parents are supportive, she has friends, and she isn’t failing her classes. But, she could be doing so much more during the school day. Perhaps Kayla has an almost obsessive fascination with animals. Maybe she is a walking encyclopedia on a specific animal or animal group. But, if she’s in the 2nd grade, should she be forced to wait until 4th grade, when her teacher does a science unit on animals, to become interested in what’s going on in class? Could a 2nd grade teacher not capitalize on Kayla’s interest?

Kayla could prepare a presentation using basic computer skills and share her knowledge with the class. As a part of social studies, the teacher could include information about the wildlife of the countries that are being studied or at least afford Kayla the opportunity to learn that information on her own. There are seemingly limitless ways in which a teacher can cross curricula and make content relevant to the students they teach.

In the lives of some students, the difference between Homeless to Harvard and just plain homeless is a teacher who cares.