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.

Coming of age and understanding: my personal story

I am a high school teacher and licensed school counselor. When I’m not at school, I enjoy spending time with my children, lifting weights, and brushing up on the latest in theoretical quantum physics.

School was an unpleasant experience for me. In middle school and high school I was either bored or in trouble. Eventually, I dropped out of high school halfway through my junior year, got a GED, and started college a year early. In college, I had the opportunity to manage my own learning and I flourished.

In 2011, I became the coach of the Quiz Bowl team at the high school where I used to teach. In order to understand more about the students who were on the team, I started researching Academic and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) programs and what school was like for exceptionally bright students. As I continued learning more about them, I started seeing myself. One afternoon, I came across a YouTube video of a 60 Minutes news special on American Mensa, the high IQ society for those who have IQ scores in the top 98% percentile. The video showed people in good spirits who were engaging in various sorts of activities like a talent show, board games, a meet and greet mixer, etc. For some reason, it brought me to tears. These were my people. I didn’t know why or how, but I knew that there was something about them I identified with.

Out of curiosity, I scheduled an IQ test with a psychologist. When my scores were tallied, the psychologist interpreted my results. My final score was superior, however, the total scores in each category were inconsistent. My verbal index was much higher than the other domains. The psychologist told me that my scores were indicative of a child who had a lot of potential that was never actualized. However, as an adult, all of the potential that was never developed was assimilated into my verbal IQ since that domain is the only one that can change in adulthood. While I was glad to know my score, this caused me to reevaluate my experiences in school from a different perspective. I wasn’t the dumb trouble-maker who turned things around. I was overlooked.

I specifically remember times in which I wanted something more meaningful. In 3rd grade, I talked with some of my friends about their enrichment classes and what they did during the time they were pulled out of our regular class. They told me they were reading a book about Greek mythology and it was on a 6th grade reading level. That fascinated me! I wanted to do that too, but my grades did not reflect my ability. Another time, some friends of mine were going to Odyssey of the Mind to perform a skit. I wanted to be a part of that so bad, I volunteered a Saturday to help them with a car wash to raise money for their trip…just to be connected with that in some way. At times like that, I was reaching for something higher, but no one was there to take my hand.

I mailed in an application and my test results to American Mensa and I was approved for membership. It was a new beginning and a homecoming at the same time. At first, I struggled to find my identity as someone who functions at the higher end of the intelligence bell curve. At times, I probably came off as being self-centered or egotistical, as some super-smarties can be. But, eventually things evened out as I became aware of the realistic and unrealistic expectations our society has regarding those who are “smart.”

We cannot change the past. But together, we can influence the present to ensure a better future for our children. That is precisely the purpose of this website and blog. The goal of the website, mygiftedchild.net, is to promote awareness and provide resources for parents and educators. The blog is designed to facilitate conversations. As we communicate, we will form a community of advocacy, support, and mutual understanding.