Dr. Joy Lawson Davis is on a mission to make sure all gifted children get the support they deserve. One of the keynote speakers at the Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) Conference, July 13-14 in Milwaukee, Davis will talk about the importance of diversity in gifted education.
The conference kicks off National Parenting Gifted Children Week, July 15-21, a time for parents to celebrate the joys and challenges of raising, guiding, and supporting bright young minds.
I talked with Davis about her passion for gifted learners and about her book, Bright, Talented & Black (A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners). Too often, Davis says, African-American children are dismissed as being gifted.
Her colleague, Dr. James T. Webb, the founder of SENG, was one of the many inspirations behind her guidebook. Webb shared this poignant story with Davis.
As a graduate student in the South during the 1960s, a nurse referred a 5-year old girl to Webb's clinic. This child and her 3-year old sister could read--sounding out words like, tuberculosis from the nurse's checklist. The girls lived in extreme poverty and had never attended school. Webb wondered would these girls get the education they needed to develop their full potential. Read my interview with Dr. Webb.
This story along with the many encounters Davis had with families, spurred a determination in her to fill a critical void in education. These families had gifted children but were from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Unfortunately, Davis said, the families lacked resources about gifted learners. Perhaps her book would provide that missing link. "My greatest motivation was being involved with schools where there were so few black children and families being served. I realized an advocacy tool was missing for our families," Davis said.
The federal government defines "gifted and talent" students, children, or youth as those who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities. In her book, Dr. Davis writes that many schools often don't recognize gifted children until 3rd-grade. But what if you recognize your child is gifted as early as Kindergarten? Her advice:
Parents should ask to meet with the teacher and district's gifted specialist to discuss how they plan to address the child's intellectual needs. Ask about acceleration options and the teacher's experience with high ability and gifted children."
Dr. Davis says many teachers don't have the experience to teach gifted students. "Most teachers go to school to teach students something they don't know. When you have a student who already knows the material, the teacher tends to focus on the students who don't know the material and the child who already knows the material, is left out."
She adds that a gifted and talented student may in some cases act out because of boredom, or the student might ask a lot of questions of teachers which could be perceived as a negative.
With more than 35 years in education, Dr. Davis' resume is a work of art. Currently the Director of the Center for Gifted Education at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, Davis has consulted school districts nationwide about how to make gifted education inclusive. She's also the Chair of the National Association of Gifted Children's (NAGC's) Diversity & Equity Committee.
Her book includes a glossary of terms for parents and gifted education advocates. Knowing the lingo, Dr. Davis says, will help parents be able to better convey their message to educators.
She suggests these Top 10 ideas for parents:
- Be sure your children read early and often.
- Provide educational options for spare time.
- Be as passionate about academics as sports fans are about athletics.
- Listen to your children's dreams.
- Use tough love. Life will not always be kind no matter how brilliant they may be.
- Have open conversations about race without encouraging racist attitudes.
- Accept your children's other race peers.
- Watch for changes in behavior when children are involved in gifted programs.
- Learn all you can about gifted education programming.
- Teach your child to speak up and take advantage of opportunities.
During the SENG Conference, Davis' will address the topic--The Immeasurable Value of Family Involvement: Addressing the unique challenges of Culturally Diverse Gifted & High Ability Students. Her charge to attendees, "Everyone should recognize their critical role as active advocates, speaking up and being directly involved in shaping policies and practices and keeping the needs of all gifted children nationwide on the educational landscape."