Mentoring Gifted Children: It Takes a Village
Emile, a 13-year old, hates school and is convinced he can’t learn. Worse, he feels—no, he knows—he doesn’t often fit in with his age mates. Although he used to excel in school when he was younger, consistently making all A’s on his report card, he is tired of playing the school game, and even more tired of not having like-minded peers he can relate to. Despite being recognized for his incredible insight, advanced critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and other superior intellectual abilities, he is at a crossroads—disillusioned with school and his future.
Emile’s parents are concerned about their child who most everyone assumed had a bright, successful future ahead of him. Once considered a piano prodigy, Emile’s disengagement from school led to his disinterest and eventual withdrawal from playing the piano. His teachers at school, knowing his advanced intellectual skills, expected more from him, often saying he should be better in school given his intelligence. Many would be surprised to see such an intelligent and talented young man floundering and wishing he could drop out of school completely.
Emile’s circumstances at just 13-years old can be difficult to understand given his intelligence and other advanced skills which are considered the hallmarks of future success. Emile’s bright future seemed so easy to predict, but many children like Emile face these same circumstances more often than they should within a traditional school setting and a society which values excellence. But, without an appropriate education which focuses on the specific learning needs of students like Emile, many of these gifted students learn to hate school, disengage from formal education, and then fail to fulfill their potential.
How can we help underachieving students like Emile?
Many gifted advocates have a laundry list of needed initiatives, mandates and laws which could turn things around for gifted students like Emile, preventing them from falling through the cracks and giving up on their education. Yet, our government and our school systems continue to ignore the research and the statistics showing that we are indeed failing to educate our gifted students appropriately. As a result, many parents of gifted students like Emile take their gifted child’s education into their own hands and homeschool, but not every family can feasibly educate their child at home.
A most effective solution—mentoring.
Emile was lucky, his parents were willing and able to spend the time and effort needed to find solutions to help their son regain traction towards his future. The most effective solution his parents found was connecting their son with a like-minded, caring mentor. Having someone who understood their son’s needs, felt a mutual connection with him, had similar interests and skills, and cared enough to invest time in a valuable resource—our future generation of citizens—was the turning point for Emile.
Currently, finding a mentor to guide, engage and inspire gifted students is not easy as there are extremely few organized efforts to match gifted kids with a mentor. Most mentorships or groups who work to connect youth with a mentor seem to focus on two types of formal mentorships: 1. an apprenticeship whereby the junior (apprentice) learns skills or a trade from a senior in that field and 2. mentoring programs which focus on finding mentors for children who come from disadvantaged, dysfunctional or impoverished backgrounds. Emile’s mentorship was different from these two most common types of mentor relationships in many ways.
Friendship, mentorship and a common bond all rolled into one
Locating teams, clubs, groups or activities which focused on Emile’s strengths and interests was the first step his parents took. This took persistence as well as patience since not every opportunity was a good fit for Emile. Next, once Emile was content and thriving on a robotics team, this directly led to more opportunities like spending a considerable amount of his free time at the local maker space with friends and acquaintances from his robotics team. Eventually, an informal mentorship was formed with a young man who was a leader for the robotics team and also on the board of the local maker space. A relationship based on mutual respect, friendship, similar interests and a strong common bond. Although it was the desired outcome, there was no formal application or official mentorship status. It was simply a natural process aided by Emile’s parents’ determination to find such an opportunity for their gifted son—increasing the chances of Emile being in the right place, with the right group, at the right time. It was a mentoring friendship formed in a way not too dissimilar from how we find friends or future mates. This mentorship has made a huge, positive impact on Emile’s outlook for his education and his future. His parents will tell you it was the definitive turning point for Emile where he turned from a disillusioned and disengaged gifted student very much unsure of his future to a more confident teen who has rediscovered his love of learning and can now visualize his future in a positive light.
As a family of a gifted child who could benefit from such an informal, congenial mentorship, the steps taken by Emile’s family to spark fate and increase the likelihood of Emile forming such a relationship is a good roadmap for anyone to follow. For a more organized and formal approach to helping more gifted students find such a life-changing mentorship as Emile’s, I leave you this challenge: How can we create or promote these mentor relationship opportunities, rich in respect, caring and trust, for any gifted child in need despite his or her future career plans or his familial status? How can we create more opportunities for gifted children to naturally form these informal, but highly beneficial relationships with mentors?
Here’s what you can do
—If you are an educator, I challenge you to look for ways within your school and among the parents of your gifted students to work together to find ways to create mentorship opportunities for the gifted students at your school who are in need of such a relationship to turn their lives around.
—If you are a parent of a gifted child, I ask you to consider spearheading the organization of a group of parents of gifted children charged with finding ways to create and promote mentorship opportunities for gifted children.
—If you are part of a national, state or local organization for gifted children, think about how you could design and implement a program or system to connect gifted children with mentors?
The struggles of gifted children are many and often misunderstood, and mentorships can make a powerful, positive and lifelong impact in the life of a gifted child who is in need, and it can often be the decisive factor between fulfilling his potential or not.
Please note: The story of Emile is true, but names and a few identifying details have been changed for privacy.
Mentorship and Gifted Youth, Kate Williams, Institute for Educational Advancement, January 8, 2013
Mentors for Gifted Students, Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page
Mentorship and Gifted Youth, Amy Bisland, Gifted Child Today Magazine, Fall 2001
This post is part of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum‘s Blog Hop: Gifted Children and the Role of Mentors. Personally, I believe the role of mentors in the life of a gifted child is not given the attention it should have. Take a look at the other posts in this blog hop–mentoring can make a significant impact in helping gifted children navigate their world.