Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Many Faces of Gifted: Alexandra

By Carole Rosner

Every gifted person has a unique story. The following story is part of a series of posts depicting the many faces of gifted by highlighting gifted children and adults we have found through IEA programs. IEA’s Apprenticeship Program – mentioned in this story – links gifted high school students from across the country with mentors who advance each participant’s skills through the application of knowledge and exposure to real world experiences.

Alexandra Balcazar
IEA Apprentice at The Huntington Museum in 2001
Outside Professional Assistant, Victoria and Albert Museum

“IEA does not take intelligence for granted; rather, it fosters and develops it. The Apprenticeship Program made me more confident in my abilities and opened up many new possibilities for me. Having a program like IEA was invaluable, and I feel very lucky to have participated,” Alexandra Balcazar, a 2001 Apprentice, explained.

Alexandra was in 11th grade when she found out about IEA’s summer Apprenticeship Program from her Pasadena high school biology teacher.

“Since I enjoyed and did well at biology and had been considering going to college for it, my teacher thought the program in botany at The Huntington Museum would be a good match for me. I also liked the idea because I had always enjoyed The Huntington as a visitor, so it was exciting for me to be able to go behind the scenes to intern there. Also, I was pretty shy, so I thought it would be a good way to meet other like-minded people,” Alexandra went on to say.

She worked with Mentor Jim Folsom, The Huntington’s chief Botanist. “The main project was to study the chemical and biological mechanisms of the Venus Fly Trap. Our group conducted several experiments with the plant to measure how quickly the fly trap would respond to stimuli and whether it would respond differently to various types of ‘bait’. We also did some studies in perceptions of real versus fake flowers, asking visitors about what they saw and what made them think a flower was real or not.”

A few experiences from Alexandra’s Apprenticeship stick out in her mind. “I’m never going to forget the moonlit garden tour of The Huntington and the overall feeling of being part of a team that helps the museum and gardens function. Having the opportunity to meet so many experts in their fields was inspiring and encouraging, because they were so down to earth and easy to talk to. My Mentor clearly loved his job, and he passed that excitement along to the Apprentices.”

“From a social perspective, it was one of the best experiences I could have had in high school. We stayed in Occidental College dorms, and we had a couple of incredibly fun residential supervisors who kept us busy and entertained when we were not at The Huntington. I think it was the first time I was around kids from many different educational backgrounds, and it was simultaneously comforting and thrilling to meet other people who were friendly, ambitious and very, very intelligent.”

Alexandra went back to high school with a new perspective after apprenticing at The Huntington. “The program gave me hope to find similarly intellectually stimulating environments and people in college and beyond. It also dissolved some feelings of intimidation I had about working in a professional, research-driven place with lots of brilliant people (brilliant people are nice and normal too!). I went to an under-privileged high school in Pasadena, and while there were some excellent, dedicated teachers and a handful of kids who worked hard academically, the standard for the overall student body was set low, with few expectations for students to go on to higher education. As an Apprentice, I was given proof that working hard academically, and being a conscientious, aware person can offer rewards, and it made me more determined than ever to do well in school and apply myself to new projects.”

Alexandra currently works in London and lives in the seaside town of Brighton, England. She describes her post-high school journey as a long and winding road. “After high school, I took a turn from biology and realized that I loved art history. I ended up being an art history major and medieval studies minor at Smith College, in Massachusetts, and did my junior year abroad at St Andrews, in Scotland. While at Smith, I started interning at the college’s art museum as a tour guide, and during the summer, I interned at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Plymouth, MA. I loved art and museum work, but in the last semester of my senior year, I took an introduction to costume design and fashion history course and became hooked on the study and design of costume.”

“After graduating in 2006, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a costume and textiles curator or a costume designer, so I tried out both, while doing substitute teaching on the side. I interned at the L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA) in their costume and textiles department and worked on the accessioning and cataloguing of 18th and 19th century garments, which eventually formed the basis of LACMA’s ‘Fashioning Fashion’ exhibition from 2010. I loved interning there, but in reality, one generally needs at least an MA to do curatorial work, and I just wasn’t ready for that yet. I put museum and costuming work on the back burner for a while and decided to get my California Teaching Credential instead. However, just after getting my credential, an opportunity arose to become a costume/wardrobe assistant for short films and TV, and I jumped at the chance. At that point, I was a qualified teacher, but my earlier costume aspirations were revived. I also worked as an apprentice at a shop in L.A. called reVamp, which makes period-accurate fashion reproductions from the first half of the 20th century. I learned pattern-making, cutting and sewing, which was all helpful in learning more about the technical aspect of fashion.”

“In 2011, I decided finally to go for my Masters. I went to the University of Sussex in Brighton for my MA in Art History and Museum Curating. Sussex has a link with the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), an incredible design museum in London. It was through that link that I began my involvement with the V&A.”

Although Alexandra started out as an intern, she is currently an Outside Professional Assistant (or OPA) at the V&A. “As an intern, I started the archiving process for a recent V&A exhibition of digital art, researched fashion designers who use digital technology in their clothes, and assisted with public events put on by the Contemporary department. As an OPA, I am continuing as an assistant for museum events, which includes setup, installation and de-installation of art, facilitating public activities and liaising with artists who are involved with the events.”

“I just finished my dissertation, which was about digital art in museums, so that is a new area of interest for me. I still love costume and fashion history, and so I am actively pursuing curating jobs in that area, too, but to be honest, I have no idea what I will be doing in ten or twenty years’ time. Maybe go back teaching? Curating? I am completely okay with not knowing where things will lead, but I just want to be able to enjoy what I am doing, so that enthusiasm is reflected in my work. Last May, I got married here in England, to a lovely Brit who is getting his PhD at Sussex, so while he finishes the degree, we’ll be here for a least a few more years.”

Alexandra still keeps in touch with some people from IEA and hopes to catch up with fellow Apprentice alums soon. “I did actually run into Jim Folsom, my mentor from The Huntington, while visiting the gardens a couple years ago. It was wonderful to see him again, and it was really nice to hear that he remembered me and the work I did while I was there. He is so knowledgeable and such a nice guy, so it was great to catch up with him and his work.”

Applications for the 2013 summer high school Apprenticeship Program are now available. For more information and applications, please visit the Apprenticeship page of our website or contact us.

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Enriching the Hearts and Minds of Gifted Youth: IEA Academy

By Jen Mounday

Jen Mounday is the Program Coordinator for IEA’s Academy program. Academy provides young gifted students with challenging enrichment classes that focus on exploration and the application of knowledge.

Academy students and instructors dressed up for Halloween – Nico made his own robot costume!

I was a classroom teacher before coming to IEA to be a Program Coordinator. From my years teaching, I naturally developed a mental catalogue of gifted students and the impressions they made on me over time. My experience in the classroom left me well acquainted with the gifted child: the voracious reader, the classical music lover, the Spanish speaking whiz, the student who challenges, the one who ponders—the child who has the uncanny power to shape you through their own quest for answers and truth. The memories I have working alongside gifted and talented kids are ever in my mind’s eye as I coordinate enrichment programs for this demographic.

IEA’s Academy welcomes kindergarten through eighth grade students into classrooms of like-minded peers. As much as I grouped students homogeneously when I was a classroom teacher, I have realized that there is nothing like an Academy classroom. Observe and you will see astronomy PhDs teaching astrophysics to a group of eleven-year-olds; the students are engaged, asking questions and driving the lesson deeper. It’s the power of the Academy classroom that is meeting a need in our community—drawing highly able students beyond the mainstream classroom framework and up a bit higher.

The 2012 fall quarter for Academy included multiple levels of chemistry and neuro-energy. Students worked with molecular model kits to identify molecular make up. In Neuro-Energy II: Intro to Computer Programming, students learned the basics of Java Script to build a website. I watched in one class as a second grader stood transfixed, looking at the projector screen as the instructor demonstrated how to create digital clocks using code. The student was grinning, captivated, bouncing up and down on his heels, like he’d just seen Santa.

Our classes are unique, much like the students and the instructors themselves. Sometimes the novelty of the program is all it takes to get students excited about the classes. In Academy, there are no limits. Instructors, specialists in their field, encourage as many questions as can be asked and are willing to go off on a tangent or two to satisfy interest. Our students can come, just as they are, to talk literature, chemistry, robotics, or math and be heard, embraced, and understood. And naturally, by the end of each quarter, Academy students build relationships through a process of discovery. Over the course of grappling with content that is typically off limits to their peer group, they become a community.

We do our best to extend this community beyond the classes as well. Last week, we held Academy Family Night here at the IEA office. It was an evening for the families to get to know each other and parents to hear from our president, Elizabeth Jones, on the social and emotional needs of gifted youth. It was an evening of learning and togetherness. Parents shared their experiences of raising gifted children, found support in each other and offered their gratitude for our programs. We will continue to hold parent nights each month through May.

We know that enrichment programs like Academy are often the bright spark in the gifted child’s week. We at the Institute for Educational Advancement are happy to provide that spark for our local community and beyond.

The Winter Session of Academy will run from January 12 to March 7. The schedule and applications are available on the Academy page of our website. Enroll your child today!

What enrichment programs have you found to inspire your son or daughter? Please share with us in the comment section below.

High Anxiety in My Gifted Child

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

Which of the following is a symptom of anxiety in a gifted child?

a. An eye twitch
b. Pacing in circles
c. Fighting with her mother

The answer?
All of the above.

The eye twitch and the pacing were easy for me. My oldest son’s eye began to twitch in fifth grade, around the same time he started to disengage at school. Our middle child began pacing in circles around the bathroom in second grade. That was the year that his teacher wrote his name on the blackboard with the word “teacher” before it because she thought he was too bossy.

My daughter is the one who fights with me. She is in an ideal educational environment. We fight because I am annoying.

If you met my daughter, you would find her to be an adorable, Justin Bieber-loving 11 year old. And she is. She is also super critical of me. According to my daughter, I clear my throat excessively. I use the word “sweetie” when I’m irritated and I make squishing noises when I chew. When I do these things, she tells me to stop. Sometimes she even imitates me.

My daughter’s need to correct me leads to terrible fights. I can’t understand why she won’t overlook my annoying behavior. She doesn’t know why I keep doing things that irritate her. Usually, I just walk away. That enrages her. She hates it when I walk away.

I don’t tell many people about my daughter’s criticism because it makes both of us look bad. It’s disrespectful. It’s insensitive. It’s evidence of my bad parenting skills. And, according to a psychiatrist I know, it’s a symptom of high anxiety.

About a year ago, I was talking with a psychiatrist about anxiety issues of my own. She went down a laundry list of symptoms. At one point she asked me if I get annoyed easily. I said no, and she seemed surprised. She said that highly anxious people are often irritable. Then I remembered my daughter. I thought about how she hates it when her younger brother cracks his knuckles, when her older brother chews ice or when her father talks with food in his mouth. It occurred to me that my daughter is irritable because she is anxious.

I am the first to admit that I might be fooling myself by thinking that my daughter’s behavior reflects anxiety instead of permissive parenting because I don’t want to take responsibility for the behavior. Having said this, I can’t escape the genetic component of her anxiety. After all, I’m anxious, and so is my husband. Our sons? Anxious and anxious. Any genetic predisposition she might have received was certainly nurtured by my anxious parenting.

Okay, maybe I lied to the psychiatrist. Sometimes I am irritable. Early in our marriage, I told my husband what to do when I behave this way. When I am at my most unlikable, what I really need is a hug. I need some physical reassurance that I am not bad despite my bad behavior.

We tried it with our daughter. Or more accurately, my husband tried it. In the middle of a particularly bad fight, he waited for her to catch her breath and then asked her if he could give her a hug. Surprisingly, she said yes. Eventually, she would ask for a hug after she made a snarky remark but before we would get into a full blown fight. Those were hard hugs for me to give. It seemed like I was rewarding bad behavior. It did, however, prevent the fight and hasten an apology from her. She always expressed genuine remorse for her behavior after we fought.

I found support for our hug therapy in a blog by Dr. Claudia M. Gold, a pediatrician and author of Keeping Your Child in Mind: Overcoming Defiance, Tantrums, and Other Everyday Behavior Problems by Seeing the World through Your Child’s Eyes. According to Dr. Gold, this behavior has to do with the underdevelopment of the higher cortical centers of the brain. Our daughter didn’t experience early trauma, nor does she have sensory processing problems like the children discussed in her blog. She is, however, intense and highly sensitive like many gifted children. She has almost all of Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities. The way she externalized her intense nature felt like a personal attack, but it was no different from the boys’ eye twitching and pacing.

I can’t say that I’m entirely at peace with the way our daughter expresses her anxiety, and if I’m wrong and I am a poor parent, please don’t tell me. I have found a solution that involves holding my daughter close and giving her a squeeze. My hope is that the memories of the fights will disappear and what she will remember are the hugs.

In what ways do your children exhibit anxiety? How do you handle these expressions of anxiety? Please share with us in the comment section below.

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Top 5 TEDTalks for Parents of Gifted Kids

By Tiffany Kwong

I love TEDTalks. Whenever I need a break from my day-to-day routine, I watch a TEDTalk and lose myself in the brilliance of people and their ideas.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with TEDTalks, let me give you a brief overview of TED. TED is a private, nonprofit organization that was founded in 1984, with the objective of hosting an annual conference on Technology, Entertainment, and Design—hence the acronym, TED.

Since then, TED has grown; it now hosts global conferences and events throughout the year and has expanded its scope to include leaders from various fields and disciplines, such as medicine, education, economics, anthropology, and music. At these conferences, notable speakers like Jane Goodall, Bill Gates, and Nobel Prize winners confront audiences with issues, ideas, and phenomena that seek to inspire passion and curiosity.

TED’s goal is simple: To spread ideas. According to its mission statement, “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives, and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.” Thus, TED decided to release and post its “talks” online, making them free and accessible to our global community of learners. Since launching its website in 2007, TED has posted 1,356 videos online, which have been viewed almost 1 billion times worldwide.

With so many talks readily available, my efforts of selecting only five videos proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated. But for your viewing pleasure, here are my top five most powerful, informative, and stimulating TEDTalks for parents of gifted children. Enjoy!

5. Susan Cain’s “The Power of Introverts”
In her discussion, writer Susan Cain speaks about introversion and questions why it is undervalued in our society. She calls for a celebration of introverted-ness and offers three suggestions for changing the ways we view introversion.

Favorite quote: “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”

4. Sugata Mitra’s “The Child-Driven Education”
Professor of education Sugata Mitra describes his global “Hole in the Wall” experiments, where children are given access to computers and the Internet. Through these experiments, Mitra illustrates how, when given the resources, groups of children learn from each other and become “self-organizing systems.”

Favorite quote: “Children will learn to do what they want to learn to do.”

3. Adora Svitak’s “What Adults Can Learn From Kids”
In this inspirational video, then twelve-year-old child prodigy Adora Svitak asks her adult audience to reexamine the ways they view children as “irrational” and “irresponsible” beings. Rather, children should be acknowledged and valued for their abilities to imagine the possibilities of tomorrow.

Favorite quote: “Learning between grown-ups and kids should be reciprocal. The reality, unfortunately, is a little different, and it has a lot to do with trust, or a lack of it.”

2. Temple Grandin’s “The World Needs All Kinds of Minds”
In this 20-minute talk, Temple Grandin demonstrates how autistic minds process information and urges us to nurture these varied ways of thinking as resources in our twice-exceptional youth.

Favorite quote: “Now the thing is, the world is going to need all of the different kinds of minds to work together. We’ve got to work on developing all these different kinds of minds.”

1. “Ken Robinson says Schools Kill Creativity”

In this comical but informative discussion, Ken Robinson examines our education system in relation to creativity. Like Adora Svitak, he stresses that children have amazing capabilities and “capacities for innovation.” However, Robinson argues that creativity is being squandered in our classrooms, where academic abilities are placed at a higher premium than other types of intelligences.

Favorite quote: “My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

Do you have a favorite TEDTalk? Share your favorite in the comment section below!

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