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Parent, advocate, teacher: Professor has strong interest in education of gifted children

4/28/2002
April 29, 2002

For Dr. Lynnette Henderson, assistant professor of education at Austin Peay, the quest to make sure gifted students' needs are met isn't just professional - it's personal.

"When I heard about the Governor's School programs in Tennessee being cut, I was saddened and horrified," she said.

Henderson's daughter, Holly, now an English major at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., attended the Governor's School at Eastern Tennessee State University during the summer of 1998.

"She attended the Tennessee Heritage Governor's School, which involved a lot of research and writing," said Henderson. "It was one of the best things that ever happened to her, because she was able to meet students who were just like her. This was even more true for students who came from rural counties in Tennessee, where they felt isolated by their intellectual talents."

Finding peers with similar abilities is crucial for keeping gifted students from falling into the "bored and in trouble" trap, according to Henderson.

"Research tells us that when gifted children enter a classroom, they already know anywhere from 35 to 50 percent of what will be taught that school year. If they have nothing to challenge them, they are left bored and looking for things to keep them occupied."

Combined with feeling out of place in a classroom of children learning at a slower pace, the result can be distraction and restlessness - traits busy teachers find frustrating.

But, according to Henderson, meeting the needs of gifted students doesn't have to be complicated or costly.

"All it takes is knowing what to do, having the right information," she said.

To make that information available, Henderson will offer two courses this summer to help parents and teachers identify and work with gifted children.

Both courses meet Tennessee's six-credit-hour training requirement in gifted education and apply toward a Kentucky teaching endorsement.

"The Nature and Needs of Gifted Learners" (EDUC 581G) will meet from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Friday, June 7; Saturday, June 8; Friday, June 14 and Saturday, June 15.

"Curriculum and Methods for Gifted Learners" (EDUC 581H) will meet from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Friday, June 21; Saturday, June 22; Friday, June 28 and Saturday, June 29.

"Individuals who enroll will find a research-based approach that covers all aspects of gifted education," said Henderson. "The broad base is important for teachers who have gifted students in their classrooms and for parents who want to be better advocates for them.

"Most of the time, gifted children are given an education that is easy, obvious and mainstream when they could benefit greatly from something more challenging and individual. But that won't change until parents know exactly what they need so they can ask for it."

Proof of this was seen last month when a bill to remove gifted students from special education in Tennessee was struck down in the state legislature.

Opponents of the bill included parents who make up the Tennessee Initiative for Gifted Education Reform (TIGER) and were vocal about the consequences of taking away special education services and using a regular curriculum to educate advanced learners.

"The fact that we were able to mobilize the numbers of parents we did was amazing," said Henderson, a TIGER member. "That shows me this can be a worthwhile movement with active, informed supporters who are willing to fight to get the best education for gifted students."

Registration for the APSU gifted education courses runs through May 29.

For more information, telephone 7536.