Keep The Gifted Program In The Hamilton County Schools - And Response (2)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

I currently have a daughter in fourth grade at Lookout Valley Elementary and a daughter in the eighth grade at Lookout Valley Middle High School. Both of my daughters are very good students, as well as being very good people.

I am writing today with a concern. I was made aware that the Hamilton County Department of Education is considering cutting the gifted program at the high school level. I am not sure where to begin. I believe that this is just a short-sighted, number-crunching slash. I understand budgets. I understand balances. I believe this decision affects more than that.

With the news that I shared with my daughter, she immediately was overwhelmed with emotion. Her exact words, and I quote, “Why would they do that? It is the only thing that keeps me sane.”  I, too, became overwhelmed with emotions. I am not going to spit out numbers and percentages, of which there are countless, to back up why I believe this program is essential. I am going to give facts of life.

As the parent of a gifted student, I see first-hand the impact this program has on my child’s life, every one of them positive. Yes, my daughter is intelligent, but it goes far beyond that. The interactions with her gifted teacher and her peers gives her a sense of calm. That is something that simply does not exist daily in the life of a child on this end of the spectrum. The emotional and social support she receives helps her balance the hurricane that is her mind. My daughter goes to school to learn.  With that comes the balance of learning how to learn. I believe in every one of my daughter’s teachers with every ounce of my being, but I understand that they can only do so much in the classroom setting. It is not a child’s fault if he/she learns at a much slower rate and needs the extra attention. Gifted students need the extra attention at the other end of the spectrum. The gifted program keeps her engaged in her academics. 

Her mother and I work with both children at home to enhance her learning, but we are limited. We are not licensed, trained professionals with the experience needed to understand these emotional, social, and academic needs. In the eighth grade, she is discussing law school, and making plans on her future, and she does this every week with the help of her gifted teacher. It is the day of the week, that my daughter beams with happiness. She gets excited about education and life when surrounded by like-minded children and a trained, caring professional who understands her needs.

The belief that children of all backgrounds must reach their full potential should continue to be extended to the brightest minds as well. I understand that only six percent of children are considered gifted, and they are varied and unique. These six percent are making plans to better their life, communities and world. They truly believe they can make the world better. They have a passion that is developed inside the gifted program. It is my daughter's source of renewal.

Please don’t just disregard this and move on. We all know the cliché that the children are our future. Well, they are all our future, and every one of them need all the training and guidance that they are due. Please don’t just assume that the gifted students will succeed regardless of the services they receive. This program is required to ensure growth rather than loss. 

Jimmy Overholt

Chattanooga

* * *

My name is Lucas Wright and I am currently a senior at Lookout Valley High School. To begin, let me tell you a bit about myself. I currently hold many positions within my high school, serving as: senior class treasurer, student body president, government club founder and president, as well as many others. I also hold numerous distinctions within my school, the city, state and nationally: I am the salutatorian of the class of 2018, Lookout Valley’s Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen Award, a QuestBridge Scholar attending Emory University in the Fall, the only student from Chattanooga to be named a Horatio Alger Tennessee State Scholar (one of eight in the state), in addition to many others. I do not mention these honors to boast or gasconade my accomplishments. However, I do mention them to serve as a reminder why the Gifted Program is essential in Hamilton County Schools and what this program fosters in the children with high achieving potential.

I have attended Lookout Valley for every year of my schooling, moving from the Elementary to the Middle/High during the summer of 2011. Being a fervent supporter of the Lookout Valley schools, hearing that an essential program within the schools was under the threat of abandonment, I was forced to take action. I have been heavily enmeshed with my school’s program since the seventh grade, and have found the program to be one of the most enriching out of the deluge of others I have participated in. I have learned everything from the functions of the judiciary of the state to life lessons which would not have been imbued upon me otherwise.

Within the curricula of my school, the highest tier of courses offered reach Dual Enrollment through Chattanooga State. My school currently only offers five honors classes at the high school level, and these classes are not guaranteed to each student who may request them. The aforementioned Dual Enrollment Classes are burdensome on many due to the financial burden placed on families, and many students are unable to enroll with the Dual Enrollment Program due to this. More arduous classes, such as any Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate content, are not provided to the student body at Lookout Valley. Likewise, the challenge needed by propitious students is not provided in these general education classes with an addendum of semioccacional honors seminaries.

Assuming each student within the network of the gifted program receives ample challenge through Advanced Placement classes and International Baccalaureate coursework does naught but to push low-income, smaller schools such as Lookout Valley further away from the progress of Hamilton County and its high achieving students. Taking the assertion that all students receive adequate cognitive challenges for face-value, this sets a dangerous precedent that any students at these schools without such Advanced Placement classes do not deserve the challenges afforded by the gifted program.

I would like to draw attention to Governor Haslam’s 2018 State of the State address, in which he praised the state for high graduation rate, and the largest advancements in the country. Governor Haslam continues to express his prospects for the future: “I want Tennessee to lead the nation in … education … I don’t just want us to compete; I want us to be the best.” The State of Tennessee cannot expect to continue grow exponentially if our auspicious, progressive programs are abandoned. We will only flounder and remain stagnant in our ever-increasing progress. 

It is for the above reasons I stand as a student of the Hamilton County Public School system, student of the gifted program, and President of the Student Body of Lookout Valley High School to formally denounce the consideration of the abolishment of the gifted programs of Hamilton County.

Lucas Wright 

* * * 

Dear Mr. Adams, 

My name is Ja'Toria Powell and I attend East Ridge Middle School as an 8th grader. I have heard of how gifted education is at risk once again. It saddens me to hear that my fight for the gifted program is not over. It seems like every year there is a new challenge.  

Just last year, I heard about President Trump's proposal to cut the gifted program completely. In response to hearing this news, I wrote to both of my senators expressing how I felt about the gifted program being cut and hoping that they wouldn't vote for the newly proposed budget. I was very disappointed that I only received a response back from only one out of two of our senators. I was more disappointed when I realized the letter he sent was very condescending and he made it seem like it wasn't his problem. That just sent me the message that my future wasn't in his best interest. I just hope that this time around things will be different. 

The gifted program has been a big part of my life that has encouraged me to grow to my full potential and beyond. It has opened my eyes to many societal issues that affected many religions and races. It has taught me how to think outside of the box and be open to many different ideas other than my own. Gifted education has not only challenged me but helped me create new bonds with like-minded peers. Because of this, I have grown a new passion to protect what has made me better as a  person not only for myself but mainly for the unidentified students that deserve the same privilege I have. 

Gifted education is not a program that is to help the intellectually advanced be better than everyone else. It is a program that helps these students continue to be challenged. I am thankful for the teachers I have in my regular classroom setting for they have helped me learn what I needed for the end-of-the-year test. However, that is also the problem. They have to spend so much time worrying about teaching everything in the state standards that students are deprived of learning other skills. Not only that but the students that need a challenge are often forgotten. When it comes to helping students, teachers spend more time with the students that fall behind because they don't understand. That is totally understandable, but teachers still need to remember that just giving a student a packet because they are done doesn't always benefit them because it is "extra practice." 

Since I am in 8th grade this affects me directly in the next school year coming up. When I attend my first year in high school I want to continue to be challenged so I can grow. Having gifted education in my life is going to be important when I go to 9th grade. I am currently zoned to go to East Ridge High School. If there is no gifted program at ERHS, then my future is at risk. At East Ridge High School there are currently no AP or IB courses. That already tells me that I definitely won't be challenged without gifted enrichment. With this information, I am only left with the gifted program to help me in the following years till I graduate. 

In conclusion, I believe that gifted education should not be cut. Those students need a teacher to help them in the way that a regular classroom teacher cannot. These students need to continue to be challenged because if not they can't grow to their fullest potential. I know that when I attend high school, wherever that may be, I am going to need the guidance of my new gifted teacher. I know that when I become a senior I am going to want the help of my gifted teacher when it comes to college applications. Don't take away gifted education at all, but especially don't start at the level where they need it the most. 

Ja'Toria Powell

 


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