Cutting gifted programs hurts us all

If the changes that won unanimous Board of If the changes that won unanimous Board of Regents approval Monday, Oct. 20, 2014, win final approval from the Regents in January as scheduled, they would first take effect with teenagers who entered ninth grade in 2011 and are due to graduate in June 2015. Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

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Mike Vogel Mike Vogel

Mike Vogel grew up in Brooklyn and is a lifetime New Yorker. (He taught in the NYC Public ...

One of my best memories of teaching is when I had the gifted class. These weren't a bunch of elitist kids -- far from it. I taught in East New York in the 1980s, and my class was 95 percent children of color, from poor to working-class backgrounds.

I thought back on that class when I read about a Brooklyn school cutting its gifted program. The principal of PS 139 in Ditmas Park informed parents that its Students of Academic Rigor program would stop accepting applications for kindergarten classes, which would be "heterogeneously grouped to reflect the diversity of our students." In other words, the gifted program was being phased out.

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What made my students shine? The common themes were smaller families and parents who read to them and showed up on open-school night -- in short, parents who valued education.

There's no indication that similar programs are at risk, which is good because they help bright kids maximize their potential. The city's gifted programs and schools have turned out scores of scientists, including Bronx-born astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and national leaders such as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who was selected for a similar gifted program when he was a fourth-grade public school student in Queens. Shouldn't today's gifted students be similarly nurtured?

Mayor Bill de Blasio's son attends Brooklyn Tech, one of the city's elite public high schools. If it were to close, the de Blasios could afford to send him to a good private school or hire tutors for him. Low-income parents can do neither.

I've seen too many gifted children become inattentive or develop behavior problems out of boredom, when their intellects aren't challenged. There aren't enough gifted programs in the city for the children who deserve them, and that's not only their loss, but ours.

Everyone should be given equal opportunity, and extending pre-K programs enhances that noble battle. But the key word is opportunity. The notion that "we are all equal" and "everyone is gifted" serves neither our children nor the community at large.

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As John F. Kennedy put it, "All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents."

Let's not take that away from anyone -- including our gifted.

Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.

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