gifted students

Are gifted students now an underserved population?

With the federal focus on bringing all students to minimum proficiency, high achievers might not get the challenges they need. Here’s one way to change that.

Q: How is Pioneer’s one-on-one mentoring helping gifted students?

A: Gifted students can vary significantly in their gifted aptitude. A student who is gifted in math may not be exceptional in literature. Small group or one-on-one faculty mentoring allows their potential and curiosity to be tapped in the most profound and customized way. In the past term, I recall one outstanding student was admitted to the Pioneer Research Program. This student completed his research well, despite suffering from mild dyslexia. The one-on-one session with the professor and Pioneer’s academic support helped the student develop selective reading skills based on the characteristic that he reads slowly but perceives remarkably when focused on his interest and area of competence.

Although they are working directly and closely with professors, Pioneer students work more independently than when they take traditional courses. They need to come up with their own thesis, read with their own focus, and challenge authors’ assumption with their own judgment. Therefore, such an independent study strengthens gifted students’ belief in themselves.

Tyler Bennett, a 17-year-old from Brooklyn, who recently was admitted to Princeton, said that the one-on-one mentoring she got from a Pomona College professor while researching comparisons between Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Tony Morrison’s The Bluest Eye “has made me a better writer. It has built up my confidence to the point that I now believe in my abilities and feel that I deserve to attend a premier university with the highest academic standards.”

Research also broadens students’ view of the world. Esther Reyes is bound for Yale after finishing conducting research about the challenges Muslims face in a modern France. “I wanted to learn more about Muslim women and, more specifically, about the issue of Muslims in Europe, the rise of terrorist groups, and populism in general,” she says. “I feel that there are some similarities between my own Mexican heritage and those who identify as Muslims. In my writing and discussions, I want to talk not only about what it means to be a Mexican, but also what it means to be from all different cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds.”

Q: How would you summarize the benefits of this approach?

A: Top colleges are always looking for students who have gone beyond the scholastic or extracurricular options that are offered to them. But many talented students, whether for reasons of personal background or high school environment, need both the encouragement to set their sights higher and at least some preliminary guidance on how to execute on that bigger vision.

There are millions of gifted students like Esther and Tyler in America’s public and private schools, and I believe they deserve support in identifying their interests and finding the best way to pursue those interests, whether through online opportunities, dedicated programs for gifted students, or collaboration with local college partners. Only by challenging them to delve deeply, and not simply assigning them more of the same sort of work, will we discover just how much they can achieve.

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