By Tiombe Bisa-Kendrick.
While recently conversing with a Black male high school student, I was in total awe of his presence. During our short time together, it did not take my clinical skills long to pick up on his high intellectual ability. I thought to myself, this student has to be gifted! When I jokingly inquired about his being a gifted student, he informed me that he chose to stop attending gifted classes some years ago. As our conversation continued, I wondered to myself why he had initially dropped out of school. You see, although this student was fully capable of graduating from a traditional high school, he consciously chose to drop out. Fortunately, he attends school in a district that offers programs that allow students to finish high school at an accelerated rate. I was glad he made the decision to return to the alternative high school but listened in total shock as he described in vivid details how his “gifts” introduced him to what seemed to be a life full of chronic pain. Although he appeared motivated to obtain his high school diploma, he appeared less optimistic about his future following high school. He passionately shared how he felt the rules of the world were made to be challenged, and how, from the time he was a young boy, various members of his family had challenged his intelligence and his different way of viewing the world. The young man verbalized that he enjoys playing music and hopes he could spend his life pursuing this dream. As I shared with him the types of guidance and experiences that many budding musicians benefit from, he seemed puzzled. With sadness in his voice, he told me he never has had anyone to mentor him. Then he turned toward me and said it was nice talking to me, and he went back to class.
On another occasion, I came across a beautiful Hispanic female student attending an alternative high school. When she told me her story, I was at a complete loss for words. Again, my clinical skills whispered to me: she is one of the millions of unidentified gifted minority students I have read about in so many publications. With only a few credits needed to graduate, she decided to drop out of school due to frustrations related to school personnel and life in general. Fortunately, like the young man mentioned above, she chose to return to school (almost two years later). During an interview with her, she informed me that she aspires to become a professional in a particularly challenging field. Although she clearly seemed to possess the academic and intellectual skills to pursue her professional dreams, she lacked the next most important thing, guidance. I took the time and spoke with her and her mother for a couple of hours about the important things she needed to be successful in the profession she planned to pursue. As I spoke with one of my colleagues later, I informed her that it would have been a shame to lose a student like this in our society, and the sad thing is, we almost did!
As I reflect about these two different students from two very different backgrounds, their lives also share many similarities. Both of these students have much to offer to society, and they are clearly motivated to do so. Both students clearly are gifted and possess the potential to make their professional dreams a reality. Sadly, to date, both students have not received the mentoring and/or guidance in their lives that is so critical for the development of gifted students. As a society, we cannot afford to continue ignoring the social and emotional needs of gifted students, especially those from culturally diverse backgrounds! Both of these students reminded me of how tough and unloving our society can act towards gifted students from culturally diverse backgrounds. They both reminded me how lonely our society can feel to gifted individuals from minority backgrounds. Most important, these students reminded me about the vital need to advocate for these students, as their very lives may depend on it!
SENG Director Tiombe Kendrick, SSP, NCSP, is a nationally certified school psychologist and is licensed to practice school psychology in the state of Florida. She has been employed with the Miami-Dade County Public School District as a school psychologist since 2005. Ms. Kendrick has a very strong passion for addressing the needs of gifted students from culturally and linguistically diverse populations and has been instrumental in significantly increasing the numbers of culturally diverse students participating in the Gifted Program at her schools. She has presented at numerous professional conventions on the topic of gifted children.