Children of Neglect: The Hispanic Gifted

IN the last few years the special problems of gifted and talented children have received national attention, if not more funding, through educational organizations, research groups and public-awareness programs. But within that category of children those from minority groups, especially those of Hispanic origin, have received, in the words of Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, a “raw deal” in the nation’s schools. Worse, according to Mr. Bell, the Federal Government “is not doing anything of significance about it.”

A scattering of local school districts like Miami’s have begun to deal with the problem. Probably the largest of the programs has been carried on with Federal support for the last three years in a demonstration project in Community School District 4 in New York City’s East Harlem. The project, headed by Sonta Gulardo, director of the district’s bilingual education program, involves a total of 200 children at two schools: 125 of them at Public School 155, starting with kindergarten, and 75 at Rafael Cordero Junior High School.

In her early days as a bilingual educator, Miss Gulardo recalls, bright Hispanic children were awarded scholarships to expensive boarding schools far from their own neighborhoods. “After a few months,” she said, “they’d be right back home; and I realized then that a program for gifted Hispanic children must include not only a strong academic program but the support mechanisms that kids need to bridge two different cultures.”

District 4 decided to “experiment with new methods for finding these children and design new educational models to help them achieve their potential,” Miss Gulardo said. These include an unusual process of pupil selection in which anyone may participate.

“Regular class teachers may nominate a student, parents may nominate, other children in the class may nominate a peer as gifted, and the child may nominate her or himself for the program, “Miss Gulardo said. Nomination involves completing a questionnaire; the final selection is made by examining a compilation of the nominations for a given child. There is no formal testing required for admittace into the program, but Miss Gulardo and her staff take into consideration reading scores in both Spanish and English.

Before the existence of the District 4 program, traditional measures of academic talent, such as I.Q. and standard achievement test scores, were used exclusively, instead of including other less language- and culture-oriented tests. As a result, a “Spanish-dominant” gifted child, whose primary means of written and spoken expression is Spanish, would not be considered gifted and therefore would not be selected for such a program.

Each of the participating schools in District 4, which will assume the full costs of the program starting in September, sets aside a room that contains materials and resources that students can use for projects and for career guidance as well as materials for teacher- and parent-training programs.

The children spend two-hour blocks of time in these resource rooms three times a week, generally working on research projects on such subjects as the environment, creative writing, science and mathematics. The students, Miss Gulardo said, usually complete four or five such projects in a semester. During these periods they discuss their projects with the resource teachers, who speak Spanish as well as English, and both student and teacher keep a log of the student’s progress.

As an example of the work being done, Miss Gulardo cited one child who built on a unit on chemical compounds presented by his regular classroom teacher at the junior high school to carry out a research project on the poisoned-Tylenol case and the drug company’s response in terms of product safety. The regular classroom teacher is also actively involved in such projects, Miss Gulardo said.

THOUGH most programs for gifted and talented students require that the children spend the entire school day in a special class with only other gifted children, District 4’s is different. “Gifted students are students like everyone else,” Miss Gulardo said, and “they have to learn to deal with all sorts of people.” The children in the program are also grouped without regard to their ages.

As part of a signed agreement required from both the student and the parents prior to participation in the program, Miss Gulardo and her staff require that parents participate in school and community activities that are designed to nurture their children’s talents. “Contrary to the popular stereotype of the Hispanic family,” Miss Gulardo said, “these parents are often very bright themselves but never had the opportunity to excel.”

The program has been adapted by several other cities in the nationa, including Houston, in an attempt to meet the needs not only of Hispanic children but of other gifted and talented minority children as well. One of its prime attractions, Miss Gulardo said, is that it is community-based, thus enabling the child to demonstrate his gifts in the neighborhood.

Dr. Ernest Bernal, president of Creative Educational Enterprises, an Austin, Tex., company that evaluates programs for gifted and talented bilingual children, believes that being gifted is an acquired trait. “It is not mere potential,” he said. “If that’s all it were then all we would need to do is just administer I.Q. tests. Yet, the general public views giftedness as mental gymnastics.”

Miss Gulardo agrees that the stereotypes affect the public’s perceptions of giftedness in general and the special achievements of Hispanic students in particular. “Some people still feel that the horizons for Hispanic kids are limited to street life and gangs,” she said, “so it is difficult to let the world know that we have bright, competent people right here.”

Information about programs for the gifted and talented children, including those who are members of minority groups, can be obtained from the following organizations: American Association for Gifted Children, 15 Gramercy Park, New York, N.Y. 10003; Council for Exceptional Children, Division for Gifted and Talented, 1920 Association Drive, Reston, Va. 22091; Northwest Clearing House for Gifted Education, 1410 South 200 Street, Seattle, Wash. 98148, and Gifted Children Newsletter, P.O. Box 115, Sewell, N.J. 08080.

Barbara Aiello is the originator of Kids on the Block, a program using handicapped puppets.

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