Advocacy seems to be happening year-round. We had our Washington State Gifted Education Day at the State Capitol in January. I was invited to NAGC’s Advocacy Conference in the other Washington in March – my introduction to advocacy at the national level. In June I met with aides to my U.S. senators, and also met with my local state representatives. In September I met with a couple of other influential state legislators. This past week I received invitations to the 2019 NAGC Advocacy Conference and Washington’s Gifted Ed Day – and a draft of a new bill for Washington State. ‘Round and ‘round we go! It made me wonder where it all started.
There were hints of when my first child entered preschool that turned out to be “not a good fit.” Then, while she was in a Montessori kindergarten, I started doing research on finding the right schools for K-12. But the real beginning was some years later when I was teaching second grade. An administrator for our gifted program asked me to be on an Advisory Committee that included teachers and parents. The district had over 20,000 students with a robust Pull Out program one day per week for our gifted children. But there was a feeling that there were some children who needed services more that one day per week.
We began by looking at research on program services as well as relevant scholarly articles. From there we began to visit different service models, not only in our state, but also in nearby Oregon. I remember looking at Renzulli’s Triad Enrichment model, at schools with Individual Education (IEP) Plans, schools with cluster grouping, and a school with a full time program in a magnet school. After looking at these and more, we decided to advocate for adding a full time magnet program. The administrator took this to her boss and it went up the chain of command. What came back down to us was “no.” So we delved into logistics, costs, busing, etc. We asked again – and again, “no.” We expanded the size of the committee, went back to the research, wrote formal proposals with citations and sent it back. “No.” By this time, we had been at it for over four years! One teacher among us was working on her administrative credentials. It required a practical project in the district. The administrator she was working with – the same one who headed our committee – asked her to do her project by putting this all together in a formal proposal, bringing a handful of parents, and presenting it to the district’s Board of Directors. And when the word came to the rest of us on the Advisory, it was, “yes!” Five years is what it took – plus one school board meeting.
Here’s what I’ve learned about advocating for gifted children.
- Work as a team.Parents working on their own for their own children will get branded as one of “those” parents. Hostility towards parents was documented as early as 1972 in the Marland Report to the U.S. Congress. Individual parents worry about retaliation against their student. Have others on your team – administrator, teacher, and other community/business persons.
- Do your homework.Know exactly what you are asking for and know why. Be ready to spout the facts and figures.
- Don’t give up. Making real change can take years, perhaps decades. While it may start with your child, advocacy can impact a school, district, state or generation of children.
- Have the courageto go to the top of the chain of command. What you will find there is just a person or a group of them.
A group of fellow advocates was at a meeting at the state capitol with the administrator for “highly capable” programs this past spring when I lamented that parents need to be going to their local school boards. There were six of us around the table – and two of them were former school board members. They both hooted at this. I said, “What’s so funny?” They said – both of them – any time there was even a hint of changing or losing some athletic program, the boardroom was filledwith parents. But schools and districts have bullied parents of gifted children. Fearing repercussions against their kids, they don’t band together – and they don’t show up at board meetings to advocate for programs to serve their gifted children.