Mathematicians tell us that a triangle forms a very stable stable shape, so engineers design structures using three-sided elements to hold heavy loads. In mathematics, three points describe a plane and this plane, when placed on three legs, becomes a platform that is very stable – even on a surface that isn’t completely level. Photographers and surveyors use such a device to mount their tools. Likewise, a three-legged stool provides a firm foundation for those who need it.
There are populations of people whose well-being rests on a metaphorical three-legged stool. Without a voice or power of their own, if all three legs are strong, they can prosper. Just as I was at the end of taking care of a mother with Alzheimer’s Disease, I was part of a district- wide committee in a large school district advocating for programming for gifted students. For five years we had been reading research, visiting districts that had such programs, and bringing this to district decision-makers. When we finally got approval, I became a teacher in the pilot program offering full time, self-contained classrooms for young gifted children. It was there that I began to think about similarities in terms of powerlessness between the populations of gifted children – those children largely ignored by education policies including the federal “No Child Left Behind” – and adults suffering slow decline from a dementing illness. This was over twenty years ago, and since then, I have been involved in working toward the well being of these populations. So what are the three legs needed for their support? Quite simply they are advocates who speak for them, caring and informed families, and relevant professionals.
My focus on gifted children lead me over time to work with three different organizations in Washington State that have interest in supporting gifted children. Much like in the school district work, their progress has been painfully slow. Northwest Gifted Child Association (NWGCA) began in 1963 as a support group for parents helping them understand the nature of giftedness and advocacy in schools. I joined this organization when my youngest daughter was in first grade. The school wanted to grade-accelerate her – and I didn’t know if that was best for her.
The Washington Association for Educators of Talented and Gifted (WAETAG) started as a professional organization twenty-one years later in 1984 as an affiliate of the National Association for Gifted Children. I joined WAETAG in 1995 at their annual conference – the year I was piloting a full time classroom for gifted children.
Because state law prohibits educators from advocating outright on legislative issues regarding education using school time, materials, and equipment, The Washington Coalition for Gifted Education (WCGE), a separate advocacy and lobbying organization, was formed in 1985. Our state legislature had allotted a small sum for the education of gifted children. For decades, around half the districts in the state’s 322 districts opted not to access these funds because they didn’t pay for the grant requirements attached to them. I became involved in the Coalition – on my own time and dime – when I was a program administrator in my district and a board member of WAETAG. In 2009 the state legislature decreed that “programs for highly capable children were part of their basic education.” Still, it was 2017 when the legislature adjusted the funding to any significant degree and also added language mandating that districts put practices in place to ensure equity in identifying underserved gifted children. This was a significant shift in momentum. The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) took note and has been partnering with leaders in Washington State to build on this momentum, greatly strengthening the advocacy leg of our stool. We are asking for more from the legislature: universal screening, mandatory professional development and monitoring from our state agency. Our state PTA and others have also joined us. The question is:
What caused the momentum?
The three organizations supporting gifted children in Washington, while affiliated with one another from the start, began to work more closely together. The support or stool for Washington’s gifted children is so much more powerful when the “legs” are tightly connected and work in synchrony. It is the synergy of the organizations that sparked the momentum.
The play between and among all these interests me. We need active parents who are informed, passionate advocates who can press for resources, and schools who deliver. Our national association understands this and offers the three components, but we need this at ground level in all states.
This blog will dance between the classroom, the parents, and the larger world – and always with an eye to that child who must rely on a three-legged stool.