yourself in seventh grade, listening to your teacher drone on
about pre-algebra and wondering when you’ll get to the interesting
stuff—like the calculus problems you did last night. If you consider
that scenario plausible, then you understand the rationale behind
the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth (CTY),
which gives gifted young students the opportunity to learn at
their own level in an academic summer program.
people were shocked that I wanted to go,” said Gila Stadler, who
participated in CTY for five years. “School in the summer? Why
would you want to do that?” Of course, the answer was obvious
to Stadler and her CTY peers. Students who enter the program are
characterized by a strong desire to learn as well as exceptionally
high intelligence, and CTY allows them to study things they cannot
learn in school.
Johns Hopkins University conducts talent searches to find children
who might benefit from their program. Seventh or eighth graders
who score at the 97th percentile on a national standardized
test can apply to enter the Talent Search and take the SAT (Standard
Assessment Test), which is geared toward students graduating high
school. Depending on their SAT scores, certain children are eligible
for CTY’s three-week summer programs.
The programs are held on college campuses around the country,
where students sleep in the residence halls, eat in the cafeterias,
and spend six hours a day learning in the classrooms. Each student
chooses one math, science, writing or humanities class, covering
the equivalent of one college semester. Teachers often use creative,
hands-on teaching methods; Stadler fondly remembers investigating
a fake murder case in her genetics class, imitating the evolving
beaks of Galapagos Island finches with her fingers to discover
what shape “seeds” she could best pick up with each configuration,
and the time the environmental science class held a protest outside
the model UN. Rather than grading, teachers evaluate every student
Meanwhile, the children engage in two camp-like activities of
their choice each day and have dances, color war, Olympics and
Capture the Flag games on weekends. They also learn about other
cultures, since CTY students span a variety of backgrounds and
ethnicities. “People tend to go there with open minds because
they want to learn and that extends to learning about the other
people who are there,” explained Stadler.
And people who worry that programs like CTY might isolate gifted
children and make them self-conscious about their intellectual
abilities can lay their fears to rest. Many students react with
relief and exit the program feeling far less alone. “In school
I’d always been Gila the walking dictionary, Gila the walking
encyclopedia,” Stadler recalled, “and there I was normal.” A sense
of belonging combined with the stimulation their minds require
may be the greatest gift these children can receive.
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