Gifted Education & Neurodiversity
When used colloquially, "gifted" usually just means "really smart," but gifted children have unique learning and social needs that can be hard for a more traditional learning environment to provide. Massachusetts also does not require public schools to fund gifted programs, and only a few exist throughout the state. The result is that gifted students are either ignored by the administration, or "skip" grades: a solution which is rarely appropriate for the child socially, and which most other states have moved away from. Some very common issues for gifted children include:
Being bored in a normally-paced classroom. This not only makes them actively dislike school and learning, but it can also result in behavior problems, bullying, and inappropriate assignments from well-meaning teachers.
Interests and abilities often don't align with those of their classroom peers, creating social issues which can to loneliness and bullying.
The tendency to "float through" school with minimal effort. This works, until it suddenly doesn't. A student who is used to the work coming easily, and to impressing teachers and passing tests without putting in any effort, will eventually find themselves in a high school or college class that they find genuinely challenging. Not only is difficult for them to find the support to learn study and organizational skills that other students learned years earlier, it can be a very serious mental and emotional blow to someone who has always assumed that their intelligence means that school is easy.
Asynchronous intellectual development: most students who are gifted are not equally gifted in all academic subjects. Intellectual giftedness also does not necessarily mean advanced emotional or social maturity. A gifted thirteen year old might be ready for 10th grade Algebra, but is unlikely to have the developmental maturity for or interest in the selections of your average 10th grade English literature class: and most certainly doesn't belong in the 10th grade gym class.
Gifted children are also significantly more likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability, such as ADD or ADHD, dyslexia, processing disorders, Autism Spectrum disorder, and physical and emotional disorders. Such children are often called "twice exceptional" (or 2e) because their education must be tailored to their individual needs. Traditional schools very rarely know how to handle such students.
The Athenaeum Learning Center is not specifically a school for gifted children, but quite a few gifted children have found a positive learning environment here. Our instructors are capable of teaching at a very high level, and can provide our students with work designed to challenge them. Our multi-age classrooms and ample free recess time allows true friendship to develop between students of different ages, based on their interests: families have told us that this is the first time in their child's life that they've had intellectual peers. As students get older, we work with them to develop stronger study and executive functioning skills.
Students are assigned a grade based on their age, but take academic classes with ability-and-interest-based peer groups. This normalizes asymmetrical academic development, and allows students to always be working at a level that challenges them.
We are exploring the opportunity of starting a small program, with 3-5 elementary-aged students and specialist instructors, to appropriately educate students with dyslexia. We have had several requests for such a service, and our philosophy, schedule, and teaching styles seem to be an ideal fit for such a program. In our elementary classroom, hands-on, project-based "elective" classes run all day, while our full-time students are pulled out for 30-45 minute level-based classes in ELA, math, foreign language, and social studies. In the afternoons, all students participate in group-based project work, based around daily themes. Students who need one on one instruction from a trained and licensed specialist would follow the same schedule, giving them the individualized instruction they need, as well as the social and academic opportunities of the larger program.
If you are interested in this program, please contact us as soon as possible. We are looking to hire an Orton Gillingham-trained specialist, as well as a speech and language specialist. There would be extra fees to cover the cost of these instructors. We are also looking for individuals or grants that might help us cover some of the costs of this program, and financial aid for families who are unable to pay tuition out of pocket. This is a much-needed program on the South Shore, and no child should be restricted from it because of inability to pay.
ADHD, Behavioral, and Anxiety Disorders
Although we are not specifically trained to handle or provide services for students with any sort of diagnosis, our small class sizes and generally calm atmosphere have worked out well for students with mild special needs. Please note that we are a private school, and are therefore not required to follow IEPs or 401B plans: however, we work with every parent to figure out the best strategies for teaching their students.
We have found that quite a few of our students come to us with moderate to severe anxiety. Most of these students are homeschoolers who were pulled out of terrible school situations, where they were being relentlessly bullied by other students and even by teachers. The idea of returning to a classroom full of other children is overwhelming. We work with the parent and the child to make sure that the child feels safe and comfortable here. Often, a child who is extremely anxious about attending a new school will not start their academic classes until both their family and our teachers agree that they're ready. We must clarify that we are not trained or licensed in any form of child psychology, and we do not offer any sort of therapy or intervention. We do, however, offer a small school with some really nice kids, teachers who are understanding of the fact that every child has different needs, and a schedule and philosophy that allows students to find their niche.
Speech, Occupational, and Other Private Therapies
Some private speech and occupational therapists will come work with a child during their school day. Please speak to us, and to your child's therapist, about whether this is an option for your child.