Saturday, May 18, 2013

Public High School Survival Guide for gifted students

How can gifted adolescents get the most out of public high school? What does it take to create an inviting, supportive learning environment? Can a highly gifted student survive public school and feel confident, happy and socially engaged?

Most public schools scramble to meet the educational needs of gifted children (see link for an example of necessary educational goals). What also must be considered is the social milieu and if it will foster confident and well-adjusted students, or suppress and inhibit their drive to learn. Can a public high school offer the enrichment, variety of experiences, and enough like-minded peers to provide a safe haven for gifted adolescents? Will they be able to assert their differences, embrace their love of learning, and express their talents, or instead, feel misunderstood, isolated, belittled or bullied? Some gifted teens downplay their talents to fit in, feel guilty when they succeed without exerting much effort, and avoid situations where their accomplishments are recognized. Many strategically weigh the choice between academic enrichment and social success, and believe that one must be sacrificed to achieve the other.

Not all gifted adolescents have difficulty in public school, however. And private education is not always the answer, even when financially possible (see link). Public school can offer a variety of academic and extracurricular options sometimes unavailable at private schools. Here are some tips to help gifted teens improve their high school experience:

1. Take as many challenging classes and extra-curricular opportunities as possible. The more you challenge yourself, the more you will feel stimulated, interested in learning, and engaged with peers who share the same interests.
2  Find a peer group with similar values and interests. Look for like-minded peers who share the same passions. Gifted adolescents may be independent, but thrive when they feel connected to friends who accept and understand them. Extra-curricular activities can be a great place to find students with similar interests. Some examples include: film club, theatre, the debate team, chess club, robotics team, or volunteering for a meaningful political cause.

3.  Find a mentor. See if you can connect with a teacher, coach, or gifted education teacher who is supportive and someone you respect and trust. Often teachers may know of other students who have similar interests, can start a new club or activity, or provide guidance when social interactions go awry.

4.  Find a safe haven. Look for a club, activities room (e.g., art studio, computer lab), or a teacher’s classroom where you feel comfortable and accepted. It may be easier to face the rest of the day knowing that there is at least one place where you can relax and be yourself.

5.  Take risks. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone, accelerate or take a college class if possible, try a difficult extra-curricular or sport, go to school social events, or start a charitable organization. Holding back may mean playing it safe, but often results in boredom, apathy, and hesitation to try new challenges in the future.

Despite its larger size and the inevitable rules and regulations, public schools can offer a wealth of resources, a vast array of extracurricular opportunities, and a niche where most gifted teens can find a home. It just may take some time to hit your stride. Take some risks, ask for support when needed, and get involved!


  1. I nominated you for a Liebster Award. Great blogging!

  2. Barbara,

    Thanks so much! I am really flattered! Very much appreciate your support.


  3. We are concerned about our son going into high in the Fall, as he has not done well with middle school. We are hoping that he will adjust to high school, and that the students will be more accepting of gifted students.