Little Weed has been in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Gifted Program for elementary school for a couple of years now. Overall it has been a great experience, though not without the occasional bumps on the road. I thought I’d write down some of my impressions, from one who is in the middle of the journey, to those who may be thinking about starting the journey.
The TDSB educational experience in elementary school is one of a “one size fits all” style. Depending on where you live, this is the school you get. Here in Scarborough our house is very near one of the TDSB’s worst 10 elementary schools for EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) scores. The school has a highly transient, predominantly Chinese, East Indian and Jamaican population. While the Jamaican accent was in the neighbourhood when we moved here, the Chinese and Indian ones occurred after.
If your Grade 3 Teacher Does Believe your Kid is Special Enough, They will not have your Kid Tested for Gifted: This happened to us. Be it laziness or their own professional opinion, Little Weed’s Grade 3 teacher was very non-committal to recommend him for Gifted. If she does not agree, there is not a whole lot you can do about it. We asked a couple of times and she refused. It was only when he went to Grade 4 that his teacher immediately enrolled him for the Gifted test, even before asking for permission from us. We thought this was great. Little Weed scored in the 96 percentile in the test, putting him clearly in the category.
Our local school is considered an inner city school. With a transient population and many families that are at risk, the EQAO scores are fitting. That said, the neighbourhood is predominantly single family houses in a sleepy neighbourhood, along with public housing which includes one 20 story apartment and 50 townhouses. This contrast can also be seen in the school’s student population.
Our local school had a very bad bullying problem. Many of the kids had anger issues and they took out their anger on other kids. TDSB Remedial measures include sending the kids to the office, where they could swear and insult passers by, which included parents. It was a shock to me to be racially insulted by these kids on my way to the school office. It does not take long to understand that along with the lack of control and respect in the school, the unchecked bullying and anger problem, this was not a school that you recommend to good neighbours.
Why the low EQAO Scores at our Local school: Yes, it is true that you should not judge a school by their EQAO scores alone, but really, there is no other measure to use. Transient families from foreign countries, in my neighbourhood especially from China, contributes to vey low EQAO scores. The test is written in English and often tests reading comprehension, even in the math section. If your mother tongue is not English you are at a distinct disadvantage. These kids from China, while they are very sharp in math and science, will not do well if given a mathematical word problem, and are marked on the grammar and clarity of their written answer. unfair it is, but this is how it is.
Little Weed felt bored in his local elementary school, and started to get into trouble in his class. The bullying continued, seemingly out of control. The Gifted program allowed him to move schools and remove him from this terrible learning environment. His new school, only 2 km away, seemed like a completely new country. Yet there were still cases of bullying, because the school had Gifted and regular classes in the same school, and some of the regular kids were bullies. The cases, however, were far fewer. He did better in school, had a more enthusiastic attitude and was overall happier for the move. There was never any regret from him or us, about the move.
The Gifted Test: These tests are not content-based tests but more psychological tests. Little Weed thought they were a little odd, but there were no right or wrong answers. He did not suffer from any nervousness or any other anxiety.
During the summer I would hang out at the local park and many Chinese families would ask me about the Gifted Program and the testing procedure. They were eager to move their kids away from our local school and its toxic environment. Apart from Gifted, there was the choice of French immersion, Catholic school, private elementary school, or to move to a different neighbourhood. Many families solved the problem by moving away after the Kindergarten years. While the local school is convenient, sending your kid to a school with the lowest standard of education is not something most parents would choose.
Once finished Gifted elementary school the kids move on to a gifted class in a junior high school. Again, in the school the Gifted and regular classes are right beside each other, so during recess and lunch they do interact. There is no real elitism in the school. There are still the usual problems in the school as, gifted or not, kids are still kids.
Are Gifted Kids Smarter? As I am a parent it is very difficult to say. Little Weed says that, yes, in general, Gifted kids are smarter than the regular kids, but there are some really smart kids in the regular class and there are some average kids in the Gifted class. Again, the segregation between the kids is not so clear. For sure the Gifted kids, while they do the same curriculum as the regular kids, do more and at a faster pace. Still, the material to be learned is the same throughout the province of Ontario. Gifted kids do not learn extra Gifted material.
In his Gifted class Little Weed is more among his peers than he would be at his local school. There is a little bit more travel involved every day, but this is worthwhile. He still likes school. The Gifted program has made a significant improvement for Little Weed’s early education. Overall, I would say that this program is a success.