GATE Kids, Gifted or Cursed?

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It rarely comes as a surprise when your child is chosen to participate in their school's GATE program. Most parents jump at the chance. Who wouldn't? It seems like an honor. But that whole request for permission makes some parents ask what GATE is, and whether or not they really should be labeling their kid.

GATE stands for Gifted And Talented Education. It's intended to enrich your child's daily education so that they find school more enjoyable, and are offered opportunities to challenge themselves. The Gifted and Talented program offers exceptional opportunities for an exceptional child.

There are some parents who choose not to allow their child to participate. These parents are concerned about the stigma associated with a label, even a positive one. They might be concerned about bullying, or about their child's social development. They may also be concerned that GATE activities would interfere with their child's daily schoolwork.

Most, however, consider it an honor and a bragging point. The GATE kid is the one you won't have to worry about. They can bring in straight A's, stay on honor roll and get a free ride to college, as long as they apply themselves. If they're struggling, it's the kid's fault. You already know they're gifted, right? It turns out that there is a flip side to every coin.

Pitfall

The more the child struggles, and feels critiqued for their struggles, the more frustrated they get. Some just give up. After all, it's better to get in trouble for not doing any homework at all than it is to get harassed over a low grade. It's even worse to face your parents with a low grade when you're used to getting an easy A. It doesn't matter if the parent is critical or understanding, the GATE kid can take their own disappointment and reflect it into an anticipated reaction from their parent. Their gifted minds can play out a dozen scenarios where they are criticized and condemned. To save face, they avoid homework and shrug their shoulders. They withdraw and answer questions with a sullen "I don't know."

What's so great about GATE kids?

Gifted kids simply do better in early elementary school when it comes to academics. They often excel in reading or math. They might be in the top spelling group, or whizzes at various math games. By third grade, school work tends to start getting tougher. Teachers begin to take the basic foundation kids already have (how to read, how to add) and add new concepts. The gifted kids are finally challenged.

For some, this is a good thing. Gifted and Talented individuals often have a quick brain that is wired slightly differently than 'average'. They think outside the box and appreciate the opportunity to use their reasoning skills for something school related. These are the GATE kids that end up winning competitions, who join after school math leagues, debate teams and engineering competitions. Straight A's are expected by teachers, and often these kids don't even seem to work for the grade. Homework is almost boring to them.

However, for the majority of 'gifted' kids, their talents are not broad spectrum. Although it is anticipated that a 'smart' gifted child is able to 'do the work'; often their strengths are in one general direction. A child who is gifted in literature might struggle in math. Likewise, a child gifted with mathematical prowess might have trouble analyzing poetry. One significant problem with the label of GATE is that adults assume a struggling child is simply not trying hard enough.

By middle school or high school, GATE kids are no longer able to adapt or hide their struggles. Most are able to do passably well in their 'lower level' subjects, but without help they aren't able to reach their full potential. This is frustrating for them because they know they are missing something and it's frustrating to parents who don't understand why the child won't work harder.


The term 'learning disability' leads people to believe that there's something wrong with an individual. The real problem with so called learning disabilities comes with societal expectations. The only reason kids need a label is to guarantee them the right to alternate tools. Not all kids learn the same way. Those who learn differently, who need individual learning tools in order to succeed, are labeled as 'learning disabled'. Gifted kids already learn differently. If their differences require additional support, it's considered a learning disability.

Since a GATE kid's brain is wired slightly differently than the average grade schooler's, it's not surprising to learn that gifted kids frequently also struggle with some form of learning disability. Dyslexia, Attention Deficit (and Hyperactivity) Disorder, Sensory Integration or various processing disorders. All of them can coexist with a Gifted diagnosis.

The gifted child has more resources than an 'average' child to overcome their so called disabilities. They can learn, and often excel in certain subjects. This leads teachers to assume that anywhere they start to slip behind means the child isn't 'applying' themselves. The truth usually is that they don't know how to apply themselves to the task at hand.

If your child is identified for the Gifted and Talented program, but you aren't sure if you want them labeled or singled out, ask the teachers for more information about the program and find out if they can pass your contact information on to another GATE parent. Obviously, you don't want to look like you're bragging, and neither do the other parents. But your questions and concerns about how your specific school approaches the GATE program are better answered by the parents who watch their kid go through the system than the teachers who know how the system ideally should work.

The benefit to the GATE program is usually that it offers your child more opportunities. Since the school is aware that many GATE kids easily master certain skills, the gifted program allows those students to explore subjects further, and they get to do the 'fun stuff'. There may be more hands on science experiments, or more interesting writing projects, or better field trips. Of course, these could all transpire into more work, more stress and more worry for some kids. So whether your child will thrive depends on your child and the way your school implements the program.

One of the concerns many parents share when their child is identified is whether or not the GATE label will isolate them socially. Luckily, the GATE kids are often the 'good' group of kids. They may be known as quirky or dorky, but they aren't generally known for being troublemakers. If the school is really on the ball, your child won't even know that most of their GATE experience is because they are gifted and talented. The experience would, ideally, be streamlined so that during various subjects the whole class breaks into groups, and the GATE kids just happen to be the group that meets with kids from another class, or get the more detailed projects. The only GATE specific work should be certain experiences, like debate teams or science competitions.

Parents of GATE kids need to remain vigilant in the social department. They should make sure that their kids have an opportunity to make a multitude of friends, in all areas. Just because a kid is academically blessed (usually in only a few subjects) doesn't mean that they need to focus their energy on school. Healthy kids are well rounded kids, and while it's important for your child to do their best, they also need a chance to try out for Little League or play soccer, or whatever after school activity appeals to them.

Parents also need to find the fine line between expecting a GATE kid to do their personal best and asking too much. Kids are still kids, and what you expect when a teacher assigns a project might be very different than the end result they come up with. Letting go is sometimes the hardest part of parenting. But if your child comes up with a project you find less than stellar, make sure that they aren't trying too hard to 'fit in'. Some kids will intentionally bias their work to make it look more 'normal' if they begin to feel too much attention directed at their accomplishments. Encourage your GATE kid to do their personal best, competing only with themselves, and to strive towards work that they, personally, are proud to turn in.

In the words of my daughter "Everyone's talented. Everyone's gifted in something. Some people just try to hide it better."

How to Support Your GATE Kids:

  • Teach your child how to keep their work organized early on. Use folders and a notebook to keep their projects contained.
  • Support their creativity. Give your kids time to be creative, without electronics or TV time. Send them outside. Give them art tools. Don't get so caught up in their school work that you forget to let them be kids.
  • Do homework with them. Even though they're 'smart' and don't need you standing over them, check over that homework every now and then to see how it's progressing. Most kids who are finishing homework pages assume that they're doing it right. They don't know to ask for help until they're swamped and ready to melt down. Catch it early on by staying involved in the homework process.
  • Look over old tests. Not so you can punish them for poor grades, but so you can help them understand their errors. Teach your kids how to use mistakes to cater their studying and improve their grades overall.
  • Praise them. But don't praise them for being smart, or knowing all the answers. Praise their ingenuity, their creativity and their resourcefulness. Point out where they got the wrong answer and praise them for trying. GATE kids already know they're smart. They need an incentive to keep striving to move ahead.

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