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‘Tis the Season: Choosing the Right School for Your Gifted Child

Its December in Colorado, and in addition to the holidays and winter activities, we find ourselves in the middle of another time-honored tradition: Open Enrollment.

This is the time when parents look beyond their neighborhood schools in search of the right educational environments for their children. While finding the right school can be tough for any parent, adding giftedness into the mix increases the difficulty factor exponentially.

That’s because many neighborhood schools do not have the training or available programming to meet the unique needs of a child who’s been identified as gifted.  For the schools that do offer specialized programming, families may face highly competitive admissions processes or restrictive tuition fees.

Like many parents, you’ve probably done your research, attended open houses, or even had your child shadow at different schools.  You may be agonizing over your choices – or lack thereof – and wondering where to turn.

No single solution

As the parent of a gifted child, no one has to tell you that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to giftedness. Each child comes with their own blend of superpowers and kryptonite.

The same can be said for schools.  Just because a school has “gifted” programming does not automatically ensure it is a good fit for your child. You are likely to find considerable variations in philosophy, curriculum, and culture. So how do you choose the right school for your child? It comes down to several factors.

Know your child

A large part of your decision should be based on your child – who they are and how they learn best. That’s why at PEAK, we’re huge advocates of comprehensive assessments.  A full evaluation of your child’s cognitive, academic, and social/emotional skills can offer a big-picture view of your child and how they learn best. And when it comes to choosing the right school, this information can be an invaluable tool.

Whether or not you decide on testing for your child, here are some questions you may want to consider before deciding on a program or school:

  • What is your child’s overall learning style? Are they a visual learner, an auditory learner or do they thrive in an experiential setting? However they learn, can the school support their individual style?
  • What are your child’s areas of strength and can the school support their unique talents?
  • Since gifted learners often display asynchronous development, it’s important to understand areas in which they struggle. Once identified, ask yourself if the school of choice understands and supports these challenges?
  • Is your child twice-exceptional or 2e (gifted in some areas while showing significant deficits in others)? If they are, can the school support both their giftedness and their disability?

Learning does not happen in a vacuum, so it’s also important to take your child’s personality into consideration:

  • Are they highly driven or easily distractible?
  • Do they feed on competition or are they at their best in a nurturing, collaborative environment?
  • What about their social skills or emotional needs? Social skills deficits, depression and anxiety often come with the territory, so ensuring they are in a place where they feel safe and supported is essential to their success as a student.

Stay true to your values

Your family values and ideas about education must also be considered.  Take a close look at things like homework policies, curriculum, teaching style, and school culture to make sure they align with your own values. For example, if you’re a champion of unschooling, that outstanding IB program may not be your best bet.

Connection with the school administration and staff matters too.  Both you and your student need to feel at home in your chosen environment.  How approachable are they to parents? How do they approach learning differences? Would you feel comfortable discussing your child and your concerns when they arise?

Don’t forget to consider your child’s reaction to the school as well.  Are they excited about attending?  Do they look comfortable and happy? Is this a place where you think they will thrive?

Know your limits

Be realistic about your limitations when it comes to things like distance, cost, or other factors. How far are you willing or able to travel?  What is your budget for private school tuition? That wonderful school may be less than ideal if it requires hours of driving or costs twice your monthly mortgage payment. That said, if all other factors align, its worth a look at options like carpooling or scholarships

Making the choice

While no school is perfect, it all comes down to fit. Getting feedback from family and friends is valuable, but remember, this is a highly personal choice.  That means the perfect school for your neighbor’s kids isn’t necessarily right for your child. In the end, you need to trust your gut and keep your eye on the goal: A learning environment that will appreciate and nurture your gifted child, just the way they are.

PEAK Exceptional Services provides screenings for giftedness, as well as comprehensive psychoeducational and neuropsychological assessments for kids, teens, and adults with learning differences, as well as parent coaching for parents of differently wired children. If you’d like more information on our services, call us at 720-377-3250 or email