School for Gifted Kids of Color

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Gifted and Black: Where are the gifted kids of color?

March 2011

I've discovered that the only Bay Area schools specifically for gifted learners are all located in highly affluent areas, with student populations that are overwhelmingly white. Where are the gifted kids of color? For that matter, where are the gifted kids of any background from non-affluent households? My son has been evaluated as in the range of exceptionally to profoundly gifted. I don't want him to be the one face of color he sees at school, and I can't afford the 20K tuition at a gifted academy, either. Financial aid is in short supply these days. Outside of homeschooling, which isn't an option for us, what have other families done? worried about my child

Once source of information worth investigating is ''A Better Chance.'' Their website is here:

I am not familiar with all of their activities, but know that they have a superb record of helping children of color access elite educational institutions, regardless of family financial means. Even if you decide that their proposed solutions are not for you, the opportunity to network with the other families that approach them may offer other ideas that you'd like.

I wish you and your son the best of luck with your search. An ''ABC'' fan

If you haven't checked out this resource yet, you may find it invaluable: The Davidson Center for Talent Development--specifically their Young Scholars program for kids ages 5-15 ( The website lists their specific testing qualification criteria. It has been a godsend for my best friend in D.C. who has one exceptionally gifted, and also a highly gifted child. They are not wealthy folks and had no idea how they could afford to educate their super-intelligent young kids (job-loss, bankruptcy, foreclosure-- the works). Even though it is an extreme hardship to them financially, their mom decided to homeschool their kids. (I know you say this is not an option, but that is just how my friends felt until it just came down to the fact that they absolutely ''had to.'') The Davidson Center offers a lot amazing resources to them at no cost. Also, it has provided an essential network of like-minded folks in similar situations for both her and her kids to connect with. (Through their network of Davidson folks, their 9 year old HG daughter was able to score a paleontology mentorship at the Smithsonian, and she is finishing her first scientific paper!) If you haven't checked it out, please do. And, should you decide to try homeschooling, you couldn't be in a better part of country to do so. So many resources, and parents are doing it out here. Best of luck to you. Leigh

You may want to check out one of these Schools 1. Kipp Academy (Charter School) 2. Native American Charter School (Charter School) Hopefully Helpful

I have a gifted child of color as well and we are in the Berkeley Public Schools. It is horribly frustrating. Frankly, we hate it. For one, there is a level of condescending behavior from school officials to the PTA that is maddening. I have found that the BUSD can only recognize black students as troubled and dysfunctional. Gifted black students, or middle-class black students don't fit the ''oh we need to help these poor creatures'' paradigm and they ignore them or, worst yet, figure there must be something wrong with them that hasn't yet become manifest.

We can't afford private school, but if we could we would bolt in a second. The trauma of an affluent all-white environment is far less than the intellectual and emotional trauma of being stuck in the public schools here. I would beg, borrow or steal to get your gifted kid in a private school where at least his or her intelligence would be recognized. The class stuff is frustrating but at least your child would be getting a much better education. Frustrated w BUSD

Hi there, My son is also profoundly gifted, though he is white. We decided to send him to the Berkeley public schools, in part because of diversity issues-- race/ ethnicity and economic diversity- and he is thriving there. It has taken some careful management-- his giftedness, as is so often the case, is accompanied by challenges in other areas-- social and emotional, as well as some more specific learning challenges, and of course fine motor/handwriting issues-- but with the help of a 504 plan and absolutely *amazing* teachers and an incredible principal, he is doing really well. I have a lot of meetings throughout the year with the very caring school staff, and I've been fairly proactive about that, asking for meetings before he entered kindergarten, for example-- and they've been incredibly responsive.

I think our school is particularly good, and I can imagine many public schools that wouldn't be as accommodating-- but I'd suggest not giving up on your public school option until you check it out. I don't think you necessarily need a specialized school for a PG child, though each child is of course different. As long as teachers are willing to accommodate your son by making sure he is given challenging work (in my son's case I provide some of his work to do at school), and making sure that bullying doesn't occur, as well as more subtle social pressures around high achievement, it can really work. Of course no school placement will be completely ideal, and you'll probably want to do a lot with your son at home anyway. Like many gifted kids, my son is constantly exploring and learning, more outside of school than in, and so we are less concerned about academic content at school than we are about socialization and emotional development. That might change as he gets older, but right now we could not be happier with the immense growth our son has made in his most challenging areas. Grateful for Berkeley public schools

I'm afraid I don't have any real answers for you, but I wanted to write to offer support. I am a (Caucasian, non-affluent) mother of two gifted children, and the issue of identifying and supporting gifted kids of color/economically disadvantaged gifted kids is very important to me. In fact, it is one reason I joined my school site governance council this year.

You don't mention which district you are in, but if it is BUSD, I'd love to talk with you about jump starting a BUSD parent support group/e-tree. It can be such a lonely experience, parenting a gifted child, and finding other parents to talk with certainly helps. I'd also like to recommend James Webb's excellent book ''A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children'' and the organization ''Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted'' ( In the Bay Area, The Summit Center has links to SENG support groups in Oakland and Walnut Creek ( These are not free, but financial aid may be available for families in need.

Wishing you the best on this challenging journey. Please feel free to ask the moderator for my e-mail. BUSD mom of 2 gifted children

The reality is that educational options for kids who are highly or exceptionally gifted are limited for kids in the East Bay, regardless of race. Most public school districts in this area have largely gotten rid of their GATE programs, both because No Child Left behind provides no incentive for them to support GATE programming, and because of political factors. Many districts say they are switching to differentiation in the general classroom, but the reality is that differentiation is often up to the individual teacher and many teachers do very little. When done well, differentiation can work well for kids who are moderately or mildly gifted, but it's harder to find a good match in either public or private school for a kid who is highly or exceptionally gifted. Davis still has a fairly large GATE program, but obviously Davis is beyond commuting distance for most people.

We ended up moving to Lafayette partially because it was the only district in the area that has a program specifically for highly/exceptionally gifted kids, although it's only for 4th-5th grades. They call it their AIM program, and admission is solely based on testing in the top 2% of the district population, which means a subset of the top 1% of the national OLSAT test. Lafayette is still around 80% white and obviously a fairly affluent community, although there are several apartment complexes that are more affordable. When I visited the AIM program I found it was more diverse than the average Lafayette classroom, with several mixed race kids, including several Asian kids, and a few Latino kids, and one African American child. I know several people who have been happy with it, and our daughter is starting there next fall. With each census the Lafayette population gets more mixed, and my other daughter's kindergarten class has a few African American kids and a few Latino kids. Lafayette Elementary seems like the most diverse of the Lafayette elementary schools, and has an amazing after school science program. As far as Oakland schools, I know a few parents with gifted kids who have been happy with Kaiser and Sequoia, so it's worth investigating them if you are in Oakland.

As far as private options, there are a few schools in the greater Bay area specifically for gifted kids, one in Marin and one on the Peninsula, both farther than we wanted to commute. There's a relatively new program in Oakland called Bayhill.

The private schools probably vary considerably in terms of how much they do for gifted kids and in terms of scholarship resources. Head Royce would probably be worth checking out, since they are more oriented towards gifted kids than many of the other schools, and I was surprised at how diverse the school was when I visited. My impression is that they have more of an endowment than many other schools, so scholarship options may be plentiful. Other friends with gifted students of color have been happy with Berkwood Hedge and Windrush, both on the more progressive side. -sympathetic parent

Some of the children of color in 5th grade in my child's Berkeley public elementary school do participate in a Scholars Program. It is on Saturdays, I believe. My understanding is that you need to test at a certain level in order to be invited to attend, but i am not sure. You can contact the District office to find out more. You could try the BUSD Office of Family and Community Partnerships.

My experience as an invoved parent in a BUSD school is that gifted kids of all ethnicities are celebrated, just as are the achievements of kids of all ethnicities who have lots of challenges. The key, for you and your student, is for you to be involved in the classroom when you can, and in the school community as a whole. Work WITH the teachers as a team for your student's success.

In addition, at most BUSD schools, there are after school enrichment classes offered. For example, my student takes a chess class, an engineering class and a music class (in addition to 2x/week music class during the regular school time). The after school music class and engineering class are run by enthusiastic, smart and dedicated UC Berkeley students. Great mentors! There is also a summer camp called Academic Talent Development Program (''ATDP'') run by UC Berkeley. -another BUSD Mom

Hi, The offerings for profoundly and exceptionally gifted children are limited indeed, and that was largely the motivation for our forming the Co-op for Gifted Children in Alameda. Diversity is extremely important to me as the president and founder of the Co-op. Our lead educator is Latina and we have students of color in attendance now as well as on our list for opening our new young child program this summer. We also have tuition assistance readily available! Profoundly and exceptionally gifted children have a very difficult time ''fitting in'' to a regular school environment and research has clearly shown that they need an alternative environment with strong social-emotional support, multiage gifted peers, hands-on experiential learning, and to have a say in their own educational plan and objectives. We have followed the research to create this highly unique environment specifically for gifted children and we would love to meet your family, and I think you would like our community very much. Catherine Cook, MSEd Our website is (510)219-9410 -Catherine

Very complex question but having 2 very bright Black boys (1 officially designated gifted and the other ''just'' a very strong student) here are my comments:

1) K-5: since your child will have essentially ONE teacher, there is great opportunity to work collaboratively with the teacher so your child's needs can be met. Grade school teachers get to know their students on a much more personal level than secondary school teachers that have up to 150 students per day so are more likely to see ''giftedness''. Having said that you NEED to be an active parent - the truth is that children of active parents tend to receive closer attention and by being active (Site Council, PTA, classroom volunteer, etc.) you (and by extension your child) will be perceived as ''different'' than the stereotype some teachers/staff have of black families/students (unfair but reality). Expect and if necessary help with differentiated instruction - provide feedback on homework assignments, talk to your teachers about alternatives to rote assignments, such as math problems of the week or deeper writing assignments. Talk to your teacher about how she/he motivates students to do their personal best (for example, in one of my child's classes, receiving 100% on multiplication quizes, excused you from doing any more homework on that module and instead the child worked on multi-step, complex, thinking problems of the week - had one teacher that gave certificates for personal best, for some students that might be getting a 75% on a math test but for others an A might not result in the certificate and the teacher would talk to the child about EXTENDING the assignment beyond grade level ''A'' work or that getting 100% AND doing the extra credit problems were ''personal best''). In addition Berkeley Scholars to Cal (BSC), which is a college prep program designed for high achieving Black/Brown youth (through Stiles Hall) starts in 4th/5th grade but not every elementary school has this program (there is opportunity to join in middle school).

2) Secondary School:

BSC is at the middle schools and is wonderful (unfortunately new cohorts aren't started every year because of starts about every 2 years). Kid's get weekday academic enrichment and Saturdays at Cal campus. Each gets a Black/Brown Cal student as a mentor. College tours start 8th grade (have done Atlanta, Boston area, D.C, and this year Southern Cal schools). Also has various summer program options, depending upon grade level (for example, admission to Cal's Academic Talent Development Program). Best of all, a PEER group to combat some of the peer group pressure to ''dumb down'' that may impact your kid. Also, a support system for the parent as well (the program monitors academic progress, will talk to teachers if you want, etc.). Middle school is the toughest for smart kids of any ethnicity. Probably the hardest for black boys (some friends have sent their sons to an Afro-centric private school in West Oakland that did wonders for self-esteem/academic focus - and then sent their son to Berkeley High as a very grounded student). Also due to now having 4 or 5 teachers, with high student loads, you are more likely to have to deal with some teachers with low expectations.

Berkeley High has amazing educational opportunities. The issue there is FOCUS and resisting peer pressure. Also MUCH more likely in my experience to have issues with low expectations by teachers (and some students and their parents that are overheard by or actually told to your child or by you). SO, expect to have to work with your child to be their own advocate and advocate for them. The various small learning communities have various strengths/areas of improvement - the International High School has been very good for our child. ALSO, make sure your kid is involved in student leadership or sports - will help with peer issues. BSC goes thru 12th grade and provides SAT prep and college counseling/assistance with applications. BSC also has ties to multiple summer opportunities, including college residential programs for high schoolers.

Bottom line is that you have to advocate and keep a close eye on how your kid is being treated and is relating to his peers - BUT Berkeley schools have amazing opportunities, more so than private. And remember, stereotype low expectations of students also exist in private schools - at least according to my friends who ''went private''. Having said that, St. Mary's is probably 1/3 black students, many of which are above average/high achieving students whose families didn't want to ''risk'' public school issues. Sign me, anonymous (for my kids!)