Tag Archives: LinkedIn

Opening Doors of Opportunity

If a child opens one door of opportunity, other opportunities that otherwise might not have existed will follow. This phenomenon is called “cumulative educational advantage.” It is about never holding a child back in his area of aptitude and interest. It means carefully planning special, supplemental educational experiences, starting early in school and continuing into college, graduate school, and professional life. It means studying deeply and broadly. Early experiences can include summer programs through private institutions and on college campuses; mentorships, apprenticeships, and internships; local, state, national, and international competitions; travel and study at special learning sites within our own country and abroad; distance learning and traditional correspondence courses; dual enrollment between two levels of school, such as high school and college, or early entrance to any level of schooling; and many more possibilities.

Such opportunities should never be viewed as “frosting on the educational cake,” according to the late Julian Stanley, renowned expert on educational acceleration. “Rather,” he writes, “they can be the most important ingredient… things that give you cumulative educational advantage are likely to be the best investments in your education your parents could possibly make” (1994, p. 4).

Harriet Zuckerman (1977) introduced the idea of educational advantage in her study of Nobel laureates in science. Scientists who studied at topnotch institutions and with past laureates had increased potential for becoming leaders in their field and even laureates themselves. She states (p.59-60), “Advantage in science, as in other occupational spheres, accumulates when certain individuals or groups repeatedly receive resources and rewards that enrich the recipients at an accelerated rate and conversely impoverish (relatively) the non recipients.”

Cumulative educational advantage is not about pushing, it is not as simple as graduating early, and it does not always involve being number one. It is about being in the right place at the right time, and usually it does not happen by coincidence. It happens when students are introduced purposefully to concepts, programs, activities, career possibilities, and people, who in turn introduce them to more and more possibilities until the right one clicks. It happens when their learning activities are accelerated in comparison with those of other students of equal ability and motivation. The effects may be multiplicative, because any one opportunity may open the doors to multiple other opportunities.

I just received a note from the mom of a past student of WCATY’s accelerated programs. He had lived and studied for three intensive weeks with the architects of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture as a high school junior . Here’s how cumulative educational advantage worked for this young man when his parents opened a summer door of opportunity:

“At the end of May, he graduated from Harvard University with a Masters in Architecture.  He was one of 14 out of 104 students who graduated with distinction.  At this time, he is temporarily working at his previous employer, Perkins + Will, in Chicago.  On August 1, he will begin employment at Adjaye Associates in Manhattan.  Chris is quite thrilled to be with such a creative and world-renowned firm.  He loves big city life (after coming from a town of 10,000!), and is looking forward to living and working in New York City.

“We are incredibly proud of Chris, and always tell people that the start of his confidence , determination, and drive came from his experience with WCATY at Taliesin.”

Parents often ask if the money for a special program or class will be well spent; they view it as a hardship (which often it is) instead of an investment (which may ultimately be of higher value). Yet through and since my years of experience in working with smart, motivated kids – matching them to opportunities that interest them – I have accumulated a wealth of stories like Chris’s. This IS the frosting on the cake of my career!

Please keep sharing your stories.

Small and Smart

Ayana was reading and writing by the time she was four. Her first attempts to put marker to paper involved drawing, but that wasn’t enough. She wanted to create little poems to go with the pictures she had drawn. She says, “I was lucky to have parents who encouraged me to read everything in the house and to write to my heart’s content. Even before I entered school I had a sense of self and a sense of authority. At age five, on a beginning level, I knew I was writing my own book, my own life.

“Home is where I always worked on my inner voice. School did not allow me to go into one subject – my writing – richly. I wanted to dim the noise and concentrate on my real work.”

At age 26, Ayana is weighing her options for a Ph.D. program that will match her interests. She says, “Talent is the currency that we as individuals invest for our future, but first someone must invest in its development. All the affirmations from my childhood encourage me to pass on the message I was given – it is good to show and develop your gifts.”

Smart children are crying out for recognition and support. The following poem is a compilation of comments made by students who were awarded small monetary grants by the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY) to develop dream projects:

Please challenge me,

Save me,

Give me the guts to be me.

Please notice me,

Tolerate me,

Give me gold-plated wings to unfurl

Somewhere out there in the world.

Please welcome me,

Love me,

Give me the way to go forward

And become the me

I want to be.

In summary, there are smart children from all walks of life. Smart children need recognition of their abilities, and home is where they first need it. Early affirmations of talent start building the self-confidence the child will take from childhood into adulthood.

The Gift of Learning

What better gift to give that special child than the message that learning is cool. Most children really think that naturally as they begin to explore their world by walking, talking, and gaining new skills at a rapid rate as toddlers and preschoolers. A cartoon in the Dec. 14 “The New Yorker” shows two little kids in a sandbox. The older one says to the younger one: “It’s all learning-is-fun and invented spelling, and then–bam!– second grade.”

What’s wrong with second grade? As a teacher, consultant, longtime educational specialist, it is sad to often see fewer smiles and sparkling eyes with each advancing grade of school. Rather than continuing to believe that learning is fun, cool, an ultimate aim, too many children dumb down, hide their talents, and proceed in a lock-step method of learning that doesn’t fit them and holds little appeal. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Miraculously, my children fought the school battle and won – proud of themselves as topnotch learners throughout their k-12, college and graduate school years. I want the same for my grandchildren and yours. I want little children to hear and believe from their first year that learning is exciting, reading introduces you to people, places and things unknown, and asking questions and exploring possible answers is the key to advancement.

I hope “Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart” helps many children to firmly believe that second grade and all the grades after that will still be “learning-is-fun” — and that creativity is good too even if not usually when spelling!

Book sale in progress

Orders for “Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart” are coming in at the post office box on the “Contact Ellie Books” page of this blog. Since Thanksgiving nearly 200 of the 300 copies have sold. Comments have been gratifying. Here’s one: “I wanted to let you know how much I love your book! It’s an absolute delight! You and the illustrator were clearly on the same wavelength.  I love the part where grandma says I can be anything I want…and I say I want to be a horse — and you turn the page to see the wonderful trio of horses. Fabulous. And it’s a thrill to see your name on the front cover.  Congratulations!”

Here’s another: “The book is wonderful and we can hardly wait to share it with our California grandson and put one on the shelf of our baby Madison grandson. But I need more to share with friends who have curious book-loving youngsters. Thank you for continuing to give to the world of young minds in your very special way. Our whole family is going to LOVE this book!”