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SUPERKIDS TO AIR ON CBC NEWSWORLD      Gifted Children Face Complex Choices in Film by Vancouver Producer Ric Beairsto 

VANCOUVER - (updated Feb 29th 2004) - Gifted children are often viewed as having an easier time than their peers, flying through their schoolwork and any challenges that stand in their way. The reality is usually quite different, according to Superkids, a documentary by Vancouver film producer Ric Beairsto, which will air on CBC Newsworld’s series Rough Cuts March 11, 2004

The one-hour program, currently in production, closely follows the lives of four Vancouver students who have been assessed as gifted. Each is about to graduate from elementary school and seek a place in the high school system where they may finally find both challenges and acceptance. Their individual experiences raise wider questions for society and the educational system about
giftedness and how we approach differences. 

Ric Beairsto is an award-winning writer, director and producer, who recently produced Stand-Up Samurais, an hour-long CBC Newsworld documentary about stand-up comics touring small towns in Western Canada, and acted as Executive Producer on My Mother, My Hero, a 13-part series about the relationships between mothers who survived the Holocaust and their children. Among Beairsto’s many other credits are Walking in Pain, which is set in a Native drug and alcohol treatment centre, and A Life of Independence, a film hosted by Raymond Burr, about severely handicapped men leaving an institution. Beairsto has also written and directed TV dramas and docu-dramas, including Close To Home, a feature-length docu-drama broadcast by the CBC, and
Eye Level, a dramatic mini-series broadcast by a consortium of six Canadian broadcasters. He is currently working on numerous feature film and television projects, including Reborn and Last Laugh, both theatrical features; Gone to an Aunt’s, a movie of the week for CBC; and Little White Lies, a movie of the week for CTV.

One of the students Beairsto’s film follows is his own 13-year-old son, Jiten. Like many parents of gifted children, Beairsto expresses deep ambivalence about his son’s gifts and the resulting choices that face the family.

“This fall, Jiten began to attend the University of British Columbia’s Transition Program -- a de facto student of the university - - where he will compress the regular five years of high school into just two,” says Beairsto. “A week earlier, he was still 12 years old.  When I recently told my favourite aunt, aged 82, about all this, she replied, ‘When does he get to be a kid?’ Frankly, I had the same question, and no answer.”

Another parent in the documentary dismisses the idea that having a gifted child makes things easier for parents. Jack Lin, whose son Michael is featured in Superkids, says raising a gifted child “is not a blessing; it’s a responsibility.” Michael, who has attended five schools in six years, has a daytimer where he keeps track of his extracurricular math work, air cadets, English and Chinese language lessons, music theory class, piano lessons, kung fu practice  and orchestra performances.

Superkids is a sensitive and nuanced approach to the complexities faced by gifted children, their families and the education system. In addition to the students featured in Superkids, the documentary also introduces voices from a variety of professional educators, each with a unique perspective on society’s mixed reaction to young people like the four featured in Superkids.

“Superkids doesn’t have all the answers about the development of gifted young people,” says Beairsto. “But I hope it will help to further the discussion, as well as provide a window onto the sometimes difficult issues facing gifted kids and their families.”

For more information about Superkids, please contact Ric Beairsto, Producer, at
604-669-6887 or e-mail laughingmountain@shaw.ca. Or contact Pat Johnson, Publicist, at 604-657-1719.

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Excuse us please, we're Canadian 
(observations from the  "We can do it" conference in Denver)

Utopia must exist somewhere, that's been my premise as I've spent the last few years searching out gifted practices around the world, following the usual path through publications lists, web sites and conferences.  As a member of a local chapter of our provincial organization for gifted children I have worked with teachers, school administration and boards, public and private schools, and home schoolers, searching for ways to help my children and those of our association.  The  "We can do it conference" in Denver was great, especially since it illustrated a few "home truths " to those of our association who were there once more searching for ideas across the border. 

The UN is right!  Canada is the best in the world!  Our problem is that our quiet Canadian style combined with the tendency for gifted individuals to try to fit in instead of stand out, doesn't spread enough information about our success around.  We tend to believe that those who publish or speak have better information or are more active, (remember, non of us admit to being gifted!)  Our relative population size leaves us open to assuming larger numbers means more is known and done, especially when it concerns our neighbours to the south. 

At the Denver conference we discovered that although the American education system does supply funding for research concerning gifted students, funding for programming is another issue entirely.  The situation across the states appears to be less organized than in Canada, which was a major revelation to us.  Massachusetts, home of Harvard and MIT, doesn't have gifted mandates for programming or identification.  One parent from Massachusetts spoke of a complete lack of programs for gifted children. 

Colorado, with a population roughly the size of B.C.'s and an area one third the size, has one hundred and seventy six school districts compared to B.C.'s sixty.  B.C. doesn't have a perfect system, but at least the levels of administration our parents have to cope with and advocate in are a bit more manageable.

In terms of research, Dr. Karen Rogers quoted wonderful information on current research data concerning gifted education at the Denver conference.  She has data that show the effects of giving gifted students credit for prior learning (pre tests) allows them to complete three years of school in two. Compacting curriculum can effectively allow gifted students to complete two years worth of work with one year of effort in math and science.  The effect of full time ability grouping allows gifted students to do three years in two in elementary school, three years in four in secondary school.  Her recommended reference of choice for gifted education practices? Dr. Bruce Shore of  McGill University "Recommended Practices in Gifted Education, A Critical Analysis". 

"Voting With Their Feet, How Homeschooling is Changing the Face of Gifted Education" was a talk at the Denver conference by Kathie Kearney, who founded the Hollingsworth Centre for Highly Gifted Children.  Kathie works tirelessly to inform American parents of their options concerning homeschooling.  The "Bright Flight Phenomenon" is how she refers to gifted homeschooling.  She told us homeschooling has reached a critical mass of 1.7 million students in the U.S.  Much of her work focuses on available resources for homeschoolers.  In most American states distance education packages are not available through the public school system.  Parents must fund and resource individualized programs for their children's education without access to public school resources. ( That's why so many commercial resources are available in the states!)  When told that home schoolers in B.C. have access to  "School in a box" or computerized educations (with computers and internet access supplied) through distance learning services and that  home schooling children can be included in regular local school activities (sports, band and field trips for example) Americans  were amazed. Organized, homeschooling distance programs like those easily available in B.C., the Yukon and Alberta to homeschooling families are almost non-existent in the U.S.  There are some advantages in having to serve remote populations!

Our grassroots Canadian parent organizations also stood out from the pack in Denver.  We seem to be further along in sharing information on gifted education within our provinces than is the case in many American states.  Here again distance and need seem to have played a part.  We have solid advocacy, information, support, contacts and resources in at least half  of the country which is driven by parents and relates directly to the needs of our children. 

Poor  little Canadians?  I think not!  Next time I go to an international conference, I'll be preparing to share more of our well founded experience and resources.  Our trick is to find, support  and publicize them in such a vast landscape.  To that end read the information about Lannie Kanevsky's "Toolkit for Curriculum Differentiation".  Lannie was to have been a keynote speaker at the World Conference in Turkey (cancelled) last summer.  Those of us in the western half of the country won't have to fly so far to hear her this fall in Vancouver!  The rest of you might want to get a library subscription to the GCABC's newsletter, their summer edition featured an article by Françoys Gagné, from the University of Quebec at Montreal.  His "Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent" which proposes a clear distinction between gifts or aptitudes and talents appeared in the Winter edition of the Journal for the Education of the Gifted  (Volume 22, number 2 pp 230-234 ) Le Modèle Différentiateur de la Douance et du Talent (MDDT)  (regard thèmatique/ douance)  propose une distinction nette entre ces concepts fondamentaus que sont le dons (douance) et les talents

It was a good conference. Interacting with groups of people dedicated to helping gifted children is always rewarding, as well as interesting! (I can understand why so much research is based in the states, federal funding!)  This time though I learned that we need to share our experiences and not imagine that the grass is greener.  I suspect as education goes through major shifts in the next century, Canada, with it's remote populations and means of serving them, will like Australia, be able to take advantage of more individualized educational opportunities which best suit gifted learners. (Now to fund a "Bright Flight" resource exchange to Australia!) 

Neat building stuff for kids showcased at the conference  was a system called Zome tools.  Their bubble kit was an inexpensive way of trying out the system (about $12 Canadian) which makes bubbles of all shapes and sizes and is available in Canada from Jean Lau  (She also sells Aristoplay  games and Don Cohen's math books)

Lesley

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What did you learn in School today?

Looking for information on what your child should cover in school next year?  The BC Ministry of Education site has  very soft (and frustrating) online handbooks, the Parents Handbook on School Curriculum 

More useful are the actual Integrated Resource Packages, the actual "blueprint" for curricula for all grades in B.C.   If you are wondering if your child already knows the material for next year, check out this site.

The Nechako School District in B.C. have some great resources at their E-Bus home site.  One of the best is a list of sites concerning assessment information  for parents who want to determine how well their children are doing in various subjects.  Many of these sites have great resources to teach children how to critique their work, and they are useful anywhere in Canada.

If you have been frustrated by your school lately maybe you need an alternate view.  Read John Taylor Gatto's article The Curriculum of Necessity or What Must an Educated Person Know.  If you find that thought provoking you may want to check out more of Gatto's writing

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