Many Bear Creek students spent their elementary and middle school years in a GATE —
Gifted and Talented Education — program. Although the program seeks to label children who exhibit an advanced learning pace as gifted and separate them from their non-gifted peers, it is unclear whether the impact of the GATE program is always positive.
The GATE program strives to provide gifted children with an increased academic challenge, more opportunities to socialize with students like them and a pathway to a bright future. Although this program is intended for a positive effect, The National Association for Gifted Children identifies “heightened awareness, anxiety, perfectionism, stress, issues with peer relationships, and concerns with identity” as potential long term issues that gifted students may face. Looking at the situation, it is clear why these issues prevail in these students.
“Having attended a GATE school, I can vouch for the declining mental health of [gifted] students,” senior Beatrice Soledad said. “I constantly hear complaints about stress [the former GATE students] are under. GATE has engraved in our minds the thought that we should always be pushing ourselves, which brings us both satisfaction and emotional and mental pain.”
Studies have found that one of the many disadvantages of the GATE program is how the clustering of gifted students may cause low self-esteem in some individuals. Students’ self-esteem may suffer when they lose the feeling of academic advantage over their peers, often feeling like they don’t measure up to the success of their classmates.
“In middle school I really doubted myself and how much I could do,” former GATE student Gracie Vang, a junior, said. “This affected me as a person. I personally feel like I now have low self-esteem. I do doubt myself a lot.”
According to the Davidson Institute, “perfectionism coupled with a punishing attitude towards one’s own efforts can cripple the imagination, kill the spirit, and so handicap performance that an individual may never fulfill the promise of early talent.”
The ideology that may often be pushed on gifted children is that because they’re gifted, they should excel in everything they do, leaving some students to fail to develop a positive work ethic, as many tasks seem to come easily to them from a young age. This expectation often leads gifted students to shut down when presented with struggles.
This ideology often manifests itself as a self-deprecating feature in students. Instead of students focusing on their personal growth, the focus shifts to how the difficulties they face may define them.
“Coming into high school, there were challenges like accepting low test scores for the first time and not knowing an answer and [actually having to ask for help],” former five-year GATE student Nathaniel Lime, a junior, said. “The stress you get from [the GATE program] can continue on, depending on how you handle it.”
Facing stress and pressure, often for the first time, gifted kids may fall into the pit of the “gifted kid burnout,” a newly popularized phrase that describes those who become paralyzed by their own potential. This phenomenon describes individuals that as children were labeled as gifted, praised constantly for their abilities and assumed to be destined for great things — but experienced extreme discouragement later in life after encountering obstacles such as bad grades or difficulties with comprehension.
“The program shouldn’t put so much emphasis on the thinking that in order to be successful, you have to work past your mental limit,” Soledad said. “The program’s definition of success seemed so out of reach for me.”
Although many administrators try to convey the idea to gifted children that failing is okay, many students feel like a safe space is not provided. This wavering message of the importance of failure may be overshadowed by the pressure put on these students to excel and maintain their label.
“The classroom is more of a competition,” Lime said. “It’s like trying to be above one another.”
Although the GATE program is advertised as a unique opportunity for those labeled as gifted, the methods that some administrators use to challenge a student may be viewed as counterintuitive. Placing a “gifted” or “not gifted” label on young, impressionable students may create an overarching description, ignoring the individual learning needs of each student. Although students may excel when having an enforcing label placed on them, many crack under the pressure.