Julie Gonzalez

JULIE GONZALEZ

Julie Gonzalez: I’m Julie Gonzalez. I live in Colorado in the Denver area. I am blessed with four children. Um, their ages are 15 to 26, almost 27, two daughters, two sons. Um, my oldest is uh—the reason I began as an advocate in gifted education and each of them followed with their own special needs, um exceptional needs and also uh very unique needs from each other. My daughter is uh, and was, and always has been a wonderful reader since she was 3 years old uh and veracious. She is so well read that in my lifetime I will never catch up with what she’s read. She uh got her undergraduate degree in English literature and uh then worked in the arts and non-profit work for a couple of years and decided to become a teacher. Went back and got her masters and she’s currently an English literature teacher in high school in the Seattle area. Um, our son is 22, just graduated from college and um had more of a struggle in his high school experience. He went through middle school when middle school came on board and uh there was nothing available as far as honors classes and uh any sort of challenge for him. He lost interest in school and disconnected and also was following a very high achieving older sister and decided that he wasn’t going to go that direction. About his second year in high school he discovered his musical talent and connected with jazz as well as other performances in the musicals in the high school arena and um ended up in college majoring in music and communications and minoring in Spanish, a very talented young man. He’s currently in Nicaragua for two years uh with the Jesuit Volunteers International. He is working with 300 orphan children uh developing music programs from scratch in a very remote village near the Honduras border. Um, the 3rd child, Katherine, is uh graduating from high school this year and she also is exceptionally musically talented. Um, use to go in after her older brother and sister would play their—their piano pieces with their music. When she was 3 or 4 she would go in and sit down at the piano and play what they had played without looking at any music, both hands very sophisticated kind of music. She’s an exceptional ear, um, very—wonderful personality, great sense of humor, just an absolute delight. Uh, so she’s now auditioning for uh music scholarships in music programs. And finally um last but not least, is our little Michael and he is now a sophomore in high school, uh mathematical precocious, uh very athletic, very active, non-reader, um has a sense of humor that won’t quit, and um we’re just not sure yet about where he’s going. We’d love for him to appreciate music as much as his older siblings but we’ve not pushed that on him and so consequently he doesn’t play the piano or any musical instrument. He sings a little bit. Um, but uh—we’ve had—we have been blessed with lots of music in our house and uh it’s been a great joy.

Well, with the—with the first child and not knowing anything about giftedness as a parent, um I had no idea what her capabilities were even though they were extraordinary early on. I would say that at age 3 she—she began to pick books up and read them herself. Uh, we’d been reading a lot to her as an infant and as a toddler but one day she just began to read. And um I had neighbors who were teachers in the area who commented on her—her verbal skills and her reading ability and uh we were fortunate in that state that in the public school system, even in kindergarten, they were testing for giftedness. And so she did go through the tests. I received some information, some numbers that I wasn’t very clear on what they all meant. But I do remember uh the psychologist saying that she was reading in kindergarten at a 10th grade level. And uh that one struck home with me. Um, it was very clear. And I knew—I knew she was reading, you know, extraordinarily high level but um that was pretty amazing. Um, giftedness as I’ve learned as a parent with four children can be manifested at very different times in individuals’ lives. And I think for our second child uh it was evident that he had within him some wonderful capabilities but they were—they were not so overt. Um, his leadership skills, his interpersonal uh relationships with other people were such a natural, wonderful strength about him. He was involved with a—a suicide case when he was in high school. It’s a very personal experience for him and he uh—it just stayed with the family for a week after it occurred, um, and I—I had no idea that he was capable of handling such a—a challenging situation. And he has been uh very involved with youth organizations in his church and does a lot of leadership work with—with high school and middle school children when he was in college. And now, of course, he’s working in an international setting in a third-world country. So um that—that area of giftedness is not so easily nurtured in school or recognized uh and as a parent I didn’t really see it in the way I should have probably until later in his life. Um as I mentioned, before the third child was uh so precocious with her music that it was very obvious early on um and lots of people around us who were in the music field could recognize and respond to that. So she had some wonderful mentors in her life, um in her young life. And I learned that that was very important to encourage her to—to be creative and not lose that sense of uh joy about playing with music rather then being overwhelmed by the structure of learning music. Um, and the—then Michael has uh—has always been mathematically interested in—in numbers and games and strategies and statistics in the sports section of the newspaper. He’d rather read that then the essay about the gang. (laugh) And so um his—his interest in athletics and in sports was ironically as I discovered uh really interest in numbers and relationships and spatial—uh relationships between players in all kinds of sports. And because of his athletic ability I always described his—his ability to play on the soccer field as—as chess in motion.

I think first and foremost uh with the academically, intellectually, highly-able child uh it is so critical that the school be responsive to their needs uh and to recognize what parents have to share about their children. Uh, that was probably the most difficult thing I learned early on was uh the lack of training and understanding and appreciation for gifted children in the public school system. It’s what got me involved in what I do today. Uh and uh so being sensitive, being aware, being uh professionally able to respond is absolutely critical for these children. Um, I think um—Sally, will you repeat that question again?

Um, as uh—as public schools have a limit to what they’re able to do for exceptional learners and particularly in areas that aren’t necessarily academically oriented, uh there has to be some availability of resources and connections provided parents along the way. And sometimes that has to occur in an organized fashion through other organizations that are available uh to parents. I’ve done a lot of work with uh writing handbooks for parents with information and resources uh and really understanding what giftedness is about. So I believe that the education of parents is as important as the education of our educators as well as our children. So with special needs come understanding. Um, musically and uh with uh programs like—for leadership abilities to encourage that, I do think there are ways that schools can respond to that. I think there are different ways that teachers can teach when they know the strengths of the children in their classes and to provide avenues for them to express their—their interests through what they learn. Uh, so there are—there are many ways of approaching uh and encouraging the giftedness in each child.

Uh, in very special ways. Some—the girls have always been very, very close to each other. Because of the age differences between the oldest and the youngest uh, uh the—the—the birth order has also been kind of an interesting uh dynamic between all of them and between some of them. Um, I think uh as they’ve grown older they’ve—as most siblings do, they’ve—they’ve grown to appreciate each other in very special, unique ways because we have such a—a strong interest in music in our family. Music has always brought them together. When they’re all home, you know, they’re all around the piano. They’re all singing and—and playing and uh interacting with each other that way. Uh when our oldest daughter left for college uh the youngest one said, “Finally, I’m going to get to have a conversation at the dinner table” because she was very verbal and somewhat domineering in the conversation. Um, but they’ve—they’ve each had the opportunity to uh not be overwhelmed by each other’s personalities but to develop their own within—within the context of other sister relationships. So I think its been in general, very positive.

Uh, perhaps the greatest on is finding support. Uh, knowing other parents who had children that are with other similar needs as mine uh making connections and building support for uh public school programming for children with special needs. I’ve been personally very involved politically and taken on the challenge of uh raising the awareness and the support with our state legislature. Um, I have found that it’s important as a parent of a gifted child to not only advocate for my own child but to—to see the bigger picture and the greater need and to encourage other parents to do the same. So uh I’ve spent a great deal of the last 20 years bringing parents together and educating them and also linking the needs of parents with the understanding of teachers um in the system. I think it’s very important that teachers understand gifted parents and the similar characteristics that they manifest in their own personalities as they advocate for their children in school. You know, it’s a—it’s an interesting challenge but one I believe strongly in.

I appreciate that question um and I think that perhaps I should repeat the question. Um, as far as characteristics of the teachers um that seem to benefit my children best is—sometimes it’s—it’s—it’s uh the learning styles and the instruction styles (construction noise)—should I stop? I’ve totally forgot to repeat your question now that you mention it. (interruption) OK. I’m failing miserable.

I think first and foremost they need to understand that there are exceptional needs of learners who are highly able. Um, I think uh with each child there is a good match and less then a good match with teachers. One of the things that I learned in elementary school was not to assume that what I heard in the neighborhood about certain teachers was the way it would be for my child and to avoid teachers that other people said would not be desirable. I think there’s a magic chemistry between teachers and children that sometimes as adults and parents we cannot predict. Um, as far as uh their unique needs, I’m looking for people that are—that have (construction noise) I’m going to forget this thought. (construction noise) Patience is a virtue, isn’t it? (interruption) I’m looking for teachers who have a passion for the subject that they teach and a depth of knowledge that takes children to a higher level. Um, I think that’s absolutely critical, as critical as having the training in gifted education and learning how to differentiate for different children’s needs. Uh, the greatest joy is to have someone take you where you want to go um through that energy and that passion of learning something that they love as well.

Ah. Great concerns for transition for my children um in—from elementary to middle and middle to secondary, to the degree that um—with the fourth child. And because of the middle school dilemma at that time and the lack of advanced level curriculum and instruction particularly in the area of math at that time, um I was—I was finally forced to withdraw my child from that elementary school and create a magnet school in the school district uh because there was not a receptivity and there was not a—a flexibility in the program to the degree that he needed to learn. So um it has been uh—it has been monumental and uh consuming as a parent to create uh not only a willingness of a school district administration board but the physical logistics and finding the teachers to uh provide school where highly able children can learn and be together.

Hmm. Well, I’m learning more about that underachievement topic um as—as I gain a perspective, a broader perspective, in the field of gifted education. And I realize personally how very close we came with our second child to losing him not only academically but emotionally um within the system because he was so disconnected and disenfranchised by what was happening in school. And without the kind of strong expectations um and availability of quality programs and challenge in school, um that incentive to learn and to be connected and to grow in an academic environment was not there. Uh, so underachievement is a great concern to me as a parent advocate. And I also realize that there are so many children that are not identified in our programs because they aren’t the uh teacher pleasers, they’re not the students that uh excel academically with high grades, they may not be good test takers. And so because they’re not recognized as having extraordinary abilities, they are not uh—they’re not provided services and they’re not considered able to do the things that we know that they’re able to do.

Very definitely one of the activities that has been um particularly successful for my youngest child, has been the flexibility and access to higher-level courses. Um, it—it wasn’t grade skipping for him that made a difference, it was being able to take higher-level courses in certain subject areas for him that made the difference. Um, and to see a whole staff, for instance, at a 6th grade level be willing to accommodate his entire schedule—um middle school is notorious for allowing the schedule to run the program or to prevent access to—to other kinds of courses. Because he was able to uh, uh—he had already been pre-tested, for instance in uh social studies and science, and those two courses we—the teachers were—were allowing him to split and to uh use only one course time—subject time for two courses so that he could also take higher level Spanish class and accelerated math and then move onto the high school while he was in middle school. Um, those kinds of accommodations have made a tremendous difference for him in his learning and in remaining involved in school.

Um, very early I discovered that it was important to reach out as a parent advocate beyond my own school community and even beyond my own school district uh to other gifted organization, not only at the state level but also at the national level. Um, it was desirable for me to hear what was happening outside of where my children were in school and to bring that information back to the schools and to the teachers. (construction noise) I think I should stop. (interruption) It’s hard to predict isn’t it? (interruption) Um, the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented, for example, where I live um has been a very active service organization for the needs of parents and teachers and provides an avenue for networking and newsletters and connections to other sources as well as workshops and conferences and events throughout the year. I think when parents discover that they have a special needs child; they need to and must connect with organizations that provide them that information. I cannot imagine being a successful parent (construction noise) I cannot (construction noise) speak. (laugh) I cannot imagine being a successful parent and not having that support system there. And I think parents also need to know that there are other parents with similar concerns and needs. We’re talking about a minority of the population. I think it’s important for parents to know that even though they’re—they’re very sensitive about the label—and I believe most parents of gifted children are very sensitive about that label, um that there is reason to—to support each other and to know what it is that—that we can do for our children and how we can better understand them.

Oh, dear. The questions that—that have been asked um of me in this videotape have uh addressed most of the concerns that I think are important for others to under—to know from the perspective of parent. Uh, I think it is again very critical that parents not be in isolation of supporting groups, but I also think that it’s very important that parents and teachers have many opportunities to develop relationships that support the needs of their child. Um, often the experience that parents—parents have in school is a very frustrating and sometimes non-communicative kind of uh a relationship. I think parents need to know that teachers are not the reason why programs aren’t available, that the reason why programs aren’t available is because we have very little legislative and financial support for gifted education in—not only in our state, but in our country. And that parents need to be advocates um for increased support. It cannot happen without that involvement. Uh, there’s a role for parents out there that is very much beyond their own child’s needs.

Staff development for teachers. Training. Uh, I would want—I would want teachers to be uh more aware of the needs of special children. I think it is in this day and age uh evident that classroom teachers have the majority of responsibility for meeting the needs of exceptional children because of the system and how um schools are structured. And so uh when we know that less then one half of one percent of classroom teachers have had significant if—if even minimal training in gifted education, how can we expect them to be responsive to the needs of our children? And that costs money. So we can’t train teachers and we can’t reduce class size, and we can’t have special programs without the funding support. So my wish is more then one wish. My wish is to have the kind of legislative action that provides uh responsible, ethical, professional programming for gifted children as for all children.