Helping Gifted Students Pursue Their Passions

A recent profile in the New York Times tells the story of Louie Alexander, a gifted teen who enjoys taking care of animals (at last count, rabbits, quail, pigeons, fish, a dog, a turtle, and chickens, whose eggs Louie sells). He also collects Blue Willow china from garage sales, belongs to an after-school community service organization, and reads encyclopedias. Louie’s favorite subjects, math and science, are central to the work he intends to do one day as a veterinarian; he will explore these areas and more when he attends South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics.

Governor’s schools nationwide present opportunities for gifted kids to explore their passions in a college setting, helping them develop the study skills and independence they will need as they continue their education. The Arkansas Governor’s School, held for 4 weeks on the Hendrix College campus, allows rising seniors to study choral music, drama, language arts, instrumental music, mathematics, natural science, social science, or visual arts. 

But students don’t need to be in high school to pursue their passions, and neither do they have to leave home. Rachel Alesiani, a 9-year-old who is fascinated by chemistry, recently won a contest sponsored by the Chemistry Council of New Jersey by making a poster about interesting chemistry facts, such as that lipstick is often made with fish scales. Many gifted students across the country are gearing up to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee—which begins tonight—including 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison, officially the youngest competitor in the spelling bee’s history. (Lori Anne read her first book at age 2 and says she wants to be an astrobiologist.)

The Internet is a valuable tool that parents and educators can use to help guide students as they explore their interests. Many sites, for instance, show students how to learn computer programming skills. If students have passions that they might explore in their communities, such as in business or technology, parents and educators can look into arranging mentorships between the student and an adult expert. For those students who love reading, the Internet is a great way to find recommendations for books in different topic areas, whether students are interested in genetics, biographies, arts and crafts, humor, or classic novels. Finally, a wide variety of contests and awards are available year-round that allow kids to compete and learn in a range of ways—from writing essays on the role of foreign service, to inventing a product that uses bubble wrap, to pitching entrepreneurial ideas that could actually receive funding.

Whatever a child’s academic and recreational passions, there is a wealth of information and resources that can be used to further his or her interests, knowledge, and goals.