As Athena’s has grown, our students have grown with us. It is so rewarding to watch friendships blossom as students connect in the social forums and through classes. Being able to learn and connect with like-minded peers who share a love of learning and have similar interests is an invaluable experience.
Have you ever been in a situation where one particular moment fundamentally changes the trajectory of your life? An event that dramatically changes the direction you were heading It could be a significant event such as the birth of a family member or the death of a loved one—or it could be a simple happening. Big or small, the event ends up creating a huge shift.
One change in the direction my life happened when my daughter was five. I knew she was advanced for her age, but I just figured a lot of it was because of my influence at home. She could do nearly everything much earlier than her age-mates. For example, she was already reading chapter books when her age-mates were learning their letters. Because of this, even though she was well liked, she never really fit in with the other kids in her social groups. Because of this, I never really felt like I could fully connect with her age-mates’ parents—we were going through very different experiences.
It was my daughter’s preschool teacher who urged me to have her tested for giftedness. I wasn’t sure if anything would come of it, but I was open to it. I figured having her tested for giftedness couldn’t hurt—if nothing else, perhaps it would help me to figure out what made her tick.
After my daughter took the tests, I went through her results with the psychologist. I didn’t know what to expect and was curious to hear what the tests showed. Once the psychologist shared my daughter’s scores, I intuitively knew my life was about to change. Her scores accounted for my daughter’s advanced abilities. After learning this, I felt unsure about how to move forward. It seemed like there would be a big shift in the trajectory of our lives.
The psychologist started interpreting the scores for me, explaining their significance. I felt overwhelmed listening to her. Although I was sitting with a specialist, I felt alone. I didn’t know anyone else who was raising a gifted child like my daughter. And, at that time, I was not aware of any online groups for parents of gifted students like Gifted Homeschooler’s Forum.
Thankfully, the psychologist also explained that my daughter qualified for the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, an organization that supports profoundly gifted children by providing free services. Through this group I connected with a community of parents who, like me, were raising gifted children. The individuals in this group understood how raising a gifted child is a unique experience. For the first time, I felt part of a community, and I didn’t feel alone in my parenting.
That is what community is about, isn’t it? Community is people coming together, usually for the same goal or purpose. People who connect with and understand each other, who help and support one other. We as parents of gifted students come from varied backgrounds; we don’t necessarily share the same social circles, and we don’t necessarily share similar beliefs, but we share one common thread—we are all raising children who are labeled gifted.
I was fortunate. The Davidson Institute was there, ready for me and my child. Through the Institute, I found a community that could support me as I learned what it meant to parent my gifted child. I was also fortunate that there were several children who were also in the Davidson Institute living within an hour’s drive of us, allowing us to meet socially. This group of children blossomed into a homeschooling co-op. As this group aged, however, the members dispersed and pursued their individual interests.
Meanwhile, my son was waiting in the wings. Although my son also qualified for the Davidson Institute, our family’s circumstances changed, and I was unable to do the things I did when my daughter was younger. Even though our circumstances were different, I wanted to maintain our homeschooling lifestyle while continuing to meet my children’s needs for community.
For that reason, I worked to create an organization that would help me to help my children. As technology progressed, online communities became more realized and within reach. Therefore, I determined that I could use the Internet’s connecting capabilities to foster a community of gifted young people. While keeping this in mind, I founded Athena’s Advanced Academy (Athena’s for short).
I wanted Athena’s to be a place where gifted children like mine could learn together. I saw firsthand how my children thrived in environments where they were learning with others who were similarly advanced. After creating Athena’s, my children were able to connect with other children who were like them and working at the same ability level. They connected with their like-minded peers in the webinars and the virtual classrooms.
To enhance connections between students, we added a social forums section on Athena’s—message-board-style areas for student interaction outside of class. The forums provided the beginnings of a broader community. Surprisingly, forums that focused on shared interests like books, sports, and such activities were not very popular. Instead, students created their own communities around collaborative writing and the creation of a virtual world and economy. The pattern continues today.
As the community at Athena’s grew, so did our capacity to create community offshoots. My son found a friend group on the Athena’s Minecraft servers. The group first connected over a shared love of the game, and now they connect over a shared love of learning and creating. Over the years, they have taught each other physics, coding, and chess, and they work together to create global economies and infrastructure.
Athena’s also hosts Gifted Gatherings. My daughter, who is now a novice educator at Athena’s, hosts a weekly hour-long Gifted Gathering where science-savvy students get together to help scientists sort data. They all work on the same Zooniverse.org project, sharing interesting organisms they find. Some students come and go from week to week, but there’s a core group of students that returns every week.
As Athena’s has grown, our students have grown with us. It is so rewarding to watch friendships blossom as students connect in the social forums and through classes. Being able to learn and connect with like-minded peers who share a love of learning and have similar interests is an invaluable experience. The desire to connect continues as students grow. Fostering community is also important for students moving to higher education institutions.
Many gifted students, including my daughter, have an idealized dream of college in their heads: a place where everyone loves to learn just as much as they do. Although some share this dream, many students have not had the opportunity to foster a love of learning, so they are not ready to embrace it when they move to a university. When my daughter first entered university as a much younger college student, it was difficult for her to find people who had the same desire to learn as she did, especially those with a similar ability level.
Through trial and error, my daughter found a community at her university—friends who are passionate about what they are learning. She is drawn to people who share her passion about her field, especially professors and graduate students. She loves having intellectually stimulating conversations with experts in her field—people who understand what she’s talking about when she rattles off species names or ecological phenomena and can respond in kind. And, above all, she loves learning from them.
A community for gifted students and their parents is one that is both emotionally gratifying and intellectually stimulating. Sometimes, communities are forged in expected places—but often they need to be sought out. Communities are central to humanity and perhaps even more central to gifted individuals.