That was the question roaming through my thoughts with each opening and closing session of our summer pre-college student programs. For the nearly 1,000 students who attended one or more of our summer programs, each opening session exudes anticipation as the staff and faculty describe the amazing classes and opportunities awaiting the students. The closings are similarly fulfilling, yet also different, because students, faculty, and summer program staff have spent an intensive week engaged in learning. The closing sessions are bursting with energy as the students, teachers, and residential staff share their week-long experiences with each other as well as with parents. The bonds that are formed during the student programs in the summer are unique. One of the high school students captured the sentiment:
THANK YOU! I have spent 6 of the last 8 summers at Belin-Blank camps and I am so going to miss them. Thank you for all the opportunities, friends, and experiences you have provided me with. I will forever treasure these summers. Thanks again for everything. I love your programs and what you do here.
I never tire of the thrill of being part of a team of professionals that open the talent development gates to young, highly capable students eagerly seeking ways to develop their talents. I also can’t help but wonder about the bright students whose families and schools don’t know about programs like this and thus miss out on the “opportunities, friends, and experiences … [to] forever treasure.” How can we make programming accessible to them? Who are the gatekeepers for these students?
Similarly rewarding is the annual experience of opening the talent development gates to educators pursuing professional development. Over the summer, 183 teachers enrolled in 249 credit hours. The Center’s concluding on-campus professional development opportunity, the Belin-Blank Advanced Leadership Institute (B-BALI), was truly an opportunity for all attendees to reflect on their role as gatekeepers for talent development in their respective schools, districts, and states.
B-BALI featured expert presentations by several of the A Nation Empowered authors and all of four of the editors (S. Assouline, N. Colangelo, J. VanTassel-Baska, & A. Lupkowski-Shoplik). Professor Emerita Joyce VanTassel-Baska’s final keynote presentation, “The Individual and Societal Value of Acceleration: Research, Practice, and Policy,” was as engaging as it was comprehensive. Professor VanTassel-Baska wove the three strands of the title into an elegant finale that referred to Julian Stanley’s Talent Search Model as the genesis for the various types of accelerative practices that should be available to high-potential students who are ready to learn more advanced material at a faster pace and at a younger age than typically-developing students.
As Professor VanTassel-Baska’s keynote concluded, I realized that the question about gate-keepers really needs to be not “who are the gatekeepers,” but rather, “Are you a gatekeeper for talent development?” This is a perfect question for the beginning of a new school year. Educators, now is your chance to open those talent development gates for your students and to support them walking through the gates to the myriad opportunities for developing their talents.
Although developing the talents of our young people is a lifelong journey, the starting point – the gateway activity – for many who are talented in academics starts with participating in the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS). BESTS incorporates the Talent Search Model. As models go, the Talent Search Model is elegant in its simplicity. BESTS is a system of above-level testing that produces results designed to inform high-potential students and their parents and teachers how much acceleration and enrichment students need.
Despite its potency, the Talent Search Model is not widely used in schools. There are multiple reasons for this, not the least of which is that traditionally the process occurred outside of the school setting. Although this is still true for 7th – 9th graders, the Belin-Blank Center is expanding the model for 4th – 6th graders. Now, teachers and parents of high-potential 4th – 6th graders can access above-level testing through BESTS in their schools, which we call BESTS In-School.
Educators, especially the teachers of 4th – 6th graders in gifted and talented programs, can become the champions of talent development by opening the gates through appropriate acceleration and enrichment opportunities in subject-specific areas (math, science, English/language arts). It can start with BESTS In-School.
We hope this year is the year that educators and parents will partner with us to open the gates and support high-potential students though this robust model of talent development and/or through one of the myriad opportunities offered by the Belin-Blank Center.