Message From the Director: Expression As A High Calling

“To learn to express is probably as high a calling as one can do; because as one expresses, one can bring people together and that’s the great challenge of all of us.”

Interim Director of the University of Iowa Museum of Art and Former U.S Representative James Leach (R-IA)

Indeed. Mr. Leach’s words, shared on March 11th at the Belin-Blank Center’s annual Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Ceremony, ring true for the Center’s administrators whether they’re creating programs for students or teachers, or hosting special events such as the Scholastic Awards Ceremony, the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, or Invent Iowa. Striving to meet that challenge of “expression” on both a personal and professional level is not only a component of our special events; it is also an important aspect of the Center’s day-to-day operation.  Building community by bringing together talented learners is the common thread in the upcoming summer opportunities.  The programming goals for student and instructor are to attain a higher level of expression relative to the content of the class and the experience of being part of a community of like-minded learners.

In a previous post, I expressed my philosophy concerning transformational leadership and indicated that one of the most important roles we can serve as professionals is to give voice to those who are not in a position to express their voices or have their voices heard.  Two recent articles in peer-reviewed journals represent our efforts to give voice to talented students who are at risk due to economic vulnerability or twice-exceptionality.

The first article, “The effects of a social and talent development intervention for high ability youth with social skill difficulties,” authored by Associate Professor Megan Foley Nicpon and colleagues and published in the High Ability Studies (2017), present the findings of an intervention study with twice-exceptional students (high ability with social skill difficulties).  The social skills intervention itself, video modeling, is quite progressive in terms of interventions.  In addition, the intervention was conducted in a “naturalistic” setting, i.e., during a Belin-Blank Center two-week summer program, which is oriented towards students’ talent development.  Researchers found positive changes in several of the measured variables, including friendship companionship and security. The students in the social skills group, who experienced the video-modeling intervention, increased their willingness to seek help within their friendships compared to the non-intervention comparison group.  To our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate this group intervention with twice-exceptional students, and the preliminary findings support continuing to offer the intervention during our summer programs.

The second article, “Closing the excellence gap: Investigation of an expanded talent search model for student selection into an extracurricular STEM program in rural middle schools,” authored by Susan Assouline, Lori Ihrig, and Duhita Mahatmya and published in Gifted Child Quarterly (2017), reported on an expansion of the traditional Talent Search Model.  The expansion effectively broadened the talent pool of high-achieving students from the typical 3-to-5% to 13%.  The students participated in an extracurricular STEM program that was designed to increase the aspirations and achievements of high-potential students attending under-resourced rural schools.

An op-ed that I co-authored with Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, highlighted the importance of providing these types of educational opportunities for rural students. One sentence in the op-ed captures the intersection of expression and voice:

The education gap dividing Americans by income and location is not just profoundly unfair, but a tremendous waste of talent. It means that we fail to benefit from the brainpower of millions of young people who could grow up to be doctors, scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, teachers and fill other important roles. We simply can’t afford this unfairness.

For 29 years, the administrative team at the Belin-Blank Center has worked to develop the talents of students and their teachers.  We strive to form a community of like-minded individuals and close gaps due to disability or economic vulnerability.  It’s all possible when we aren’t afraid to speak up.

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