by Heather Gibbons
Little did we know the path we’d begun when at the age of 18 months our son Ben ran down the hall with a book, plopped it down on the floor in front of us and exclaimed, “It’s a three!” while pointing his chubby baby finger at the page which was clearly marked, Chapter 3. In fact, not until I relayed the story to my sister (who had three children of her own) did I even realize how extraordinary it was that our 18-month-old could identify numbers – and letters, and soon thereafter – words!
By the time he started preschool, Ben could recite the alphabet forwards and backwards, could count beyond 1,000, and was obsessed with calendars and weather. But, we soon discovered, his advanced intellect was not matched by emotional maturity. In fact, it seemed the opposite was true. He had trouble dealing with anything competitive and struggled with perfection. He hated making mistakes and would collapse in a puddle of tears if something as simple as a craft project didn’t turn out as he’d planned.
In first grade, Ben’s teacher tested his math and reading levels, which were off the charts. She recommended that Ben be allowed to go to third grade math class once a day. This became his favorite part of the day. The emotional struggles continued, though, and even involved occasional disciplinary action and visits with a ‘special’ teacher through third grade.
Then in third grade, Ben began attending math class with the fifth grade teacher, Mr. D. The two hit it off. Mr. D had a very silly sense of humor and helped Ben learn to not take everything so seriously all the time. The two built a connection over that year, and Mr. D recognized Ben’s intellectual potential, giving him free rein to learn fifth grade math at his own pace. By the end of that year, Ben had breezed through the entire fifth and sixth grade math curriculum.
As the year drew to a close, Mr. D invited us in to discuss his recommendation that Ben make a full grade advancement, skipping fourth grade, and joining Mr. D’s fifth grade class the next year. Mr. D felt he could help Ben continue to work at a pace that would challenge him while simultaneously helping him to mature on an emotional level. He felt so strongly about it, that with our permission, he advocated for Ben with the school administration, presenting research that he found on his own demonstrating the positive outcomes for full grade advancement in gifted children to the elementary principal. Mr. D faced criticism by other faculty, but he felt so strongly that what Ben needed most was to be challenged, that he continued to advocate in spite of the heat he was taking. In the end, he convinced the administration and the plan came together. Ben skipped fourth grade, and while in fifth, continued his advancement in math, and with Mr. D’s help, added science to the mix.
Now a junior in high school, Ben is advanced four years in both science and math. He is emotionally able to handle tough situations and is happy and settled with his peer group. While Mr. D has since retired and moved away, he and Ben keep in touch. I’m not sure where Ben would be had he and Mr. D not made that connection early on. There’s a saying, “Who takes the child by the hand, takes the mother by the heart.” We’re not sure what would have happened had Mr. D not come into our lives.