We're trying to decide between the dedicated gifted school in our city and the gifted cluster class at our son's current local elementary. He'll be in 2nd grade. the gifted school is wonderful, but a 45 min bus ride from our house. We like his current school, but he has had some behavior issues in 1st grade that we're hoping gifted curriculum will help with. The cluster class would be 6-8 gifted children in a class of 22-24 kids total. His local school is 5 min from home.
My own kids did better in clusters than in full GATE classes but part of that may just be chance. My kids are pretty focused, mannered and high-achieving (and test in the 99.9th percentile.) They both found the GATE students they were placed with unruly and disrespectful. They actually preferred being with high achievers and independent workers who wouldn't disrupt the class and allow the class to move at a faster pace than the gifted classes. They were frustrated with all the debate in the full GATE classes especially when they felt the vast majority of debate was not thought out and not purposeful. Again, this may just be an issue of chance and with different kids my own would have found a good match. I do recommend checking out the school in person and sitting in class to see how they handle any behavioral issues.
I have one child in a clustered class, and one child who will be going to one of our district's gifted school.I think it depends a lot on the kid. The material in class appears to be substantially the same- the clustered group is a little bit further ahead, and stays that way through all of elementary, it looks like. But the gifted school has more opportunity for independent study, which I think the one I am sending will like, and though the competitive, socially intellectually aggressive kids at the gifted school would drive my cluster class staying kid up the wall(and, ahem, drives me a little bit up a wall), I think other will like it, and will in fact like it a whole lot. That is the biggest difference to me- I can't believe how horrible the social situation would be for one of my kids, and how great it's going to be for the other. Do you know kids at both schools? Do you know much about the culture?
As well as the culture in both situations, I'd consider his own work habits and preferred learning style. Students in a cluster within a regular class generally need to be fairly independent workers and self-motivated learners, yet also able to participate well with the rest of the cluster and work collaboratively with them. The teacher has to divide her/his attention with the other group in the class and frankly, it's more likely that they will get the majority of her/his time because some of them will be struggling with the curriculum. The kids in the cluster will likely work closely together on a lot of projects and be left to their own devices at least some of the time. If they don't get along or if a student has trouble working collaboratively, you may see a continuation of behaviour problems. At a school with a larger gifted population, the students will be more diverse in learning styles and personalities. It may be easier to find kindred spirits.
Thank you all for the great advice. The gifted school seems wonderful, lots of hands on projects which my son would love. Really the only troubling thing is the amount of his day that would be spend on the bus. I'm torn..what kind of mother would deny her child a more appropriate learning environment purely over the logistics of getting there? But then, what kind of mother puts her 7-year-old on a bus for 2 hours a day?
My son's behavior issues are mostly the "out of his seat, blurting out answers, talking out of turn, won't move on to the next thing until this one is perfect" kindof thing that I think the gifted school would be very used to handling. I'm worried those behaviors would be even more distracting in the cluster class, but am planning to look into both options more.
Long bus rides aren't ideal, certainly. It's also wise to consider how managing logistics will impact the entire family, not just your DS. Different families and different children have their own tolerance levels for the inconvenience of attending a distant school.
My dc had long bus rides to attend a gifted program. They were a a couple of years older than your DS, and that probably helped. The bus ride became part of their social life, when they could chat with their friends, read novels and listen to music, occasionally get a start on collaborating on projects and otherwise unwind and hang out. However, I know some children hated that same bus. I had a SAHM friend who drove her kids back and forth to the same school. They were unhappy and complained about every aspect of the bus. They hated getting up early and arriving home late in the day. They hated the bouncing ride and the smell of the bus. They hated riding with other kids who distracted them when they were trying to read or daydream or chat with another kid. She decided that the inconvenience and expense of daily driving was worth it to keep them at the school, since they were otherwise doing so well in the program. It was the first time that they had made true friends in a classroom. OTOH, I also knew a couple of families who pulled their kids from the program because they were unhappy sending them to a distant school. They liked having their kids in the neighbourhood school where they felt they could keep a closer eye on them. They didn't want to manage the early morning departures and late afternoon arrivals that they found too disruptive to their family routine. For them, the value of the program just wasn't worth it. Their kids seemed to do well at their neighbourhood schools, so it doesn't seem like it was a mistaken choice for these families. Each of those families made different decisions but they found what worked best for their families. So when you ask "what kind of a mother...?", I hope there's some comfort in knowing that there are lots of mothers (and fathers) who have been faced with similar choices, struggled, and worked out the best solutions they could in the circumstances.
Speaking not as a parent but as a former gifted child: I attended gifted magnet schools with a long bus ride through all of grades 1-12. And my best friends, the only ones I still keep in touch with as an adult, are the kids from my school bus. It's not necessarily a bad thing.
I am that awful mother. No, wait! My seven year old is on the bus for 2.5-3 hours a day, and I started doing it when she was 5 years old.
I agonized over doing this, because it sounds awful. I had to overcome a lot of logistical challenges in order to even make it possible. And then, after a month, we never looked back because for us, in retrospect, it is hands-down the only choice that we would have been happy with. It didn't seem so clear back then, but now it does. (I'm not saying that this is the right decision for you or for anyone else, but it is for our family.) There are 70 other children on the bus who make this same very long bus ride every day. After the first couple weeks, the children just get used to it.
It seemed very daunting to commit to these long bus ride for years and years, so I decided that we would try it for a year, and re-evaluate at the end of one year. That made the decision much less scary. As it turned out, at the end of the year, it took us ten seconds to decide to continue for the following year, etc. But I think that a one year trial was a reasonable thing for me to contemplate, because it's difficult to do too much irreversible damage in only one year.
Similar to the PP, when I was a child in 4-6 grades, I had a very long bus ride to get to a gifted school. I enjoyed the bus ride, made close friends on the bus, and the program was totally worth it, at least for me. The program was the making of me.
Based on my experience in school... I would choose the gifted school. Let's just say, I am planning to homeschool my kids because of a series of bad cluster class experiences in middle school. I had long bus rides to magnet schools in elementary school, and I NEVER felt like the bus ride to the gifted school wasn't worth it. My behavior changed the year my parents started sending me there; life was really, really good during that time.
Things to check: Are the cluster classes doing enrichment activities based on the regular work everyone else is doing, or are they letting the kids move ahead at their own pace? I would want to see options for moving through the curriculum at a faster pace (telescoping), skipping material that is too easy (compacting), as well as for going into more depth. I would want the teacher to be very familiar with those terms and to realize that these strategies are NEEDED for gifted kids. I would want a pretty impressive plan to be in place; this is not easy to accomplish in a regular classroom. In my experience it just led to the gifted kids being shoved off to the side of the classroom with busy work.
At the gifted school I would probably want to see them grouping the classrooms by ability to some extent (because not all gifted kids are equal ability). I would want to know how they will handle kids with different areas of giftedness. The teacher (and the school) will still need to be creative about giving telescoping and compacting options within the classroom. My guess is that they will probably do a very good job with this simply because it's what they do.
Laura , mom to Savannah (born 10/2008) and Indy (born 01/2011), and Cheyenne (born 11/2012)
(Laura's my sister, so we obviously had pretty similar experiences)
I loved my gifted school, no matter how long the bus ride was - and it was long. My experience at regular schools was largely negative. I went to a 9 different schools in three different states, and the only ones I truly loved were the ones with dedicated, full-time gifted classes. The best ones were the ones that had enough gifted students that they could divide the gifted students into ability levels. The worst schools were the ones that were inflexible, that felt like all gifted students needed was one hour a week of 'enrichment'. Those years were drudgery, and I'm not entirely certain I learned anything substantial in those classes.
Overall, I think I coped with the regular schools better than Laura did, because I have a more passive personality than she does. So while outwardly it looked like I was doing fine in those schools, the change from a regular classroom to a dedicated gifted school was just amazing. School went from being mildly fun to being wonderful and exciting. I think that's something to keep in mind. Some gifted children make it obvious that they are bored and hate school. Others do a better job of hiding it, and might even enjoy school to a degree. But it is my opinion that all gifted students will enjoy school more when they are regularly challenged. It certainly was the case for me.
Breastfeeding, cloth diapering, co-sleeping, baby wearing, homeschooling (someday) mama to my dear Pearl since June 2009.
Expecting baby #2 in November 2012.