• By Kip Warr Of St. Louis Public Schools St. Louis American

    Ensuring your child receives a top-notch education is greater than any gift you could ever buy them. Education is a survival kit in an ever-changing society; it never loses its value and can never be taken away. Knowledge equips students with the necessary tools to solve life's most pressing tasks and puzzling questions. The decisions you make for your child as early as pre-k, play a critical role in their long-term success.

    Since the creation of gifted and talented programs, there has been a constant trend, highlighting the lack of diversity. Nationally, there isn’t much diversity represented in these programs.

    Here in St. Louis Public Schools, minority students are exceptionally underrepresented in our gifted schools as well. Overall, the district is 81 percent African-American and 11% Caucasian; however; our gifted program’s African-American population is 40 percent, compared to 51 percent Caucasian. Simply put, 24 percent of Caucasian students in SLPS are classified as gifted, while only 2 percent of African Americans are.

    This is a trend we must change. Intelligence knows no race.

    Although there are many high-achieving African-American and Hispanic students in St. Louis city, they slip through the cracks. This can be a result of a lack of awareness or intimidation by the perception and stereotypes of gifted and talented education. Historically, minorities have been locked out of the best academic institutions without reason.

    One thing is clear: St. Louis’ urban communities are facing difficult times. The best way to make fundamental change is by ensuring urban youth receive enriching, challenging educational experiences. In St. Louis Public Schools, every child has the chance to attend high-achieving schools.

    The old saying is “the early bird gets the worm.” Have your child tested early for the free gifted and talented program with St. Louis Public Schools. Most importantly, make sure you apply during the Pool A period, which begins Thursday, October 1.

    It's important you act quickly. Early action produces the most school options for your student. With increased options, your student can find their best fit school. Finding the right-fit and rigor is a critical component in a child’s academic career. It is important that your child is challenged and motivated to produce work at their highest level from an early stage.

    Educators and parents must make efforts to challenge and elevate each student to the peak of their intellectual capacity. The brain is a muscle too. It must be regularly exercised. Once the muscle becomes complacent, positive gains and new results disappear. Brains are no different than biceps. They're just developed in different places: the classroom versus the gym.

    In our gifted schools such as Kennard Classical Junior Academy and Mallinckrodt Academy of Gifted Instruction, students receive an enriched education at a young age. Increasing the number of African-American and Hispanic students in these schools must be a priority. The mission of the St. Louis Public Schools’ Gifted and Talented program is to produce world-class academic scholars and leaders regardless of race.

    I believe a high-quality educational experience increases confidence and capabilities in students. Gifted and talented curriculums prepare students to tackle academia, corporate America and society with self-confidence, increasing success and income-earning potential. Having the option to attend the best colleges leads to opportunities to work at some of the most prestigious organizations and corporations. When this cycle begins, we see generational advancement.

    Some education policymakers are cautious to place the label of gifted and talented on students solely based on test performance. Our testing process includes a written exam and an observational component, for teacher recommended students.

    Giftedness refers to natural abilities while talent refers to systematically developed abilities. It's important that students are met at their individualized learning pace and pushed further.

    The application process opens on October 1. The 6-week application period is followed by a lottery. Contact the district’s Gifted Office at 314-345-4548 or visit www.slps.org/gifted.

    Kip Warr is director of Gifted and Talented for Saint Louis Public Schools.