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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 10, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 34
CTY: 'Helping Talent Soar'

CTY's percentages of students from groups historically underrepresented in gifted programs rose from less than 1 percent in 1998 to 10.4 percent last year.

National conference to spotlight minority high achievement

By Charles Beckman
Center for Talented Youth

To Baltimore City public school student DaQuan Chisholm's way of thinking, police officers would be a lot safer if they could walkie-talkie each other without removing their helmets. So, like any enterprising engineer, he designed and made a prototype — undeterred by the fact he'd only just finished fourth grade.

His invention earned him a meeting and pep talk last fall with Robert Cammarata, chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins.

It's students like Chisholm that the Center for Talented Youth aims to spotlight in its national conference Helping Talent Soar: Identifying and Serving Gifted Students from All of America's Neighborhoods, taking place at the Homewood campus this week.

The conference, which expects a national audience of 250 educators and public policy, foundation and business leaders, will spotlight the abundance of youthful academic talent found in students of all backgrounds. Invited guests also will survey the American public education landscape and describe successful programs and practices.

The conference, said CTY executive director Lea Ybarra, poses a simple but critically important question: Do the estimated 3 million gifted students in the United States, out of an annual enrolled school-age population of 53 million, receive the proper accelerated, enriched and tailored instruction necessary to make the most of their abilities?

Thursday, May 13, will kick off the conference in Hodson Hall, with remarks by university President William R. Brody and CTY's Ybarra, followed by the keynote address by Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson.

The conference continues on Friday with a series of panel presentations by national authorities; among them, from Johns Hopkins, are Ralph Fessler, dean of the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education; Robert Lindgren, vice president for development and alumni relations; Paul White, assistant dean for admissions and financial aid in the School of Medicine; and Ybarra.

The conference receives added urgency as a dismantling of public school gifted education programs is sweeping the country. Baltimore City, for example, has discontinued all gifted programs for its 103,000-student district. The Illinois Legislature in late 2003 axed all state gifted programs. A state funding holdback imperils funding for gifted programs in Miami-Dade County, Fla., and its 350,000-student district.

While education cuts are being driven by state budget shortfalls, consequences for gifted programs have been deeper and more widespread, experts say, due to the effects of the comprehensive No Child Left Behind Law, enacted in 2001.

"The law, though rightfully praised for its goals to raise struggling children to proficient levels, virtually omits mention of gifted education," Ybarra said. "Left vulnerable for that reason, gifted programs across the nation are ending."

Although all gifted students are hit by such cuts, experts believe the brunt is borne by minority and low-income students clustered in urban schools. Unlike suburban middle-class families, low- and modest-income households can lack the knowledge base and expendable family dollars to seek special gifted education programs outside school to replace discontinued public gifted programs.

"Such students are caught by their circumstances," Ybarra said. "We at CTY believe that it's a critical part of our mission to find such promising students."

While gifted programs in schools are declining, special programs, such as Hopkins' CTY, increasingly are serving students beyond their original, largely suburban populations. Last year, 10.4 percent of the students in CTY's summer programs came from groups historically underrepresented in gifted programs — an increase from 1 percent in 1998. Since that time, more than 260 Baltimore City school students have enrolled on full scholarship, with financial awards totaling $670,000.

"We're encouraged by the increase and are striving to do even better," Ybarra said.

Financial support from such philanthropies as conference co-sponsor Goldman Sachs Foundation is giving energetic life to this new influx of students. In addition to student aid, the foundation has encouraged CTY to pursue innovative new programs. In one, CTY students learn formal business methodologies from M.B.A. students and Goldman Sachs executives, and then appear before a jury of senior Goldman Sachs executives to present detailed plans of their "dream businesses."

A key goal of the foundation is to place into the national pipeline increased numbers of students from historically underserved groups, and prepare those students for high-impact careers and lives.

Said Stephanie Bell-Rose, president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, "There are huge practical consequences for our nation and our future generations if we fail to cultivate the minds of our nation's brightest students from every background. Lose them, and we lose a precious national resource: the ingenuity, creativity and perseverance that have been hallmarks of the American spirit."

The conference is co-sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth and the Goldman Sachs Foundation, in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Council on K-12 Education.

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