Imagine being 6 years old, sitting in first grade, listening to the teacher slowly reviewing the alphabet when you're actually able to read a book like "Charlotte's Web." That is how Sharon Mountford, a spokeswoman for the California Assn. for the Gifted (CAG), explains the plight of the gifted student in a classroom that is not geared to meet such needs.
"Is it not cruel but very usual punishment to make a child spend six hours a day learning something he or she already knows?" she asked.
The Canoga Park-based association is a statewide group of about 3,000 parents and educators dedicated to securing appropriate educational opportunities for bright children. The association is part of the National Assn. for Gifted Children.
In today's state funding crisis, the issues for gifted children are more desperate than ever, Mountford said. The state now allocates about $31 million in categorical funds for gifted and talented education, she said, which may be phased out when the bill that allocated the money sunsets in 1993.
Barbara Clark, a special education professor at Cal State Los Angeles and president of the National Assn. for Gifted Children, said the trend in California is toward less funding for gifted programs.
"The priority in the state is not the same as it is in other states. We're seeing a decreasing interest in programs for the gifted as other requirements in other educational areas have increased," she said. California is one of 23 states in the nation that do not specifically require that the needs of gifted children be addressed, Clark said.
But many researchers consider the gifted to be the largest group of underachievers in education, Clark said. Only slightly more than one-half of the possible gifted learners in the country are receiving education appropriate to their needs, she said.
That is what spurs many parents and educators to join CAG, Mountford said. Members, who pay $40 in individual annual dues, are interested in promoting advocacy for the gifted and in learning more about the issues that affect these students and their families.
In addition to receiving a bimonthly magazine and a newsletter, members can attend the annual statewide conference and regional meetings that cover such topics as "The Underachieving Gifted Student," and "Summer Programs for the Gifted." For teachers, CAG provides regular in-service programs, such as an October course on differentiating curriculum for gifted kids.
CAG also reaches out directly to students, offering a San Bernardino Mountains three-day leadership camp at the end of April, geared for seventh- and eighth-graders. Special programs are offered all year long and at the annual convention, and a small scholarship fund gives up to $500 to student awareness to pursue special projects of interest.
CAG also alerts parents to the programs available through public schools and private organizations. Clark said the options for parents of gifted children are many.
"There are a tremendous number of cultural and community experiences children can be involved in," she said.
Where to Go What: California Assn. for the Gifted, 23684 Schoenborn St., Canoga Park 91304. Call: (818) 888-8846.