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New partnership brings Center for Gifted Education expertise to Detroit

  • William & Mary Center for Gifted Education Partnership:
    William & Mary Center for Gifted Education Partnership:  Roeper School (RS) and the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) in Detroit, Michigan  
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The William & Mary Center for Gifted Education has formed a three-year partnership with the Roeper School (RS) and the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) in Detroit, Michigan, to provide teacher training that will enhance gifted education opportunities for high-ability, low-income students in the region. Through funding from the Roeper Institute and the Edward E. Ford Foundation, the center is slated to receive $145,000 to train 36 teachers from Detroit Public Schools and 12 teachers from the Roeper School as part of the project.

"The center proposes to provide the RS-DPSCD Leadership Grant project with professional development that merges the center’s world-class gifted education knowledge base, the Roeper School philosophy, and real-world experience and expertise of DPSCD and RS educators, to generate an enlightening and crystalizing learning experience for these teachers,” said Tracy L. Cross, executive director of the center. Cross is the Jody and Layton Smith Professor of Psychology and Gifted Education in the William & Mary School of Education.

During the three-year project, center staff will familiarize themselves with Detroit-area resources, influences, and needs; design a professional development curriculum unique to that community; train educators using the new curriculum; and provide ongoing support after training is completed.

"The project is an example of the center’s commitment to facilitating education for high-ability students of all backgrounds, with a particular focus on low-income communities,” said Jennifer Cross, the director of research for the center. The Roeper School philosophy is to "inspire gifted students to think as individuals and to engage as a community with compassion for each other and this world.” As part of its mission, the school emphasizes the individuality and agency of each student, the importance of justice and human rights, and the importance of preparation for an unknown future.

"There are historical barriers to gifted education wherever you have poverty,” explained Tracy Cross. Barriers to gifted education in under-resourced communities include poorly funded schools, a lack of teachers trained to work with high-ability students, a lack of access to necessary resources (including supplies) both at home and in the schools, families who may not understand how to advocate for and support gifted education, language barriers, and the perception among children who would qualify for gifted education that they simply do not fit in with their peers.

"Detroit’s situation is unusual. The city is so much larger geographically than other cities, and when it started struggling financially, that challenged the schools considerably,” added Cross. Over time, more than half the population of Detroit moved out of the financially burdened urban areas, further decimating the tax base that typically funds education systems.

The Roeper School is located in the suburbs of Detroit and has made recruiting high-ability, low-income students a priority. “They put a great deal of money into scholarships,” pointed out Cross. “It’s a very values-driven place.” 

Their values match Cross’s own values and his mission in gifted education. On a personal level, he says he knows that because of their training and experience, he and his wife were uniquely able to provide their own children with appropriate guidance and support during their school years.

"It’s incumbent upon us as a society to do the same for everyone’s children,” he said, adding that gifted education has typically been most available to higher-income white families. Cross has extensive experience in his 35 years in the field. He has published 10 books, written over 175 articles, book chapters and columns, and served as an evaluator for three dozen programs for gifted students across the nation. He remains concerned about the populations who are underrepresented in gifted education – and he says that the recipe for supporting gifted students in every demographic is relatively simple: “Bring in good teachers and mix them with students who really want to be there, and it is magic.”