According to the National Association for Gifted Children, 3.2 million students were in gifted programs in the United States during the 2011-2012 school year. In Columbia Public Schools, the name of the program is EEE, which is an acronym for Extended Educational Experiences, which can begin in first grade.
The requirements for EEE in CPS are that a child must pass a test by reaching appropriate benchmarks on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale & Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test. In elementary school, the students will then be taken out of school once a week in order to take classes at the Center for Gifted Education. The students will then pursue a variety of disciplines at the center, and begin to understand their interests and needs more.
Often, however, the gifted children themselves can face enormous stress from their parents and from society in order to achieve absolute perfection.
“My parents had high expectations for me,” senior EEE student Polina Kopeikin said. “And I feel like maybe because I was in EEE they expected me to live up to their expectations more, which was definitely a tad stressful. But I can’t say that I got particularly bullied about it, other than the usual ‘you’re so lucky you get to leave once a week for the whole day.”
With external pressure comes internal stress and an added amount of anxiety for students. Academic anxiety is something most students have experienced at some point in their lives, but for EEE students, the anxiety is heightened.
“I’ve experienced [kids putting high expectations on themselves] all the time,” RBHS gifted education specialist Gwen Struchtemeyer said. “In fact, I’ve experienced that this past week, where I have sophomores who want to enroll in AP Bio, which is a class that is normally reserved for seniors. They want to enroll in that because they took Honors Bio online over the summer, so they put themselves through a lot of extra effort and stress. Of course, we applaud their efforts, and if they can handle advanced coursework they should certainly do it, but there is a point in which you can end up with five AP classes and get burnt out really quickly.”
In terms of being burnt out, stress in America, in general, has gone up drastically. A study by New York University’s’ College of Nursing on the stress levels of two affluent private schools, found that 49 percent of the 128 high school juniors researched said that they had felt a substantial amount of stress daily. 26 percent of the students surveyed also had symptoms which could be considered those of clinically depressed individuals, including insomnia, apathy, reduced appetite, anger and feelings of constant guilt or hopelessness.
“When a student is good at or interested in a lot of different things, it can be challenging to choose one on which to focus as a career goal and that can be daunting,” Jefferson Middle School EEE specialist and secondary coordinator Beth Winton said. “Often gifted kids who don’t learn to cope with stress will give up instead of dig in when things get tough. This pressure can come from parents and it can also be internal to the student.”
However, some EEE students felt like EEE fostered a community for them one in which they became close with their teachers and classmates and were able to learn in a relaxed and close-knit environment.
“It feels like there’s a little community of former EEE students,” senior Emily Ma said. “I first met some of my current closest friends in EEE in elementary school. I don’t think there’s any more pressure put on me because I was in EEE. I was the most involved in EEE in middle and elementary school; the teachers recognized that we were just kids and didn’t put pressure on us or have crazy high expectations just because we were ‘gifted.’”
The environment created was one which supported the students and their interests, and helped them branch out beyond the walls and schools of thought which were established in their normal day to day classes.
“I feel like I got a lot of experiences people who weren’t in EEE didn’t,” Kopeikin said. “The classes that we took in EEE were usually on really different subjects. This definitely made me feel not necessarily more advanced because I’m sure any kid could handle the level, but more branched out.”