Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Rainy Spring Day Among Future Leaders at Thomas Jefferson Techstravaganza

We spent the better part of a rainy, dreary early spring day basking in brainpower and intellectual curiosity with the children at the 2009 "Techstravaganza" at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology - planned and hosted by TJ's TWIST group (Tomorrow's Women In Science and Technology) with major support from WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) and GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math, and Science).

Between hands-on experiments in structural architecture, polymer worms and lava lamp creation, many very interested and engaged kids and adults were treated to fantastic technology demonstrations by eager, polite and totally smart high schoolers. This is truly a very unique event, in a unique place produced by a very select group of tomorrow's leaders in science, technology or any other discipline that truly matters.

This is, however, an extremely difficult and family-centric road to travel, for high-achievers among the region's school population to arrive at Thomas Jefferson - documented the #1 high school in the nation by many academic measurements. Why so difficult and "family-centric"? As pointed out by Julia Stewart's very well researched Loudoun Independent story "Are You Being Served? The LCPS Gifted Education Program" - "Gifted Education is truly a "local" agenda, interest and issue"...and "parental involvement remains a lynchpin" to maintaining focus and encouraging excellence among the wide variety and varying levels of investment for advanced programs for which there is "no federal consequence for falling short". No federal consequence, perhaps, in terms of legislation - but plenty of consequences in terms of America's future global dominance in science, technology, economics and every other significant academic discipline.

In short, it's entirely up to parents to ensure their child both strives for and actualizes an academic path that leads to places like TJ; standard government-supported programs aren't enough, and in comparative terms, Loudoun is very far behind Fairfax in developing a "continuum of gifted services" that are truly differentiated, rigorous and challenging for children identified early-on as far above average. For example, it's up to parents to realize that a child really must be in Geometry by 8th grade to ensure a good chance of admittance. How to make this happen? This means pre-algebra by 6th grade, which means your child must be in math classes at least one or two years ahead of grade-level by this time - a level of instruction which is nearly impossible to extract from taxpayer-provided education without significant family investment in homeschooling, summer classes, individual tutoring or other private instruction.

Therefore, it's fairly evident that most of these great young men and women displaying exceptional poise and talent at this Techstravaganza have benefited from external support that's not found in traditional schooling, but was found at home, through exception personal initiative and capability, from significant parent or tutor figures, and/or through really good private schooling - for example at the local Nysmith School for the Gifted and Talented in Herndon. This particular school is a direct funnel for nearly half of its graduating classes into TJ. As demonstrated by the quality of programs, the absolute commitment of its teaching staff and administration, and the prevailing demonstration of community support, philanthropy and pure intra-student kindness, this very special accelerant is just what is needed for the truly gifted...but it absolutely doesn't happen without total parental commitment and investment.

Nysmith's "NYSaves" program welcomes Tigger and Dora - Nysaves is a Clean Water Project envisioned and implemented by Nysmith students for school students in Zimbabwe

As the TWIST program puts it - "helping guide young people toward careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is a very gratifying experience" - it's up to parents to provide this help and critical investments, and provide it early, often and in place of less worthy material investments.

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